Preparation for Holy Communion
1. We must make a suitable preparation of body and soul before receiving holy communion.
We must endeavor, before approaching holy communion, to render ourselves as much like Our Lord as possible; for unless we resemble Him spiritually no union between Him and us will be practicable. Liquids cannot mingle one with another, without they are of the same nature; thus wine and water can be mixed, but not water and oil. The better our preparation for holy communion, the more plentiful the graces we receive from it. Those who make a bad preparation for communion, or none at all, draw down on themselves the divine anger. Such persons lose all reverence for the Holy Sacrament of the Altar; in fact their faith in the presence of Our Lord under the eucharistic veils dies out altogether. He who approaches holy communion merely from force of habit, cannot expect to receive anything from God.
2. The manner in which we should prepare our soul is this: We must cleanse our souls from mortal sin by confession, perform good works, and adorn ourselves with the virtues.
When a monarch visits a town it is previously cleansed and dec orated. We should do the same when the King of kings comes to us; we should purify our conscience by confession and adorn our soul by good works. St. Paul says: “Let a man prove himself, and so let him eat of that bread and drink of that chalice” (1 Cor. xi. 28). We must examine our conscience before approaching holy communion, and that not merely in regard to greater transgressions, but also minor offences. The apostles laid their garments upon the ass, before they made Our Lord sit thereon; so we should deck ourselves with virtues when we prepare to receive Him in communion. Some people think more of communicating upon certain festivals, than of purifying their hearts by confession, although this is of far greater importance. Wherefore it is not he who communicates often, or he who communicates seldom, who should be esteemed, but he who communicates with a clean heart.
To receive holy communion when one is conscious of having committed a mortal sin, is to incur the guilt of sacrilege.
He who receives holy communion in a state of mortal sin profanes the Holy Sacrament; he is guilty of the body and blood of the Lord (1 Cor. xi. 27), that is, his sin is the same as if he had put Our Lord to death. The unworthy communicant acts like the Philistines, who took possession of the ark and placed it close to the image of their god Dagon, for he introduces Christ where Satan is. Holy communion is like the light, which is salutary to good eyes, but hurtful to those that are diseased; so the Lord’s body is a medicine, giving spiritual health to the pure of heart, but spiritual death to the unclean and evil. Holy communion is like the pillar of the cloud, enlightening the Israelites but enveloping the Egyptians in darkness (Exod. xiv. 20). Wherefore if any man call to mind a mortal sin before he communicates, let him go to confession at once, if by any means he can do so. If it be impossible, he may communicate, but he must confess the sin in question the next time he goes to confession; for as it was not wilfully omitted, it was remitted with the rest by the sacerdotal absolution.
The consequences of a sacrilegious communion are very terrible; it produces spiritual blindness, obduracy of heart, and brings upon the sinner chastisements both temporal and eternal.
Satan enters into the unworthy communicant, as he did into Judas after his sacrilegious communion (John xiii. 27). If the pos session of the ark brought such grievous afflictions upon the Philistines; if the profanation of the sacred vessels by Baltassar was so bitterly expiated (Dan. v.), what must be the punishment of those who lay violent hands on the body of the Lord? The Apostle tells us that infirmities and death are no unusual chastisements of unworthy communicants (1 Cor. xi. 30). Remember the awful fate of Judas. Terror, despair, hatred of God, the torments the lost suffer in hell, begin on earth for the unworthy communicant. He who comes to the marriage feast (holy communion) without a wedding garment (sanctifying grace), shall be cast into exterior darkness (Matt. xxii). St. Paul warns the Christians of communicating unworthily when he says: “He that eateth and drinketh unworthily eateth and drinketh judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body” (1 Cor. xi. 29).
All that is absolutely required for the worthy reception of holy communion is to be in a state of grace; but it is greatly to be desired that all unruly attachment to earthly things should be completely given up before approaching the Holy Sacrament of the Altar.
“If you are in a state of grace,” says St. John Chrysostom, “why do you not go to communion, which was instituted with the object of enabling you to continue in that state?” The more we are detached from earthly things the greater will be our charity, and the greater our charity the more abundant will be the graces we receive in communion. Thus the avaricious, the ambitious, the intemperate, all who indulge their evil tendencies, will derive little benefit from holy communion. A pure heart is the only fit dwelling for the God of purity.
Prayer, acts of self-denial, the works of mercy, are the good works which we ought to practice before going to communion.
