Catholic Company / Magazine

Sacrament Spotlight: Holy Communion

Apr 26, 2012 by

According to the Papal Encyclical Lumen Gentium, what is the “source and summit of the Christian life”?  Hint: It’s not the Holy Spirit, the communion of saints, or the Holy See.

Answer: It’s the Eucharist!

The Eucharist is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, tradition in the Church.  And some have proclaimed that the Eucharist is Heaven on earth.  Other Christian denominations would never say that.  Some Christian denominations only celebrate Communion a few times a year and give it only a sort of symbolic meaning.  However, the Roman Catholic Church celebrates Holy Communion every single day and holds it as the actual Body and Blood of Christ.  The differences in how churches celebrate Communion leads one to wonder many things about the sacrament.  Why can’t we receive First Holy Communion until the age of seven?  Who instituted the Eucharist? Why is it called the Eucharist?  Who can receive the Eucharist?  The answers to many of these questions can be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  Here are some answers to some common questions on Holy Communion offered by the Catechism (or CCC).

-          QUESTION:  Why must you be seven years old to receive First Holy Communion in the Roman Catholic Church?  ANSWER:  According to the Church, by the age of seven you have attained the age of reason.  Many psychologists agree that seven is the average age by which children attain reason, and therefore this is an appropriate age for children to receive the Sacrament.  The Eastern Church gives First Holy Communion to infants on the day of their baptism (CCC 1244).  Why is attaining reason important to Roman Catholics?  I think this is in order to ensure Holy Communion is given due reverence and that one approachs it with the right intention and will.  A baby simply can’t approach First Holy Communion with willed reverence, wonder, and awe.

-          QUESTION:  Who can receive Holy Communion?  ANSWER:  Any Catholic who is in a state of grace. Recently, the church has been attacked for having this practice.  Occasionally in the news a priest will deny Holy Communion to a man or woman openly living a sexually immoral life with another person of their same gender.  Why are they denied?  Because the priest is aware that they are in a state of grave sin, and therefore he cannot in good faith dispense the Sacrament.  We are called to prepare ourselves to receive “so great and so holy a moment” through examining our consciences and confessing our grave sins.  Failure to worthily partake of the Sacrament resulted in “ill and infirm, and a considerable number . . . dying” in the Corinthian community (1 Cor. 11:30).

-          QUESTION:  Why is it called the Eucharist and Holy Communion?  ANSWER:  The word 'Eucharist' comes from the Greek words eucharistein and eulogein which were understood as words of thanksgiving by the Jews for God’s acts in the world (CCC 1328). Christians took these words and applied them to a meal of thanksgiving in which Christ offers his Body to us in order to sanctify us.  It is also called Holy Communion because by the Sacrament we are united with Christ (CCC 1331).

-          QUESTION:  Is Christ really present in the Eucharist?  ANSWER:  Yes, yes, a hundred times yes!  The Catholic Church believes that “the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained” (Council of Trent 1551).  Through Christ’s words he is made really present to us, completely, and for our benefit.  Why do we believe in the real presence?  For many reasons.  The earliest words of Christ in the Bible come from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, written in the 50s A.D., well before the gospels, in which he quotes Christ as saying: “This (being the bread) is my body that is for you.  Do this (eat My Body) in remembrance of me” (1. Cor. 11:24).  If this isn’t telling, then I don’t know what is.

Without the Eucharist there would be no church. I always remind myself that living in the U.S. I am very blessed to be able to receive the Eucharist every single day, unlike some Catholics who only have the chance to receive once a year-such as those living in the mountains of some parts of Central and South America.  In First Holy Communion your loved one is taking a part in a Sacrament which will continue to change their life for years to come.  Be sure to give your loved one First Communion gifts which will enrich their love of the sacrament and the Catholic faith such as First Communion books or a First Communion rosary.  What questions do you have about Holy Communion?