Paschal Banquet is the Holy Eucharist in as much as Christ sacramentally makes present his Passover and gives us his Body and Blood, offered as food and drink, uniting us to himself and to one another in his sacrifice on the cross. The Mass is at the same time, and inseparably, the sacrificial memorial in which the sacrifice of the cross is perpetuated and the sacred banquet of communion with the Lord’s body and blood. But the celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice is wholly directed toward the intimate union of the faithful with Christ through communion. To receive communion is to receive Christ himself who has offered himself for us.
The altar, around which the Church is gathered in the celebration of the Eucharist, represents the two aspects of the same mystery: the altar of the sacrifice and the table of the Lord. This is all the more so since the Christian altar is the symbol of Christ himself, present in the midst of the assembly of his faithful, both as the victim offered for our reconciliation and as food from heaven who is giving himself to us. “For what is the altar of Christ if not the image of the Body of Christ? asks St. Ambrose. He says elsewhere, “The altar represents the body [of Christ] and the Body of Christ is on the altar.” The liturgy expresses this unity of sacrifice and communion in many prayers. Thus the Roman Church prays in its anaphora:
We entreat you, almighty God,
That by the hands of your holy Angel
This offering may be borne to your altar in heaven
In the sight of your divine majesty,
So that as we receive in communion at this altar
The most holy Body and Blood of your Son,
We may be filled with every heavenly blessing and grace.
Take this and eat it, all of you”: communion
The Lord addresses an invitation to us, urging us to receive him in the sacrament of the Eucharist: “Truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.
To respond to this invitation we must prepare ourselves for so great and so holy a moment. St. Paul urges us to examine our conscience: “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself.” Anyone conscious of a grave sin must receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to communion.
Before so great a sacrament, the faithful can only echo humbly and with ardent faith the words of the Centurion: “Domine, non sum dignus ut intres sub tectum meum, sed tantum dic verbo, et sanabitur anima mea” (“Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul will be healed.”
And in the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom the faithful pray in the same spirit:
“O Son of God, bring me into communion today with your mystical supper. I shall not tell your enemies the secret, nor kiss you with Judas’ kiss. But like the good thief I cry, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
It is in keeping with the very meaning of the Eucharist that the faithful, if they have the required dispositions, receive communion when they participate in the Mass. As the Second Vatican Council says: “That more perfect form of participation in the Mass whereby the faithful, after the priest’s communion, receive the Lord’s Body from the same sacrifice, is warmly recommended.
The Church obliges the faithful to take part in the Divine Liturgy on Sundays and feast days and, prepared by the sacrament of Reconciliation, to receive the Eucharist at least once a year, if possible during the Easter season. But the Church strongly encourages the faithful to receive the holy Eucharist on Sundays and feast days, or more often still, even daily.
Since Christ is sacramentally present under each of the species, communion under the species of bread alone makes it possible to receive all the fruit of Eucharistic grace. For pastoral reasons this manner of receiving communion has been legitimately established as the most common form in the Latin rite. But “the sign of communion is more complete when given under both kinds, since in that form the sign of the Eucharistic meal appears more clearly.” This is the usual form of receiving communion in the Eastern rites.