The reception of the Eucharist is the loftiest experience any Catholic can have for in this we come in contact with the Lord in a sacramental way; our souls are filled with his presence and light, we are given a foretaste of heaven, graces to overcome mortal sins and forgiveness for our venial faults. We are united with Christ more and more. Receiving communion at mass is for the Catholic, the most important act since this is the most important aspect of being a member of Christ’s body, and of being part of the celebration of the Paschal mysteries.
Jesus’ words concerning the Eucharist are quite grave:
"Truly, 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; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food, and my blood is real drink. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever" (John 6:53–58).
The Church therefore encourages everyone to receive the Eucharist regularly, even daily where possible in order to stay united with Christ and his body the Church and to ensure advancement in virtue.
Who can receive?
The Catholic Church has issued a couple of guidelines for the reception of the Eucharist. To receive one must:
- Be in the State of Grace
- Have made a good confession since your last mortal sin
- Believe in transubstantiation
- Not be under any ecclesiastical sanctions e.g. excommunication
1. State of Grace:
This is a most important requirement, one which can never be dispensed. Receiving the Eucharist without sanctifying grace in one’s soul profanes the Body of Christ and is also a grave sin on its own.
"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"
People so many times overlook this either out of crass negligence or concern for what others around would say if they don’t receive. However, remembering the fact that you’d expose yourself to death by committing such a sacrilege will help one make an informed decision. It is better to “look bad” in the eyes of men, than to offend against God by receiving unworthily.
There is need to constantly go for confession, and the Catholic Church exhorts us to confess even venial sins so as to be stronger to resist graver sins. However, before one can receive communion he must be sure to have confessed and received absolution from all mortal sins. Venial sins cannot keep one from receiving communion as they can be forgiven through prayer and perfect contrition. Also, receiving Jesus cleanses the soul from venial sins.
"A person who is conscious of a grave sin is not to . . . receive the body of the Lord without prior sacramental confession unless a grave reason is present and there is no opportunity of confessing; 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" (CIC 916).
This requirement can be dispensed if these four conditions are met:
- There must be a grave reason to receive the Eucharist e.g. danger of death.
- It must be impossible physically or morally to receive absolution first.
- The person must first be in the state of grace through prayer and perfect contrition
- This contrition must preclude a firm resolution to confess as soon as possible.
3. There must be Faith in the doctrine of Transubstantiation:
"For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself" (1 Cor. 11:29)
This is more than simply believing in the real presence. Transubstantiation means that the bread and wine, though retaining their natural physical appearances have become actually the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ in substance.
4. Must observe the Eucharistic Fast:
"One who is to receive the most Holy Eucharist is to abstain from any food or drink, with the exception only of water and medicine, for at least the period of one hour before Holy Communion" (CIC 919 §1).
Elderly people, those who are ill, and their caretakers are excused from the Eucharistic fast (CIC 191 §3).
The Bishop has power to dispense people from this obligation, also any priest who has received this power from his bishop can as well dispense. (cf CIC 89)
5. Must be free from any Ecclesistical censure:
"Those who are excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion" (CIC 915).
Provided they are in a state of grace and have met the above requirements, Catholics should receive the Eucharist frequently (CIC 898).
Ordinarily it is required that one be a Catholic to be able to receive Communion, even though participation at Mass is open to everyone. The Local Bishop, following the directives of Canon Law can dispense one of this in special cases.
"If the danger of death is present or other grave necessity, in the judgment of the diocesan bishop or the conference of bishops, Catholic ministers may licitly administer these sacraments to other Christians who do not have full Communion with the Catholic Church, who cannot approach a minister of their own community and on their own ask for it, provided they manifest Catholic faith in these sacraments and are properly disposed" (CIC 844 § 4).