Hunger for the Eucharist: Rules for Reception of Holy Communion
There are not many things that I am an expert on.
Actually there are very few things that I am an expert on, to be perfectly honest.
But, as the reformed fat man, there is one thing I am an expert on and that is hunger. Hunger I get. Hunger I understand. Hunger is something that all of us can definitely understand.
We hunger for certain things. We hunger for certain foods. We have cravings. We desire all of these different things, and yet we know that that which we desire is not always that which we should have.
Knowing what we should and should not have is the key. And that is my issue. I have slowly begun to learn that I can control that which I desire. Yes, I may desire that entire cheesecake, but I am not going to have said cheesecake. Instead I will have a piece of said cheesecake.
So this understanding of hunger, this image of hunger, is something we can all recognize and learn from.
Jesus asks us, "Are you hungry for the Eucharist?"
On Sunday, when you wake up, are you so hungry for the Eucharist that you are excited about coming to church? Yes! The Eucharist! I want the Lord! Or does the alarm clock say, "It is a duty for you to go to Mass on Sunday, so get out of bed and go do it."
So the goal would be to hunger for the Eucharist.
There is a church back in my hometown, the local mega-church, which is just down the street from your local Catholic Church. And this church got the brilliant idea that, for Christmas one year, they were not going to have Christmas service. They would just send everyone home with the DVD of the service. That way you could just watch Christmas service at home with your kids!
All the rest of the pastors of the area just about died with laughter, thinking, "Let's sit back and watch the fireworks because this is going to be good!" And News channels came. News at 11: "Church Cancels Christmas!" Absolutely hysterical.
But when you get to think about it, why not?
If the Eucharist is not at the center of your life, why not just have a DVD sent home? Because church is just about the message if you don't have the Eucharist. You get that message anywhere.
Well, yes, Mass has a community aspect to it. Fine, but your family is community, too. Nevertheless, for Catholics, to send home a DVD and cancel Christmas would be completely unthinkable, not only because we cannot have Christmas without singing "Silent Night" and all those things, but because the center of our worship is not just the community. It's the Eucharist. It's this Bread that Jesus is talking about, that we as Catholics hunger for.
If you did not go to Christmas Mass, you would feel like Christmas didn't happen. Christmas is not the same without the Mass, without the Eucharist.
The Eucharist should be the center of our lives.
You should never go a Sunday without hungering for this Eucharist, hungering for the Bread that fills you completely.
And so the goal for all of us is to recognize our false desires. We all have false desires, such as I do when I look at the entire box of donuts and I desire to eat them all-- that is a false desire; it is a desire not for the good but for the lesser good.
Do you have a desire for the Eucharist? Is the Eucharist what brings you to church? Not just the message. Not all the other trappings. The music is beautiful, but what ultimately should drive us to Mass is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ.
We should come here hungering for that which gives us eternal life. We should come here hungry for the thing which is most important in the world. What happens at this altar is more important than anything else on earth, and I should want It with all of my being.
The question then becomes, “Okay, Father, I know that I should want the Eucharist, and maybe sometimes I do and maybe sometimes I don't, but how do I get there?”
I have three things for us to get there, to help us to hunger for the Eucharist.
There are three rules for the reception of Holy Communion.
They have been the same since the very beginning of the Church. Contrary to popular belief, we Catholics apply the same rules to everybody, Catholics, non-Catholics, anybody. Doesn't matter who you are. The same three rules apply.
A lot of non-Catholics say, “Why can't I have Communion in your church? You just form a special club of those who can. I want to be a part of that club and I don't like being excluded. It’s discriminatory.”
They don't understand. The same three rules that apply to non-Catholics apply to us Catholics, too. Here are the three rules.
you have to be baptized.
You have to be washed with the waters of regeneration. Baptism orders us to the Eucharist. You have to be baptized to receive the Eucharist.
you have to believe everything that has been enjoined on us by the Catholic Church, everything the Church believes.
Why? Because Communion is not just this token that you get because you woke up on Sunday and went to Mass. It's not "I wake up on Sunday. I go to church. So I get to receive the Eucharist." No. That's not how this works.
You come here, and communion is not just the communion with God and yourself. It is a communion with the entire body of Christ. We all believe in the same thing. So it is a unity of faith--you have to believe everything that the Church believes.
In order to receive Holy Communion, you have to be living in accord with those beliefs. You have to be living a moral life. You have to be free of mortal sin.
So, as Catholics, what trips us up is normally the last one. When we can't receive Holy Communion, it is normally because we have fallen off the ladder and we got into mortal sin. At least, on the surface, we believe everything that the Church believes, even though we sometimes don't do it very well. The problem is the morality.
For non-Catholics--they may be living a perfectly good life and they may even be baptized. Their problem is the second rule--they don't believe in everything that we believe in.
So the Catholic Church is equal opportunity. Everyone gets the same rules.
But the first step to acknowledging the real presence in the Eucharist is recognizing when you are not able to receive it.
At the beginning of every Mass, we pause, saying “Let us call to mind our sinfulness that we might partake of these mysteries worthily.” We really do need to be taking that more seriously.
If what we receive here is the most important thing on earth, and we receive It unworthily, then we drink the blood of Christ upon our head. We need to be giving that a little more thought than we probably do.
When, at Mass, the priest calls us to pause and to call to mind our sin, we should review the last week. We should see if we committed any mortal sins. If so, then abstain from Holy Communion why? Because that shows, “Lord, You are more important than my selfish desires. You are more important than my receiving what I think is my do. Receiving You is not my due. I have to live up to the standards that You, God, set.”
What you do when you are processing up to receive holy Communion? Are you thinking,"Okay. Step. Step. Okay. I am here." Are you Mr. Roboto communicant?
When you come up to receive the Eucharist, do you have a specific prayer that you say?
I encourage a prayer, something along the lines of, “I am about to receive You, not a symbol of You, but You entirely. I know I am not worthy. Help me to live like You."
A prayer something like that. Anything that says, “I am going to receive my God.” Anything that keeps you focused on what you are receiving and how you are to receive It. Do you have a prayer?
And on your way back, do you kneel down in the pew and pray the prayer of St. Thomas, “My Lord and my God!”
Or are you thinking, "Come on, Padre. Let's get this Mass on the road. Let's move it. Let's get out of here. I've got breakfast to go to."
The Eucharist is the most important part of Mass. When you receive the Eucharist, do you rush it or do you recognize the beauty?
Canon law, and all the teachings of the Church, say that the Church would like you to offer thanksgiving after receiving the Body and Blood of Christ. In fact, you are required to offer thanksgiving.
After Mass, you required to kneel back down and say, “Thank you, God, for giving me Your very self. Thanks for coming to me just like You came to the apostles. Thanks for coming into my life just like You came into the world on that first Christmas. Thank you for giving yourself on the altar just like You gave yourself on the cross.”
Your thanksgiving does not have to be long. It does not have to be arduous. But it has to be something.
And I think if you do those three things, you will recognize that the Eucharist is the center of our lives. You will recognize what we are supposed to be truly hungry for is not the restaurant after Mass but the true Bread that came down from Heaven, this Bread that will give us eternal life.