Before the Cross | Eucharist proclaims Christ's death until He comes
This quotation from St. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians is the earliest written account of the institution of the Lord's Supper in the New Testament. The narrative emphasizes Jesus' action of self-giving (expressed in the words over the bread and the cup) and His double command to repeat His own action.
Paul tells the Church of Corinth, and by extension all of us, that when we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim Jesus' death until He comes again. This makes the reception of holy Communion an act of evangelization. Eucharist is never a purely private devotion. It is always a proclamation of the Gospel and, therefore, an action of the whole Church united with Christ in this great sacrament of our salvation.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#1325), "The Eucharist is the efficacious sign and sublime cause of that communion in the divine life and that unity of the People of God by which the Church is kept in being. It is the culmination both of God's action sanctifying the world in Christ and of the worship men offer to Christ and through Him to the Father in the Holy Spirit."
This makes our reception of the holy Eucharist something profoundly personal -- our intimate communion with the person of Jesus Christ -- and something that is done in union with the whole Church. The Catechism goes on to say that "the Eucharist is the sum and summary of our faith" and that "by the eucharistic celebration we already unite ourselves with the heavenly liturgy and anticipate eternal life, when God will be all in all (1 Corinthians 15:28).
Considering the sacredness of what we are doing when we receive the Eucharist -- as individuals and as a community of faith -- there is no way we can afford to take this action for granted. St. Paul urged the Corinthians to receive the holy Eucharist in a worthy manner. The consequences of an unworthy (or irreverent) reception of the Lord's body and blood are quite serious. If we eat and drink unworthily, without having grasped and internalized the meaning of Christ's sacrificial gift of Himself to us, St. Paul says we are guilty of a sin against the Lord Himself (cf. 1 Corinthians 8:12).
The only proper way to celebrate the Eucharist is with a deep and abiding reverence for what this sacrament is (the source and summit of Christian life) and for what it does (unites us with God and with all His creation). A casual or indifferent reception of the holy Eucharist denigrates the profoundly sacred actions that the sacrament gives witness to -- God's action sanctifying the world in Christ and the worship owed to Him by us.
Last week I wrote about the change in eucharistic practice made possible by the decree of Pope St. Pius X. Whereas in earlier times Catholics were not encouraged to receive holy Communion more than a couple times each year, St. Pius X made it possible for us to receive the Eucharist often -- even daily. I agree with this practice wholeheartedly, and I strongly encourage every Catholic in our archdiocese to go to Communion as often as possible.
At the same time, with St. Paul, I urge each one of us to reflect on what it is we are doing when we eat the Lord's body and drink His blood. The action we perform is something sacred. It is a proclamation of the Lord's death that binds us to live as His disciples, to worship Him with great reverence and to treat one another as members of the one family of God.
Next time you go to Communion (and I hope it is soon -- and often), think about what you are doing. Be prepared. Be grateful. And to the best of your ability, be worthy. For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes (1 Corinthians 11:26).
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