This is the time of year in which Catholics experience a special “high” for the Eucharist. From priesthood ordinations to the feast of Corpus Christi (June 23), the source and summit of our Catholic faith seems to manifest itself to the wider community through these beautiful and public expressions of faith.
Much work needs to be done to help others understand what the Church teaches about the Real Presence in the Eucharist. Our teaching explains that the consecration of the bread and wine during Mass results in a real change of its substance into the Body and Blood of Christ, even though to our eyes there is no physical change in the appearance.
St. Francis de Sales, in the “Introduction to the Devout Life,” explains that “the species and appearances of bread are like a tapestry behind which our Lord is really present and sees and observes us, although we do not see Him in His own form.” The look, taste, color, shape, smell and other “accidental” characteristics of the host stay the same, we understand. But Christ is substantially and personally present in a real, but mysterious way.
In 2013, the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate director of Catholic polls Mark M. Gray noted that the study “American Catholics in Transition” showed that only 4 percent of adult Catholics who comprehend the Church’s teaching on the Real Presence actually reject it.
“Now we know that lack of belief in the Real Presence is more a problem of religious education than of doubt,” Gray wrote.
We know from this that better catechesis is in order. As part of that, Catholics would do well to fully prepare themselves before receiving Jesus in the Body and Blood during Communion at Mass.
Pastors have the duty to instruct that the faithful should not approach the Sacrament of Holy Communion if they are aware of mortal sin or are in grave disunity with the teachings of the Church.
The Eucharist is not simply something we are “owed” for taking time out of our day to go to Mass. We have to truly understand and respect Jesus in the Eucharist before we can receive it. As the U.S. bishops have written on the reception of Communion:
“In order to be properly disposed to receive Communion, participants should not be conscious of grave sin and normally should have fasted for one hour. A person who is conscious of grave sin is not to receive the Body and Blood of the Lord without prior sacramental confession except for a grave reason where there is no opportunity for confession. In this case, the person is to be mindful of the obligation to make an act of perfect contrition, including the intention of confessing as soon as possible (Canon 916). A frequent reception of the Sacrament of Penance is encouraged for all.” The bishops also note that in the United States Catholics should bow as an act of reverence before receiving the sacrament.
Our bishops have said that “the Communion Procession is an action of the Body of Christ. At Christ’s invitation … the members of the community move forward to share in the sacred meal, to receive the Body and Blood of Christ which is the sign and the source of their unity.” When we receive Communion in an unworthy manner, we are breaking from that unity.
The beauty of our faith is that we have many opportunities to reflect on the Real Presence in the Eucharist, whether in eucharistic adoration, at Mass, during a Corpus Christi procession or in private prayer. But don’t just take advantage of those opportunities — invite others to share in them as well. A little of that can go a long way in unifying our Church.
This editorial appeared in a previous edition of the Review.