At least half an hour ought to be spent in prayer before holy communion. It is advisable to hear Mass first. On the previous day we should be specially abstemious at table, deny ourselves worldly pleasures and amusements, avoid idle conversation, etc. It is well also to perform some works of mercy. “If thou givest earthly food to Christ (in the person of His poor),” says St. Augustine, “He will in return give thee celestial food.”
Those who receive holy communion ought to possess these virtues in particular: Faith, hope, charity, humility, and meekness.
It is usual before communion to make acts of the three theological virtues and also of contrition. The Church herself seeks to awaken these sentiments in the heart of the communicant; for after the Confiteor has been said by the sinner, the priest implores the pardon of God, and when elevating the sacred Host he repeats the words of St. John Baptist: “Behold the Lamb of God, etc.,” as well as those of the Centurion: “Lord, I am not worthy, etc.” Children generally are made to renew their baptismal vows before making their first communion. Before communicating we ought to make an act of faith, for Our Lord always required a lively faith in those on whom He bestowed graces and for whose sake He worked miracles. Thus we read that He said to the blind men: “Do you believe that I can do this unto you?” and until they answered in the affirmative He did not heal them. We ought also to make an act of hope before communicating. When Our Lord was on earth He never sent any one away empty who came to Him in trustful confidence. The woman “who had been afflicted for twelve years was made whole immediately upon touching the hem of His garment in faith (Matt. ix. 20). We ought also to make an act of charity before communicating; for the greater our love to God, the greater is His generosity towards us. He must be received with love Who out of love gives Himself to us.” Love Him,”says St. Augustine,” Who for love of thee comes to unite thy mortality to His immortality.” We ought also to humble ourselves before God before communicating, considering His majesty and our misery, and deploring our sinfulness, for God resisteth the proud, but to the humble He gives grace (1 Pet. v. 5). Meekness is also necessary in those who communicate, for without it we cannot be pleasing to the Lamb of God.
3. Our body must be prepared for holy communion by fasting from midnight; by dressing in a neat and suitable manner, and by a reverent deportment at the time of communion.
The heavenly food must be taken before the earthly, for precedence is always given to the noblest and most excellent. The body of Our Lord when taken down from the cross was laid in a sepulchre wherein never yet had any man been laid. Our bodies must also be cleansed; Christ washed the apostles feet before giving them communion. The Israelites were even commanded to wash their clothes before the Ten Commandments were delivered to them. External cleanliness is supposed to represent inward purity. The guests at a marriage have to appear in wedding garments, and shall we come to the Lord’s Supper in soiled apparel? At the table of an earthly monarch a certain etiquette has to be observed; how much the more should we behave with reverence when approaching holy communion.
Only in the case of those who are in danger of death may holy communion be received after taking food.
Necessity knows no law. Those who are dangerously ill may receive holy communion repeatedly by way of Viaticum; but those who are sick, and not in danger of death, must communicate after fasting.
It is necessary to obtain an express permission from the Pope for any one who is not dangerously sick to take anything before communicating.
The permission in question is only granted to kings and emperors before their coronation; to aged and infirm priests who are obliged to say Mass, and yet cannot fast without serious injury to their health; to sick priests who are not under the obligation of celebrating Mass, but yet are allowed to do so two or three times in the week; and certain of the laity who are sick, but in this case the permission only extends to five or at most six times in a month. For this privilege application must be made to the Holy See through the bishop of the diocese, and the permission as a rule, applies to liquid, not solid food. If any one inadvertently eats or drinks anything before going to communion, he must not communicate on that day.
Our dress should be clean and suited to our station when we go to communion; that is to say, we should put on better things than those in daily wear, but not dress showily.
To attach importance to dress when approaching the holy table, would lead us to overlook what is essential, and mar devotion. Shabby clothes are no shame to the wearer; Christ was poor and He loves the poor. He looks at the interior, not the exterior of a man.
Our demeanor should be reverent when we go to communion; we should avoid singularity and everything prejudicial to devotion.
When the priest repeats the words: Domine non sum dignus, the intending communicant should strike his breast, and rising from his knees, go slowly up to the altar-rails without looking about him; when the priest advances to give him the sacred Host, let him raise his head, close his eyes, open his mouth, and put his tongue forward as far as the underlip; then let him swallow the Host as soon as possible, and after a few moments pause return reverently to his place.
This article, Preparation for Holy Communion is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
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