(Written on June 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown)
By Chinese standards, the city was small, and we found its one and only Catholic Church tucked away on the second floor of a simple three-story building in an obscure residential area. The Chinese priest knew right away that we were foreigners as we took out our Missals and followed along with the Chinese-language Mass that he was celebrating.
When our family presented ourselves to receive Holy Communion, he declared, “Corpus Christi” as he held up the consecrated Host to each of us. We responded, “Amen.”
I was surprised to hear the Latin words for “Body of Christ.” If the priest would have said it in the Mandarin language, as he did to the other communicants, we would have understood his meaning even if the words would have sounded alien to our ears. Although his spoken Latin sounded alien to our ears, it was familiar to us in an odd kind of way.
I realized later that it was the priest’s way to be hospitable to us by closing the language gap between Chinese and English. No matter the language, Catholics know that when the priest utters, “The Body of Christ” and puts the consecrated Host on the tongue or the hand, we receive Jesus Christ Himself.
As parishes are beginning to offer Mass publicly again, Catholics look forward to returning to the table of the Lord and receiving Jesus sacramentally. In the Eucharist is the full and real presence of Jesus, and in Him, we receive every spiritual blessing.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens.” (Ephesians 1:3)
What a gift is the Eucharist! The sacrifice of the Lamb of God made once and for all is made present at Mass – Jesus’ Body and Blood given up for the forgiveness of our sins. In agape love (self-giving love), Christ totally gives Himself to be consumed by us, that we may be filled with His Spirit and His life.
“The Eucharist is ‘the source and summit of the Christian life.’ For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch” (CCC 1324). In the small white Host we receive on our tongue or hand is everything we need to live a life of love and holiness.
Source and Summit
We believe that Jesus truly comes to us in the Blessed Sacrament, but are we aware of the effects that Holy Communion has in us when we receive worthily? The Catechism of the Catholic Church 1391-1398 lists these fruits of Holy Communion:
- Holy Communion augments our union with Christ. The principal fruit of receiving the Eucharist in Holy Communion is an intimate union with Christ Jesus.
- What material food produces in our bodily life, Holy Communion wonderfully achieves in our spiritual life. Communion with the flesh of the risen Christ, preserves, increases, and renews the life of grace received at Baptism.
- Holy Communion separates us from sin. The body of Christ we receive in Holy Communion is “given up for us,” and the blood we drink “shed for the many for the forgiveness of sins.” For this reason the Eucharist cannot unite us to Christ without at the same time cleansing us from past sins and preserving us from future sins.
- As bodily nourishment restores lost strength, so the Eucharist strengthens our charity, which tends to be weakened in daily life; and this living charity wipes away venial sins.
- By the same charity that it enkindles in us, the Eucharist preserves us from future mortal sins. The more we share the life of Christ and progress in his friendship, the more difficult it is to break away from him by mortal sin.
- The unity of the Mystical Body: the Eucharist makes the Church. Communion renews, strengthens, and deepens the incorporation into the Church, already achieved by Baptism.
- The Eucharist commits us to the poor. To receive in truth the Body and Blood of Christ given up for us, we must recognize Christ in the poorest, his brethren.
Sacrament of Love
All of the saints loved Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament.
St. John Vianney said, “There is nothing so great as the Eucharist. If God had something more precious, He would have given it to us.”
St. Catherine of Siena, a Doctor of the Church wrote, “Therefore you could not be given the body without being given the blood as well; nor either the body or the blood without the soul of this Word; not the soul or body without the divinity of [Jesus], God eternal.”
Mother Teresa often talked about the tenderness, humility, and love of Jesus in the Eucharist. She said, “When you look at Christ on the cross, you see how much He loved you then. When you look at Christ in the Eucharist, you see how much He loves you now.”
Response to Love
When we experience the privilege of receiving Holy Communion, we receive Jesus and His offer of love to each one of us. This infinite love requires a personal response on our part. What is agape love – Jesus’ total gift of Himself to us – if no one receives it?
Our first response is one of receptivity. As we open our mouth or palms to receive Jesus in the Eucharist, we must also choose to open the door of our heart, so it can be filled with Jesus Himself. Our hearts are made for Him, because our hearts are made for love. We come to love Jesus because He first loved us.
Therese of Lisieux writes, “Keeping myself open to the rays of the Divine Host, in this furnace of love, I shall be consumed, and Lord, I shall love You.”
When our hearts surrender to this Love, they are inevitably filled with gratitude. In loving Jesus back, we are changed by the reception of this one Holy Communion. Our openness and response to reciprocate Jesus’ love provides the needed grace to love our families, co-workers, and neighbors with the same self-giving love we accept from Christ.
This post also appears in The Well.