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  A Christian Faith Magazine June 2004, Volume 9, Issue 11  
The Gift and the Recipient
Most Reverend William E. Lori, Bishop of Bridgeport
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Recently, while offering Mass at one of our diocesan high schools, I witnessed what I will call an "accidental" profession of faith in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. As I was distributing Holy Communion, the Host fell from the hand of one of the students assisting at the altar. As quickly as he could, he picked up the Host and consumed the Body of Our Lord. After Mass, he immediately came to me and apologized. He was genuinely upset that the Host had slipped out of his hand. I reassured him that, in consuming the Host, he had done the right thing, and thanked him for his faith. A friendly conversation ensued about sports and studies.

I was deeply impressed with the Eucharistic faith of that young man. His name will not appear in this column but his faith deserves to see the light of day. With only a few words, this student bore witness to the wondrous truth about the Eucharist. His testimony was powerful because of its clarity amid the controversy surrounding the reception of Holy Communion by politicians. He was utterly convinced that the Host he had inadvertently dropped on the floor was truly the Body and Blood of Christ. He understood what a great gift the Eucharist is and what a privilege it is to receive it. The Holy Spirit's gift of reverence seemed to be engaging that young man's mind and heart.

Too many discussions about the Eucharist begin with the recipient rather than with the gift to be received. That's putting the cart before the horse. Before we consider who should receive the Eucharist, we must open our hearts to the Eucharistic faith of the Church. After all, the Church's teaching on the Eucharist is not the private opinion of any single bishop, priest, deacon, or theologian. This faith is not merely a matter of rules. Our Eucharistic faith flows from the Lord's Incarnation ("the Word became flesh"), from His teaching ("the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world"), from His actions at the Last Supper ("take and eat, this is My Body"), and from His saving death and resurrection ("every time . . . you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes").

This is the faith proclaimed by the Scriptures, by Ecumenical Councils and popes, by masters of the spiritual life, and by martyrs who gave their life in witness to the gift and mystery of the Holy Eucharist. At every Mass, Christ, Head and Shepherd of the Church, gathers us together as a community of faith. Christ Himself speaks to us as the Scriptures are proclaimed and applied to our lives. We respond with words of praise, with our profession of faith, and by expressing our needs to God the Father with confidence. Then, after bread and wine are offered, we as individuals and as a community of faith are drawn into the death and resurrection of Christ, His paschal mystery. The one sacrifice of the Cross and the mystery of the Lord's resurrection are made truly present to us by the power of the Holy Spirit.

In this way, Christ continues to plead for us before the Father and we are enabled continually to die to ourselves and to our sins and rise deepened in the Father's love, revealed and communicated by Christ. We share most deeply and completely in the dying and rising of Christ in Holy Communion; that is, by receiving the bread and wine completely transformed into His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. The Eucharist is, at one and the same time, the sacrifice of Christ, the banquet He sets before us, and the principal source and expression of our union with Him and with one another in the Church. In addition, The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that Holy Communion deepens our union with Christ, separates us from sin, brings about and expresses our unity with the Church, and commits us to serve the poor and the vulnerable.

To be sure, the reception of Holy Communion is deeply personal. Jesus Himself taught, "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him" (John 6:27). But receiving Holy Communion is also a public act that expresses not one's subjective views but the faith of the Church and, indeed, union with the Church and the Church's teaching. As Saint Ireneaus said so long ago, "Our way of thinking is attuned to the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn confirms our way of thinking."

St. Paul

No one should receive so great a gift lightly or unworthily. It is clear that we must be prepared to receive Holy Communion. Saint Paul tells us that we must first examine our consciences: "Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and the blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself " (1 Corinthians 11:27-29).

Saint Paul's words apply to all of us, not merely those in public life. Have we forgotten the teaching of the Scriptures and the constant teaching of the Church on the need to prepare ourselves carefully to receive Holy Communion worthily? Have we tried to deepen our faith in the Eucharist by prayerfully reflecting on this mystery, by examining our consciences, by confessing all mortal sins, and by participating wholeheartedly in the celebration of the Eucharist? Do we ask whether in our private and professional lives we are bearing witness to the Lord whom we receive? Or do we "compartmentalize" our lives into secular and religious sectors? Do our lives express oneness with Christ and oneness with His Body, the Church, and her teaching? Have we allowed the Lord whom we receive to instill in us a loving concern for those who are most defenseless? Or do we see the Eucharist as something to which we are entitled - on our terms and not the Lord's or the Church's?

The responsibility for all of us, myself included, is to examine our consciences before we receive Holy Communion. There aren't special rules for special people. The gift and mystery of the Eucharist is the same for all of us!

May the upcoming Feast of Corpus Christi, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of the Lord, be a grace-filled occasion when all of us open our hearts more widely to Christ, truly present in the gift and mystery of the Eucharist! May we, like the high school student I met last week, bear witness to Christ's true presence on the altar, in our Church and in our hearts.

This column is credited to Fairfield County Catholic monthly magazine.

copyright 2005 Clemons Productions Inc. and the Diocese of Bridgeport