To continue from Corpus Christi Sunday with a Eucharistic theme, the diocesan bishop here in Raphoe – Bishop Philip Boyce – has in his pastoral directives asked priests to make an announcement prior to the distribution of Holy Communion. This is to take place at special Masses such as First Holy Communions, Confirmations, Easter, Christmas, Weddings, Funerals, etc that are frequented by those who are not practicing Catholics. A practicing Catholic may be described as somebody who attends Mass on Sundays and Holy Days except for a serious reason and who keeps the Commandments.
One such form of announcement is as follows: “We wish respectfully to remind you that in order to receive Holy Communion worthily: You should believe that it is the very Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ; you must be in a state of grace, free of all grave or mortal sin; it is necessary to make an individual Confession and receive absolution if you are aware of grave sin as defined by the Church; you must fast for an hour before receiving Holy Communion.”
As regards attending Mass, Canon 1247 states that “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass; they are also to abstain from those labours and business concerns which impede the worship to be rendered to God, the joy which is proper to the Lord’s Day, or the proper relaxation of mind and body.” The obligation to attend Mass is affirmed in the Catechism which states “Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit grave sin” (#2181). Therefore, Confession is required before receiving Holy Communion together with the intention to enter a new life of love and faithfulness to Christ and his Church.
When we receive Holy Communion, it is (among many other things) a sacred expression of our being in holy common-union with the Catholic Church and its teachings. This requires us to be a practicing Catholic.
But there is far more serious reason why this discipline needs to be respected. The original meaning of sacrament was the sacred oath of fidelity that a Roman Legionary would make when he joined the Legion or before a big battle. The Church borrowed this same term to express that when we receive one of the seven sacraments, we are making a sacred oath of fidelity to Jesus. It is also a ratification of the New Covenant that we entered into at the time of our baptism.
If we partake of a sacrament and we are not being faithful to Jesus and his Truth, then it is a false oath and akin to an act of perjury. This causes grave harm to our souls. St Paul says in 1 Cor 11: 27 So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. 29 For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. Thus in the Mass, just before the priest receives Holy Communion, he says this associated prayer silently: “Lord Jesus Christ, with faith in your love and mercy, I eat your Body and drink your Blood. Let it not bring me condemnation but health in mind and body.”
The grave consequences of receiving Holy Communion unworthily was also evident in the Sequence that formed part of yesterday’s liturgy. It was written by St Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century:
The good, the guilty share therein,
With sure increase of grace or sin,
The ghostly [spiritual] life, or ghostly [spiritual] death:
Death to the guilty; to the good
Immortal life. See how one food
Man’s joy or woe accomplisheth.
This is a pressing pastoral problem in the Catholic Church.