Holy communion is of great benefit both for the soul and the body. “The divine King,” says St. Alphonsus, “is accustomed to reward royally all those who entertain Him well.”
Holy communion acts spiritually, as bread and wine act materially.
Bread and wine, i.e., material food, (1), Assimilates itself to the body; (2), Maintains life, promotes growth; (3), Dispels fatigue and weakness and imparts strength to the body; (4), Affords a certain satisfaction by pleasing the palate; (5), And influences the mind by the medium of the body. In a similar way the action of holy communion upon the soul may be described.
1. By holy communion we are united most closely to Christ. Our Lord says: “He that eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood, abideth in Me, and I in him” (John vi. 57) .
Holy communion is, as it were, a continuation of the Incarnation. By His Incarnation Our Lord united Himself to mankind in general, by holy communion He unites Himself to each individual member of the human race. As two pieces of wax when melted are amalgamated with each other, so completely does Our Lord make Himself one with us in holy communion. He is in us and we are in Him. St. Augustine says that those who receive Our Lord frequently assume His nature, are, as it were, transformed into Him. By communion Christ changes our nature into His own, as leaven changes a quantity of flour. There is this difference between the spiritual food we receive in communion and the ordinary food of the body; the latter is less powerful than our nature, and is assimilated by it; the former is more powerful than our nature, and consequently it converts that nature into its own. Our nature is ennobled by communion, as a wild tree is ennobled by being grafted with a cultivated tree. Holy communion also unites us to one another; all Catholics by means of it are made one body, as St. Paul says: “For we, being many, are one bread, one body, all that partake of one bread” (1 Cor. x. 17). The Fathers speak of communion as the general union of all the faithful in Christ and with one another (communis, unio). Hence it is called “the sign of unity, the bond of charity, the symbol of concord” (Council of Trent, 13, 8).
2. Holy communion imparts actual graces, and also maintains and increases sanctifying grace in the soul.
At each communion fresh actual graces are obtained, that en lighten the understanding and strengthen the will. Holy communion acts like the rising sun, dispelling darkness and bringing light. It imparts strength as did the bread of which Elias partook (3 Kings xix.); and power to withstand temptation and to practice virtue. Holy communion gives to the timid the courage of lions; St. John Chrysostom says that the devils tremble when they see lips reddened with the blood of the Lord. Those who have great trials and sufferings to endure ought to communicate often to acquire strength. It was because the early Christians were so cruelly persecuted that they used to fortify themselves so often by receiving holy communion; thence they gained courage to confront martyrdom. Whenever they knew that some danger had to be encountered, they approached the Holy Sacrament of the Altar, for they were conscious that otherwise their force would fail them. Those also who are exposed to violent temptations ought to communicate often, for holy communion has even more power than had the blood of the paschal lamb sprinkled on the doorposts, to deliver from the destroyer. Holy communion preserves the life of the soul, as bread and wine do that of the body; for it maintains within us sanctifying grace, which gives vitality to the soul. Hence Our Lord says: “He that eateth Me, the same also shall live by Me ;” and again: “If any man eat of this bread, he shall not die” (John vi. 50, 58), that is to say, he will not fall into mortal sin, and thus destroy the life of the soul. Holy communion is also the means of keeping us from relapse into mortal sin; it is an antidote against the poison of sin (Council of Trent, 13, 2). Those who communicate frequently persevere in grace; for where God is often present, the enemy of God can find no permanent abode. Holy communion also increases sanctifying grace in the soul; and since the degree of felicity we shall enjoy hereafter is dependent on the measure of sanctifying grace we possess here, it follows that holy communion conduces to the augmentation of our eternal happiness.
3. The force of evil concupiscence is lessened by holy communion, and we are freed from venial sin by means of it.
Physicians order nourishing food for those who are infirm, that they may gain strength. There is an aliment cf surpassing excellence well calculated to remove spiritual infirmities and impart vigor to the soul. He who communicates frequently will feel less sharply the stimulus of anger, envy, uncleanness, and other evil propensities. Holy communion quenches the flame of concupiscence; it is the corn of the elect and the wine springing forth virgins (Zach. ix. 17). It cleanses us from venial, but not from mortal sin; like fire which con sumes wood and straw, but does not burn stone or iron. It is the food and the medicine of the soul; now food and medicine are beneficial to the sick, but in no wise to the dead. Therefore if after confession we commit some venial sin, it is not necessary to go to confession again before approaching holy communion.
4. Holy communion often affords much refreshment to the soul.
The manna is said to have had a pleasant taste, like honey. In holy communion, St. Thomas Aquinas says we taste sweetness at its true source. In the prayer said before benediction is given with the Blessed Sacrament, it is declared to contain within itself all sweetness (Wisd. xvi. 20). The greater the worthiness of the communicant the greater is the sweetness he experiences in holy communion; but sometimes God withdraws all consolation, even from the saints.
5. Holy communion sanctifies the body, and implants in it the germ of a future glorious resurrection.
The temporal penalties of sin are cancelled by holy communion according to the measure of our devotion. If those who did but touch the hem of Our Lord’s garment were cured of whatever infirmities they labored under, how much the more shall we be healed of our spiritual sickness, who have the privilege of receiving Christ into our breast? St. Louis Bertrand used to advise the sick to receive holy communion as a means of recovering bodily health. Our Lord says: “He that eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood, hath eternal life, and I will raise him up at the Last Day” (John vi. 55). The body of Christ is the seed of immortality for our flesh. Communion represents to us the tree of life, which stood in the midst of Eden.
The graces above named are the portion of those who receive holy communion frequently, and prepare themselves carefully for it.
The best means of learning to receive Our Lord well is to receive Him often, for in everything it is practice that makes perfect.
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This article, The Effects of Holy Communion is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
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