This weekend and next our parish will be having First Communions. It is a joyful time especially for the children who for the first time are receiving this Sacrament which is the center of our faith. It is even more mysterious to see how they react to their first reception. Sometimes we adults often take the Sacraments for granted and sometimes see it as an entitlement whereby we make little effort to appreciate its power. As you recall there are some criteria that we Catholics must follow in order to receive it. The first, and probably the most important, is that we be free of unconfessed mortal sin. Otherwise we commit the sin of sacrilege (CCC 2120). The wickedness of this sin is that it can condition us to think it is alright to take Communion because, after awhile, we start to feel no remorse for being guilty of the death of Jesus (1Cor 11:27). We are also required not to eat any food for an hour before taking Communion, unless there are serious health reasons, so as to make a distinction that what we are receiving is no ordinary food.
It is also important for us to be careful in who receives Holy Communion. It would be remiss on our part to tell non-Catholics to receive Holy Communion because this trivializes important distinctions between the Catholic faith and others. Remember many other Christian faiths allow for the sins that St. Paul specifically told us will exclude us from the Kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9-10; Gal 5:19-21; Eph 5:5-6).
The fruits of the Eucharist are not automatic. It must be received with intense faith in the Real Presence. To believe this takes great faith because it means that the recipient must accept the full truth revealed by Jesus Christ because it is the complete Christ who is received in the Eucharist. The complete truth means that it includes all that the Church proposes as revealed including herself. This means not just accepting a specific knowledge intellectually, but a conforming of our life to that knowledge (“intense faith”). Thus the conditions for receiving the Eucharist require not just accepting rules, but an integral understanding of the Sacrament as taught by the Church. The Eucharist joins us in ecclesial communion, while at the same time exacting it as a prerequisite. Eucharistic Communion causes ecclesial communion signifying it simultaneously.
While the desire to receive Communion is both profoundly personal and spiritual, it is never private because we do not personally own it. Not respecting this is to deny a personal and an ecclesial contradiction.
The Catholic Church will permit non-Catholics to receive Holy Communion only if a person is in danger of death or a grave necessity provided that the person has no access to a minister of his own communion, the person spontaneously asks a Catholic priest for the Sacraments, the person manifests a faith in these sacraments in harmony with that of the Catholic Church and the person is properly disposed.
Corporal pain indicates a bodily problem. Taking the pain away does not solve the problem which could make us not seek medical treatment and more serious problems. Not to have intercommunion is painful at times. The intense desire to want it does not make reception appropriate.
The elimination of pain without solving the divisions makes things worse. The prohibition against intercommunion is not the cause of division, but its consequence. The causes are discovered and removed through the dialogue of truth: a process that is certainly longer and more exhausting, but which carried out with patience and perseverance promises real Christian unity.
Fr. Vincent Euk