This post will be a little different from the usual posts that I am used to, so bear with me as I attempt to ramble along this subject.
I have been an extra-ordinary minister of the Eucharist at my parish for about three years now and have previously served in the same role when I was a part of Newman House, the Catholic Chaplaincy for students in London. While there are some debates on the role and legitimacy of the role that extra-ordinary ministers of the Eucharist plays, my intention is not to discuss about that today but instead focus on the behaviour prior to and during the reception of the holy Eucharist.
Unlike our protestant brothers and sisters, Catholics believe that Jesus is present in the bread and wine made holy at the table of the Lord that is the altar in each church, each time the Eucharist is celebrated. As responsible Catholics (we ought to be), we ought to prepare ourselves, mentally, spiritually and physically for receiving our Lord and Saviour in the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.
How we prepare for the reception of the sacrament of the holy Eucharist matters! How do we prepare for it then? Well, the hard (and most correct I think) answer would be daily prayer and in our daily actions. To be called a Christian, we would need to live out Christ like values and principles. We need to be coherent in our actions – as Christians, we are called to daily conversion, not just a weekend conversion. We need to live out Christian values every day of our lives! It is not an easy task to do and we often fall (we have the sacrament of Reconciliation for that).
In addition to living out a Christian life, we would need to prepare ourselves by nourishing ourselves with the word of God. Not all of us can attend Mass daily, kudos to those who do. For those of us who can only make it for our weekly obligation, we could pre-read the readings and Gospel before mass each week. Just google for them in the course of the week and read maybe one reading a day, you just need three days! Why do I think this is important? I often feel that some readings take a bit more unpacking than others, i.e. they aren’t too straightforward for me to digest them in the time allocated for the mass. The readings for each week also relate to each other in deeper ways than one can imagine. Taking the time to read the readings prior to mass allows one to reflect not just on individual passages but the readings as a whole – how the old testament relates to the new and then to the Gospel message. Many young parents in my church have been encouraged to read the readings together with their children prior to Mass so that the young ones will have some understanding and context during the mass.
Be attentive during the word. It prepares our soul for the liturgy of the Eucharist.
I will skip the whole Eucharistic prayer bit because it does require some more study for me to unpack everything – notice I have skipped a large portion of the Mass as well. But I want to zoom in on the reception of the Eucharist.
The Eucharist is Jesus. Simple Bread and Wine becomes divine as the celebrant (in the person of Christ) consecrates them. This has an important but often misunderstood element. That although we see a wafer being raised before us, it is Jesus that we are receiving. When the priest says to us “the Body of Christ”, it is not a prompt. It is a declaration that we are in the presence of our Lord and saviour.
As an extra ordinary minister of the Eucharist, I have seen many people not fully understanding the gravity of the sacrament. How do I know this? Their body language and their eyes. When the minister declares that “the Body of Christ”, the divinely inspired response should be “Amen”. This response cannot be a conditioned response because we are standing before the Almighty. We are creatures before our creator, before our Lord and Saviour.
As we are introduced into the presence of our Lord, our eyes and hearts should be fixated on the treasure that we are about to receive. It is the ultimate treasure. Many children understand this, as with older members of the church. Perhaps they have the gifts of innocence and realization. It is us, the “adults” that often struggle with the true meaning of the Eucharist.
We may struggle with the theological understanding of the meaning of the Eucharist. Perhaps a good first step would be to change our physical response. I suggest that as we process towards the Eucharist, we fixate our eyes on the gift that we are about to receive.
As the minister lifts the Eucharist up and declares “the Body of Christ”, let our eyes dwell on the consecrated host and if we are receiving the host in our hands, to present them in submission to the holy presence of Jesus. We declare “AMEN” not because it is the “right” answer but because our Amen is but a feeble affirmation to the declaration that our Lord is indeed before us.
As the consecrated host is placed in our palms, take a moment to give thanks that we are in the presence of our Lord and then place it in our mouths knowing that as we consume the consecrated host, we are being filled with the most valuable treasure of all.
The Lord fills us up with his infinite Mercy, Grace and Blessings each time we approach the altar for communion. We must remain ever grateful and ever reverent.