Are you ready to receive the Eucharist?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church notes that Jesus invited his followers to a “paschal banquet.”
“To respond to this invitation we must prepare ourselves for so great and holy a moment,” the catechism reads, quoting St. Paul’s admonition that believers examine their conscience before participating in the eucharistic meal. The catechism notes that “anyone conscious of a grave sin must receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to communion.”
Reconciling with God should not be confused with becoming “worthy” of receiving the Eucharist, according to Father Patrick Van Durme, pastor of Our Lady of the Valley Roman Catholic Community, which comprises four faith communities in Steuben County. The priest, who recently presented a talk on the Eucharist as part of a Lenten mission for Schuyler Catholic Community, noted that Catholics pray “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you,” prior to receiving the Eucharist.
“We can not make ourselves holy enough to really deserve the Eucharist,” Father Van Durme said. “It is the grace of God that comes freely from him that makes us holy.”
The priest noted that Catholics are counseled to go to confession often, but he added that Catholics should receive Communion unless they believe they are in serious sin.
“Most of us do not have serious sins in our lives,” the priest said. “We struggle with the day-to-day sins of not living up to the Gospel. … I think we have people that are starving for the sacrament and the connection to God and the community that the (Eucharist) would give them, and they stay away from the greatest thing that will give them healing.”
Indeed, the catechism notes that “the church strongly encourages the faithful to receive the holy Eucharist on Sundays and feast days, or more often still, even daily.”
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops notes that the church requires Catholics to abstain from any food and drink, with the exception of water and medicines, for at least one hour before receiving Communion.
“The eucharistic fast is an ancient custom whereby we prepare to receive holy communion and thereby show due reverence for the sacrament,” according to “Penitential Practices for Today’s Catholics” by the bishops’ Committee on Pastoral Practices.
Father Van Durme said Catholics should come to Mass relaxed and “not rushing in and looking at our watch every two minutes.” He added that the liturgy offers opportunities for reflecting on the meaning of the Eucharist. For example, he said, during the offertory, the gifts of bread and wine represent “giving ourselves and all the many blessings we receive from God back to God — family, friends, job, health.”
Receiving Christ’s body and blood is not only meant to make us holy on an individual level, it’s also meant to inspire us to serve others, Father Van Durme added. Jesus called his followers to take care of their neighbors, including widows and orphans, Father Van Durme said, a point also raised by Pope John Paul II’s recent apostolic letter “Stay With Us Lord” (Mane Nobiscum Domine). The letter was released last fall and was meant as a spiritual guideline for the Year of the Eucharist, which the pope proclaimed as October 2004 to October 2005.
Those who partake in the Eucharist learn to promote communion, peace and solidarity, the pope wrote. “Stay With Us Lord” also urges Catholics to make special efforts during the Year of the Eucharist to help the poor, the elderly, the unemployed and those who are immigrants.
“(B)y our mutual love and, in particular, by our concern for those in need we will be recognized as true followers of Christ,” the pope wrote. “This will be the criterion by which the authenticity of our Eucharistic celebrations is judged.”