The pews emptied and the parishioners filed towards Our Lady’s altar and the communion rail in front of it. Meanwhile, I bent over my book of Communion preparation prayers one last time before standing.
Once again, I was gathering all my efforts to recollect myself in silence; to draw a veil between myself and the world, to meditate on the profound gift of the Eucharist, and to internalize the moment just before I would be receiving my Lord in Communion. It’s never exactly an easy task with me and my wandering mind. That particular morning, I was a little tired, rather achy, slightly hungry, and altogether in a mental fog. (What? You’re telling me this is my normal state of existence? Oh . . .) I’d brought my usual week’s worth of failures with me and left them at the Confiteor but had been struggling all during Mass with a feeling of helplessness in really growing in virtue. It just seemed that no matter how reverently I tried to approach Communion, how deeply and intimately I wanted to commune with Christ in His Real Presence, it would never fail that I would leave Mass and proceed on with my week, and routinely forget I’d received the Eucharistic strength to fight my inner battles.
Of course, I’m not ever going to be worthy; I’m not ever going to make “the perfect preparation” or bring a perfect heart to the Communion rail. But that particular morning, I still couldn’t shake the feeling that my efforts to make the moments just before and during my Communion as profound and “interior” as possible were crumbling in on themselves. After all, I’m human.
I’ve always known that communing with Our Lord in the Eucharist is a deeply intimate event, even if it’s just by definition (after all, an “impersonal communion” would just be odd!). How could it be anything else? Every single time I receive Holy Communion, God Incarnate descends onto my tongue, hidden by the accidents of the Host, and He fills my being with His Presence, His graces, His merits, depending on the receptivity and disposition of my soul. Recently I was blessed to attend a wonderful talk by a Catholic wife and mother, and in her presentation she stressed the importance of authentically dying to ourselves and making ourselves a shell, or an empty glove, that God can literally fill, to where it is His presence that others encounter in our lives. And isn’t this, really, is one of the main points of receiving the Eucharist; that, in the words of St. Paul, it is no longer I, but Christ living in me?
So yes, I’ve always known and believed that receiving the Eucharist is a deeply intimate moment. It’s one that should be supremely sacred to me and filled with all the reverence and adoration for God that I can stir up in my heart.Yet even as I contemplated all these things from my pew during Mass; even as I began closing my eyes in a tired effort to recollect myself and focus solely on the miraculous nature of the upcoming moment of Communion . . . a new thought struck me–and I realized I had only been seeing half the picture.
Open your eyes, it said.
So I opened my eyes.
Immediately I saw my family; my friends; Catholics of different ages, personalities and stories, all humbly and quietly filing towards Holy Communion with their Lord. I saw the curious toddler, the expecting mother, the hardworking father, the young girl hidden under a mantilla, the solemn young man in a tie.
In that moment, the thought continued in my heart: Your Communion is for them, too.
I was instantly reminded of the chilly morning I drove my brother to his Confirmation retreat. As a chaperone, I was able to attend the retreat and absorb the talks, and one line in particular from the visiting priest struck me especially deeply. As he challenged the Confirmandi to attend Mass each Sunday, and expressed the reasons for doing so, he surprised me. I was expecting reasons such as sanctifying grace, growth in holiness, etc. but he chose to highlight something different. “By attending Mass,” he said, “you are witnessing to your Catholic brethren.” He spoke of how our physical presence at the Mass witnessed to the mystical reality of our being, in all truth, the Body of Christ; a reality that isn’t just a nice phrase or a holy thought, but a mystery and a truth. Our spiritual lives, he said, aren’t simply about “a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus” as we are used to hearing from Protestant Christians. On earth, we are members of the Church Militant and mystically united to the Church Triumphant and Church Suffering. We are immersed in a spiritual reality that is far more enormous than ourselves. In that sense, Catholicism is certainly not a “personal” faith. No man is an island, whether at work, in the domestic church–or in the Communion line.
As Catholics, we know that we are bound together in the economy of grace and in spiritual warfare; we know that every good deed we perform, or sin we commit, isn’t merely “personal,” and that to say it “doesn’t hurt anyone but ourselves” is foolish. Because we are members of the same mystical Body, our every good action and our every sin affects, in some way, the remainder of the Body, the Church–for good or for ill.
So aren’t these truths directly applicable to our reception of Holy Communion, where we receive Christ into the shells of our bodies and seek to conform ourselves totally to Him? Isn’t the Communion rail where we should come in order to benefit not only ourselves in an intimate encounter with Christ, but also–just as importantly–the members of Church Militant by receiving Christ into our bodies, so as to become more like Him, so as to present to God all the merits we can for the sake of our fighting brethren?
In case you were wondering, the title of this post is a little exaggerated . . . I don’t plan on approaching Communion wide-eyed and staring at those I pass by until I make them squirm! What I seek to do is be mindful of the whole purpose of the Sacrament of the Eucharist. While it’s essential for me to receive the Holy Eucharist with the intention of having an intimate encounter with God, of growing in holiness and conforming myself to Christ–I also receive the Eucharist for the sake of every member of the Body of Christ. I receive my Lord in Communion so as to become more like Him, not merely for my own sake, but for the sake of every Catholic in the nave–every Catholic in the diocese–every Catholic in the Church. I receive the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ in Communion so that I can be equipped by Him to strengthen my brothers and sisters in our spiritual warfare, in the ways He is calling me to do. This largely depends, of course, on my interior holiness, and in the example I give through my day-to-day life in my domestic church; in the little things and the small victories; but I’m not an island, and my Communions are surely no exception.
I’ll always strive for recollection, reverence and intimacy in every single Communion I’m privileged to receive for the rest of my life. My best efforts at this are far less than Christ deserves. But in all my efforts at recollection, I won’t ever forget that my Communion is meant to have exterior as well as interior fruit, for others as well as myself; that I am a small part of a grander scheme; and that my very act of receiving the Holy Eucharist is intended to have a ripple effect of grace and good for every Catholic throughout the world, and not just remain with me.
Our body is a cenacle, a monstrance: through its crystal the world should see God.
-St. Gianna Molla