At the Mass to mark the feast of the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus (The feast of the Sisters of the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus Institute), our parish priest, Very Rev. Msgr. Bernard Okodua made this statement during his homily concerning some reactions towards the Holy Communion. I thought over it and decided to share this little write up, hoping that it will bring back to our consciousness on what or whom exactly we receive at the Eucharistic meal at every Mass we attend and that it will aid many of the Catholic faithful to enrich their understanding of this mystery of faith. Since the practice of receiving Holy Communion in the hand which has become common due to the covid-19 pandemic (note that this was approved as a matter of charity to others to keep from spreading the covid-19 virus), there has been a spike (accept it or not) in Eucharistic abuse. I have observed that communion in the hand has fostered or promoted a less reverence and disrespect for the Holy Communion among some Catholic faithful.
• Some just stretch out their right hand to want to pick it from the minister’s hand instead of following the directives to receive on the left palm and take with the right hand.
• Some receive and then walk back almost immediately to their seat not careful to observe that there are no particles left on their palm.
• There are some who move back to their seat with it in their hand as if it’s just a wafer.
• Some hide under the nose-mask not wanting to respond to the minister when he says “The Body of Christ” before reception, which is a faith response to what we have come forward to receive. This practice has troubled my mind on what the Eucharist truly means to our Catholic faithful and the relevance in their life. The abuses observed from the way we handle the Holy Communion on the palm shows the lack of reverence or understanding of Jesus received in the sacred species.
What is Holy Eucharist?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that “Sacraments are powers that come forth from the Body of Christ, which is ever-living and life-giving…” (CCC 1116). The Holy Eucharist is one of these sacraments, the real and true Body and Blood of Christ himself that gives life (Jn. 6:35). Holy Eucharist is the Sacrament and a sacrifice in which Jesus Christ gives his Body and Blood for us, so we too might give ourselves to him in love and be united with him. In this way, we are joined with the one Body of Christ, the Church. It is the last sacrament of Christian initiation of the Church. In this sacrament, the historic sacrifice of Christ on the cross is made present during the words of consecration in a hidden, unbloody manner. This was not invented by man, but was instituted by Christ himself during the Last Supper with his disciples (Mt. 26:26-30), and commanded them from then on, to celebrate this Eucharistic meal – “Do this in memory of me” (Mt. 26:26-28; cf. Mk. 14:22-24; LK. 22:17-20; 1 Cor. 11:24). In the Eucharist, the whole Christ is really present, truly, and substantially present “This is my Body…” “This is my Blood…” (Mt. 26:26..). These words “truly, really, and substantially” are used to describe Christ’s presence in the Holy Eucharist in order to clear any false teaching that the Holy Eucharist is only a sign or figure of Christ. Our faith teaches us that this small white host is CHRIST himself: body, soul and divinity. It does not represent Christ or a sign or a mere symbol of his body. This is God. Recalling the words of Jesus Christ, the Church professes that, in the celebration of the Eucharist, bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit and the instrumentality of the priest. Christ is present to His Church in many ways, but most especially through the sacrament of his Body and Blood. As Catholics who profess faith in the Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, we must give him the worship that is due whether during the celebration of the Mass or outside it. It is the worship of latria, that is, the adoration given to God alone.
Importance of the Holy Eucharist
The Eucharist is so powerful, but often we don’t notice this and this is because we have lost touch with what we are receiving. God transforms our hearts gradually over time through it, and this gentle approach helps to solidify our relationship with Him Jesus said: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will leave forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world… For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink” (Jn. 6:51-55). Jesus gives himself in the Eucharist as spiritual nourishment because he loves us. God’s plan for mankind is a participation in his divine life and this sharing begins with our baptism, strengthened and increased in Confirmation. This relationship is nourished and deepened through our participation in the Eucharist. Also receiving the Holy Eucharist, we are united to the person of Christ in his humanity as well as his divinity “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him” (Jn. 6:56). And St. Augustine in one of his sermon says: “If you receive worthily, you are what you have received”, we intimately united with Jesus –he literally becomes part of us; and so we have a responsibility to represent Christ and bring him to the world. Our corruptible nature is transformed by being united to the source of life “Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one feeds on me will have life because of me” (Jn. 6:57). We become partakers in the divine life of the Holy Trinity. The word Eucharist means ‘thanksgiving.’ In the Eucharist, the Church receives the gift of Jesus Christ and in turn in and through it, we give praise, glory and thanksgiving to God for his sublime gift.
Reverence for the Holy Eucharist
The Holy Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ is a sacred gift God has given us, and so as Catholics we should endeavor to revere this most precious gift. At every Mass we receive the living presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist, it is here that we have a physical encounter with Jesus. We are privileged to receive the Holy Communion because God desires to share His divine life and presence with us “I am with you always, to the end of age” (Mt. 28:20). This is GOD (not an ordinary white host) we have received in our hands unworthy though we are, hence, once received (especially in the hand), we are not permitted to walk off with the Holy Communion without consuming it; we are expected to consume it immediately in front of the minister. The Church describes the Holy Eucharist as the ‘Source and Summit of our faith’. Jesus has given us himself in the Eucharist so that we can have life and not only here on earth but with him in heaven for all eternity
A Muslim man once approached a Catholic, asking him if he really believed that the Host was God Himself. The Catholic responded, “Yes.” The Muslim paused for a while, thinking it over. “If I believed that was truly Allah,” he said finally, “then I would crawl up on my hands and knees, bowing my head to receive Him” (Story copied). In the Eucharist, the awesomeness of God is present. We must, we absolutely must, have this in mind when we approach God at Mass. We must never forget that we owe everything to Him, and so whenever we receive Him at communion be it on the tongue or hand, we must receive Him with profound reverence and devotion. I pray that all of us who receive Jesus in the Holy Communion know who we are receiving and be filled with his presence. For further reading on the understanding of the Eucharist, please find time to read the Catechism of the Catholic Church nos- 1322-1419
• Rev. Sr. Mary Judith Madueke, EHJ, is the Director of Religious Education, Archdiocese of Lagos.