by Michael Podrebarac
There was a time when people were so afraid of going to Communion when at Mass that they, well, just didn’t.
Now, maybe it wasn’t really being “afraid” as much as it was having a certain salutary “fear” that one had to be careful not to receive the Eucharist lightly or in vain, lest one commit the sin that St. John Chrysostom feared for himself: receiving Jesus in an unworthy manner, or as he put it, to “betray thee, like Judas, with a kiss.”
The situation was once so dire that an ecumenical council decreed that each of us must in fact receive holy Communion at least once each year, during the Easter season. Believe it or not, that precept still exists today, and we call this required annual Communion our Easter duty.
Some people note that it seems like now everybody goes to Communion just about every week, whereas there once was a time when very few of the faithful received Communion at Mass. In contrast, Saturday afternoons saw the great lines of people coming forward to receive the sacrament of penance and reconciliation instead.
I myself am unworthy to judge the situation too closely. But I do pray that anyone who steps forward to receive our Lord in the Eucharist does so with the conviction that, in responding “amen” to “The Body of Christ,” much, much more is being said than, “Sure, I believe it’s Jesus’ body.”
To say “amen” means that I understand (as best as any mortal can) that, indeed, this is the body and blood of Christ, presented to me under the appearance of bread and wine.
To say “amen” means that I am willing to become, in a real sense, what I am receiving — the body and blood of Christ — as St. Augustine so beautifully reminds us.
To say “amen” means that I am in full communion with the holy Catholic Church, with my brothers and sisters in the faith, and with God.
St. John Vianney once preached that it was unfathomable to him that there were people entirely content to receive our Lord in the Eucharist only once a year, and even more egregious than there were those who lived with like estrangement toward sacramental confession (that other sacrament, by the way, that we are ordered to receive at least once each year).
Because who would really want to be in full communion with almighty God, with the faithful, and with the church — the Body of Christ — only once each year?
Let us indeed make a good Easter duty. But how about each Sunday (which is always a kind of Easter) as well, and with competence, conviction and, of course, with contrition?