Communion is not Just a Ritual
Human beings like rituals. The problem is that we can easily turn something of great significance into a ritual of no consequence. This is true of the Eucharist.
Very often receiving Holy Communion just becomes a ritual—at Communion time every Sunday we join the queue and go to receive. But are we really aware of what is happening when we come to this stage of our participation in the Mass?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that the Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life”. It is a sacrament that is so complex and has so many dimensions to it that I need to write at least two essays on it.
In this first essay I will refer very briefly to two facets:
First, Jesus chose to institute the sacrament of the Eucharist during a meal.
The Last Supper may have appeared to the disciples as a simple Jewish Passover meal, but on this night Jesus solemnly transformed the Jewish ritual into a banquet of the New Covenant during which we are nourished by his body and blood.
The wafer and wine are no longer just bread and wine but his real body and blood. Jesus is really and truly present, and by consuming his body and blood we participate in his divine nature.
Our participation in the Eucharist is a foretaste of “the wedding supper of the Lamb” (Rev 19:9) to which Jesus will invite us in heaven.
Indeed, Jesus himself told his disciples at the Last Supper: “I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom”(Mt 26:29).
Second, the Eucharist is also referred to as “the breaking of bread”.
The synoptic gospels tell us that during the Last Supper Jesus took bread, and after giving thanks, broke it and gave it to his disciples saying, “Take and eat; this is my body” (Mt 26:26).
In my earlier days I used to see the priest breaking the big host before Communion and I wondered why.
Some 15 years ago I participated in a Methodist course called “The Emmaus Walk”. This is a three-day course at the end of which the participants are expected to recognise Jesus in the same way that the two disciples who had been walking with him recognised him in Emmaus when he broke bread at table and began to give it to them (Lk 24:13-35).
I have now come to realise that the Holy Mass is at one level a “walk to Emmaus” consisting of two major movements—the liturgy of the Word and the liturgy of the Eucharist.
In the liturgy of the Word, the Scriptures are explained to us in a similar way to the way Jesus explained to the two disciples all that the Scriptures had said about him, beginning with Moses and the prophets.
The high point of the liturgy of the Eucharist is when the faithful are invited to the Supper of the Lamb: “Behold the Lamb of God… Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.”
So, as we join the queue going towards the altar to receive, we should remember that the Lamb of God is really and truly present, and that receiving Communion is a real encounter with Jesus—the same Jesus who will invite us to his banquet in heaven where we will see him face to face in the company of all the angels, the saints and all our relatives who have been saved by the blood of the Lamb.