Photo: Felix Carroll
We Don't Just Receive
The following is an excerpt from the new book, 7 Secrets of the Eucharist (MercySong Ignatius), by Vinny Flynn, known to many as "the man who sings the Divine Mercy Chaplet on EWTN." His book is intended to give readers a completely new awareness that the Eucharist is not just about receiving Communion; it's about transforming your daily life. The chapter included below is titled "Secret 5: We Don't Just Receive."
The Eucharist involves more than just receiving; it also involves satisfying the hunger of Christ. He says "Come to me." He is hungry for souls. Nowhere does the Gospel say: "Go away," but always "come to me."
— Mother Teresa
by Vinny Flynn
The words we use can often get in our way, actually limiting our understanding of what they are intended to reflect. "Receive" is one of those words.
Just as the phrase "the Body of Christ" can suggest merely the human nature of Christ or the image of His dead body on the cross, so the phrase "receiving Communion" can suggest a passive reality. It can reinforce the concept that we're not really "doing" anything. God is the one who is doing; we are
But think back on what we've just seen about the incredible gift we're being offered, the awesome miracles that are taking place so that we can receive the fullness of God Himself. How can we receive such a gift in a merely passive way?
Yes, Christ is doing something. But part of what He's doing is calling to us, inviting us to respond to His initiative in an active way.
As Mother Teresa explains, Christ is "hungry for souls," and He is calling us to come to Him and satisfy that hunger. He is calling us not to merely receive Communion but to enter into communion.
How do we enter into communion?
One way to start is by taking a fresh look at the word communion itself. It literally means "union with," or "completely one." When used to denote the sacrament of the Eucharist, it suggests a similar union to that which is effected by the sacrament of marriage, where "the two become one flesh." As the Catechism explains, the Eucharist is called "Holy Communion"
because by this sacrament we unite ourselves to Christ, who makes us sharers in his Body and Blood to form a single body.
All who eat the one broken bread, Christ, enter into communion with him
and form but one body in him."
Notice the actions in these quotes. "We unite ourselves to Christ" and "enter into communion with him." Just as a marriage takes active participation and "communication" from each person in order to achieve the desired union, so, too, the reception of the Eucharist. We cannot leave it all up to God.
"Receiving Communion," writes Pope Benedict XVI, "means entering into communion with Jesus Christ. ... What is given us here is not a piece of a body, not a thing, but Him, the Resurrected one himself — the person who shares himself with us in his love. ... This means that receiving Communion is always a personal act. ... In Communion I enter into the Lord, who is communicating himself to me."
When I receive Communion properly, I am not merely receiving something into me; I am actively involved in the process, fully present to the One who is present within me, uniting my whole being with Him, becoming "one flesh" with Christ, and through Him entering into a uniquely personal encounter with the Father and the Holy Spirit as well:
Through the celebration of the Eucharist, the faithful ... gain access to God the Father through the Son. They enter into communion with the most Holy Trinity (Decree on Ecumenism, 15).
This "entering into" communion, this personal encounter with Christ and, through Him, with the other persons of the Trinity, doesn't simply involve God dwelling in us. It involves relationship. The indwelling of God is a gift demanding a reciprocal response. We must give ourselves to Christ as He gives Himself to us. Christ's plan is not merely to live in us, but also to enable us to live in Him:" Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him" (Jn 6:56).
Saint Cyril of Jerusalem uses a very graphic image to convey this intimate union to which the Eucharist invites us:
Throw melted wax into melted wax, and the one interpenetrates the other perfectly. In the same way, when the Body and Blood of Christ are received, the union is such that Christ is in the recipient and he in Christ.
"To respond to this invitation," the Catechism explains, "we must prepare ourselves for so great and so holy a moment" (#1385).
How do we prepare? The Catechism presents several minimum requirements:
- We must examine our consciences;
- If we are conscious of grave sin, we must go to confession before we receive Communion;
- We should reflect on our unworthiness and ask confidently for God's healing ("Lord I am not worthy, but only say the word and I shall be healed");
- We should observe the fast required by the Church;
- We should ensure that our "bodily demeanor," including our gestures and
our clothing, "convey the respect, solemnity, and joy of this moment when Christ becomes our guest" (#1385-1387).
But beyond these minimum requirements, the Church has always emphasized the importance of a time of preparation before Communion and a time of thanksgiving after Communion to properly dispose our minds and hearts to be able to enter into the deeper relationship of mutual love and unity to which the sacrament calls us.
How seriously the saints took this! And what a stark contrast there is between their preparations and thanksgivings and the all too prevalent tendency today to simply attend Mass, receive Communion, and leave immediately after the final blessing.
"The most solemn moment of my life," explained St. Faustina, "is the moment when I receive Holy Communion" (Diary, 1804). Conscious of the great importance of this moment, she always tried to make time for careful preparation, a time of recognizing who Christ is and running to meet Him, joining her heart to His.
My soul is preparing for the coming of the Lord, who can do all things, who can make me perfect and holy. ... What am I and who are You, O Lord, King of eternal glory? O my heart, are you aware of who is coming to you today? ... I hear Him approaching. ... I go out to meet Him, and I invite Him to the dwelling place of my heart, humbling myself profoundly before His majesty. ... At the moment when I receive God, all my being is steeped in
Him (Diary, 1825,1810,1806,1814).
Saint Francis of Assisi, in a beautiful meditation on the Eucharist, exhorted his brothers to enter into communion with the same kind of humble and total giving of self:
See the humility of God, brothers, and pour out your hearts before Him! Humble yourselves that you may be exalted by Him! Hold back nothing of yourselves for yourselves, that He who gives Himself totally to you may receive you totally!
After receiving Communion, many of the saints would spend an extended time of thanksgiving, during which they would receive great insights and often go into ecstasy.
"The minutes that follow Communion," wrote St. Mary Magdalene di Pazzi, "are the most precious we have in our lives." Saint Teresa of Jesus urged her daughters not to rush out after Mass but to treasure the opportunity for thanksgiving:" Let us detain ourselves lovingly with Jesus," she said, "and not waste the hour that follows Communion." And St. Louis de Montfort wrote, "I would not give up this hour of Thanksgiving even for an hour of Paradise."
Perhaps the best contemporary example of this complete entering into communion and the depths of union with God that can result from it is St. Padre Pio, canonized June 16, 2002. He wrote:
When Mass was over I remained with Jesus in thanksgiving. Oh how sweet was the colloquy with paradise that morning! It was such that, although I want to tell you all about it, I cannot. ... The heart of Jesus and my own — allow me to use the expression — were fused. No longer were two hearts beating but only one. My own heart had disappeared, as a drop of water is lost in the ocean. Jesus was its paradise, its king. My joy was so intense and deep that I could bear it no more and tears of happiness poured down my cheeks.