Sunday, February 12, 2012

Unclean... Unclean...

Think about that awkward moment when your row gets up to go to communion and you realize you can't.  Now I know it can be uncomfortable to be here in church and not receive communion.  But it is not as bad as it could be.  At least you don't have to run around yelling out to everyone "Unclean, unclean."  I know that sometimes it feels that way when the whole rest of the church comes forward and you stay back.  But trust that when you are doing this you are reverencing the Eucharist.

In today's first reading from the Book of Leviticus - the Lepers had to yell out "Unclean, Unclean," and dwell outside of the community.

While God does call us to community, to communion, to oneness, there are times when a separation, a "time out" is necessary.

How can this be you may ask?  Or you may be so bold as to even deny it.  Some claim that since the Eucharist is a sign of unity all should come forward we shouldn't be divided.

However our tradition reveals otherwise.
The Catechism shows in fact, that "The first announcement of the Eucharist divided the disciples, just as the announcement of the Passion scandalized them: "This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?" (Jn 6:60). The Eucharist and the Cross are stumbling blocks. It is the same mystery and it never ceases to be an occasion of division. "Will you also go away?" (Jn 6:67). The Lord's question echoes through the ages, as a loving invitation to discover that only he has "the words of eternal life" (Jn 6:68) and that to receive in faith the gift of his Eucharist is to receive the Lord himself. (Catechism 1336)

So we can see that even our Lord realized that some would not accept or could not accept what he came to reveal.  And so even today, as Jesus comes to us in the sacrament of the Eucharist... as he comes to us in His Real Presence in the form of bread and wine.  It really is His Body and Blood that we receive.  Some cannot accept this teaching.

I often say to people who ask me:  Why isn't everyone welcome to the table?  My response is that they are.  However we do have certain conditions.  Anyone can receive communion and is welcome to our faith, but we do have a process for it.  That is called Initiation.  Once a person has been fully initiated into the Catholic faith they may receive with a few prerequisites.

1385 of the Catechism: To respond to this invitation [of the Eucharist] we must prepare ourselves for so great and so holy a moment. St. Paul urges us to examine our conscience: "Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself." 1 Cor 11:27-29.  Anyone conscious of a grave sin must receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to communion.

So presuming someone is initiated Roman Catholic, and believes all that we believe, out of a reverence for the Eucharist and the Sacredness of the Act.  These three prerequisites need to be present for a person to receive communion.

The prerequisites for the reception of Holy Communion are: 1) being in the state of grace, 2) having fasted for one hour, and 3) devotion and attention.

If for some reason any one of these is not present than we should abstain from receiving Communion.

1) Being in the state of grace.

What would sever us from the state of grace?

Mortal Sin.  What makes a Mortal Sin different than a Venial Sin (less serious sin)?

The three conditions that are necessary for a sin to be mortal are:
       -The sin itself is objectively grave
       -The person knows that the sin is grave
       -The person freely chooses to commit this sin

Grave matter includes, but is not limited to, murder, receiving or participating in an abortion, having sexual intercourse outside of marriage or in an invalid marriage, and deliberately engaging in impure thoughts and actions, missing mass on Sunday (the only permission given for this is illness). Scripture contains lists of mortal sins (for example, Matt. 5:28–29, 1 Cor. 6:9–10 and Gal. 5:19–21). For further information on what constitutes a mortal sin, see the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  Every Household should have a Catechism and use it.

In Regards to refraining from the Eucharist when we have committed a mortal sin we look to Canon Law number 916: A person who is conscious of grave sin is not to celebrate Mass or to receive the Body of the Lord without prior sacramental confession unless a grave reason is present and there is no opportunity of confessing; in this case the person is to be mindful of the obligation to make an act of perfect contrition, including the intention of confessing as soon as possible.

A mortal sin is any sin whose matter is grave and which has been committed willfully and with knowledge of its seriousness.
The Church’s ancient teaching on this particular matter is expressed in the Didache, an early Christian document written around A.D. 70, which states: "Whosoever is holy [i.e., in a state of sanctifying grace], let him approach. Whosoever is not, let him repent" (Didache 10).

2) Having fasted for one hour (no food or drink other than water.  The sick may take medication and if necessary dispensed from the fast all together)
Canon 988 Fasting for One Hour. By ancient tradition Christians abstain from profane food prior to receiving the sacred food of the Eucharist. Until the pontificate of Pope Pius XII the Eucharistic fast was from midnight. Pope Pius reduced it to three hours, and after Vatican II, Pope Paul VI reduced it to one hour. The current Code of Canon Law states, that alone hour fast before receiving communion is to be strictly followed.

3) Devotion and Attention
Catechism 1387 Bodily demeanor (gestures, clothing) ought to convey the respect, solemnity, and joy of this moment when Christ becomes our guest.

Scripture warns that it is very dangerous for one not believing in the Real Presence to receive Communion: "For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died" (1 Cor. 11:29–30).

So what are some common examples when people should refrain from receiving the Eucharist?
If you are not Catholic.  If you are not practicing the Catholic faith.  If you are not in the state of grace (committed a mortal sin:  i.e. missed Sunday mass, etc.)  If you have not fasted.  If you have not fully and actively participated in the mass.

So what do you do if you are faced with that "Awkward Moment" when you can't come forward to receive communion?   First of all don't receive.  This may be an anxiety provoking moment.  Maybe you are afraid of what other's may think, maybe you feel sad not receiving, maybe you feel left out... whatever the awkwardness may be, worry more about the sacredness of the Eucharist than about your own self-image.  Worry more about reverencing God than disappointing others.

The second thing the Church asks those who are not receiving to do is to pray.  Pray for the Unity of the Church.  Pray that one day we will all be able to receive together.  Pray that you may soon come forward to receive Him.  Pray that you may have the courage and the grace to take some steps in your own life to make things right with the Lord, with Yourself, and with His One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

So though this may seem awkward, it's not as bad as being exiled and having to run around screaming "Unclean, Unclean."  You are still loved by God and loved by His Church.  Out of great reverence for the Eucharist sometimes it is better to refrain until we really do live and believe all that is present in this most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist


  1. A person who has determined with his/her conscience of not being able to recive Holy Communion physically, could receive it Spiritually. Jesus, welcomes you to come to Him just as you are with a contrite heart, turning yourself completely over to Him for forgiveness, healing and Divine Mercy. Lift up all those who are partaking of this celebration of the Holy Eucharist at this Mass and throughout the whole world. Lift up the celebrants of the Holy Mass also. Always reach out to Jesus just as you are and ask Him to come within you as well as all others.

  2. Father this was an excellent homily that more people need to hear. Thank you for sharing it.

  3. I found this prayer:

    Spiritual Communion

    My Jesus, I believe that You are present in the Most Holy Sacrament.
    I love You above all things, and I desire to receive You into my soul.
    Since I cannot at this moment receive You sacramentally,
    come at least spiritually into my heart.
    I embrace You as if You were already there and unite myself wholly to You.
    Never permit me to be separated from You.

  4. I love this! Thank you for posting it. I had assumed that the fast had always been one hour. Do you know the reasons for the change?


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