We continue our reflection on the importance of the Holy Eucharist in our lives as we deal with the effects of the pandemic. In the last reflection we touched upon the importance of physically attending Mass where we receive our Lord in Holy Communion. We discussed the teaching of the Church regarding the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Now we consider our response to His gift of love.
Since we believe that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist, how we receive Him, how we reverence His presence among us, matters a great deal. First and foremost, we receive Him in a state of grace. If we are aware of committing serious (mortal) sin, we refrain from receiving Him until we make a good and thorough confession in the sacrament of reconciliation. Our Lord gave us the sacraments to increase His life in us. When we are aware of serious sin in our lives, we have an obligation to ourselves and to one another to get to confession as soon as possible. Sin is a poison; it affects every aspect of our lives. Sin that is not forgiven festers and leads to more sin. We may even begin to get comfortable with our weakness instead of striving to become “…perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).
We inherited our sinful condition from our first parents, Adam and Eve. That is why Jesus came, to give us the remedy: to forgive, heal and restore us to the image and likeness of God. Jesus gave us the sacrament of penance to strengthen us, to help us grow in holiness, to enable us to live lives in conformity with God’s law and will. When we break His law, it affects not only us but also the entire world. Our sin is never personal or private. What I do or don’t do affects you just as much as what you do or don’t do affects me. Did Christ’s sacrifice on the cross affect only Him? Didn’t it save all of us? Indeed, the whole world!
Jesus knows our weaknesses. That is why He gave His apostles and the priests who have followed them the power to forgive sins. Jesus is a great psychiatrist! He knows the importance of admitting our guilt as the first step toward healing, forgiveness and wholeness. How humbling it is to admit my faults to a priest, who represents Christ, then to hear the beautiful words of absolution forgiving me and reuniting me to His body, the Church. Who is humbler than Jesus? He humbles Himself every time He forgives our sins against His love. Humility is the key to holiness. It always has been and always will be.
If you are aware of sin in your life, get rid of it! If you are not sure of what is a sin, read the Ten Commandments, or go online and download a good examination of conscience. If it has been a long time since you have been to confession and you are not sure what to do or say, don’t worry—just let the priest know and he will guide you. Make sure to be as thorough and honest as your memory allows; to purposely hold something back is to make a mockery of the sacrament and to commit a sacrilege. If you are sorry and intend to amend your life, you will be forgiven, even for the most terrible of sins. Afraid of a difficult penance? Again, don’t worry. Did you know that we priests make up for the small penances we give penitents by saying extra prayers for them ourselves? In imitation of Jesus, who took upon Himself the guilt of us all by His death on the cross, we priests take on the guilt of those who humble themselves by a good confession.
The beauty of frequent confession is that it allows us to receive Jesus in Holy Communion as worthily as we possibly can. If we are conscious of serious (mortal) sin on our souls, then approaching the altar to receive Holy Communion would be a sacrilege. We should never take the gift of the Eucharist for granted and always approach Him with reverence and awe. How often should we go to confession? All serious (mortal) sins should be confessed as soon as possible. If we have lesser (venial) sins on our conscience, we can still receive Holy Communion, as long as we resolve to mention them in our next confession, offer a good Act of Contrition and sincerely pray the Penitential Act which precedes the Gloria at the beginning of Mass. Catholics are obliged to make a good confession once a year, sometime during Lent or Easter time; it is called our Easter duty. However, a good practice is to go to confession at least once a month. This will ensure that we are not forgetting anything essential, which can easily happen after a longer period of time. My own practice: I go to confession every two weeks. Why? Because I am a sinner, but I want to be a good and holy bishop, I want to receive Jesus as worthily as possible, and I want to go to Heaven. Check with your local parish to see what time confessions are heard. Or, if the times are not convenient and you are aware of serious (mortal) sin, call and ask to see a priest. We will be happy to hear your confession any time.
Because we believe that Jesus is truly present in the Holy Eucharist, in addition to receiving Him in a state of grace, we are also called to show a deep reverence and respect whenever we are in His presence. We can find Him in the tabernacle in the sanctuary of our parish churches. A candle in a red glass globe is always lit nearby; that is how we know that He is there. A reverent silence is maintained in our churches to foster a quiet place for prayer and meditation. A good definition of prayer? Our conversation with the Lord. In a world filled with noise, it is nice to know that there is a place of silence where our hearts, minds and souls can experience His peace, hear His voice and respond in love and obedience. Please refrain from conversations in church; they are best held outside after Mass.
Gestures, too, are important. They serve to express our love, concern and care for one another. They are no less of a sign of love when they are directed to our Lord. In fact, they take on special significance as expressions of our faith in Jesus present among us in the Eucharist.
When I speak to our children during their preparation to receive our Lord for the first time in Holy Communion, I ask them this question: “When you visit grandma and grandpa, what is the first thing you do when you see them?” Their little hands all go up and they respond, “We give them a kiss hello!” Then I ask how grandma and grandpa would feel if they didn’t give them a kiss hello but instead plopped themselves down in front of the television without saying a word. There is a bewildering silence. They don’t know what to say. In their great innocence, it never entered their pure minds to do such a thing. I ask, “Do you think they would be sad?” “Yes!” they all respond. Well, let’s think about this for a moment. Let’s reclaim that innocence we once shared with our beautiful children. I will tell you what I teach them. When we come to church and before we enter our pew, it is our Catholic custom to genuflect in the direction of Jesus present in the tabernacle. Genuflecting is touching the right knee to the floor as an act of reverence, a gesture of love and acknowledgment of His presence. It is our kiss hello to our God present in the tabernacle. A long time ago, we used to hear humorous stories of Catholics genuflecting before they took their seats in a movie theater! Some of our gestures can become routine, habitual, something mechanical, done without thought. Our genuflections are and should always be gestures of faith, expressions of love. Sadly, this practice has gone by the wayside. Please reclaim this gesture in your devotional lives, teach it to your children, especially by example. Be purposeful about it, not the equivalent of a quick peck on the cheek but a reverent genuflection. Look at the tabernacle and say quietly to our Lord: “Hello, Jesus. I believe You are here. I love You.” When we come into church during Eucharistic adoration and the monstrance is upon the altar, our custom is to kneel on both knees and bow our heads before we enter our pew. Of course, for those who cannot genuflect due to age or infirmity, a profound bow is acceptable, accompanied by the same hello and act of faith and expression of love.
I also call your attention to the most sacred moments of the Mass: the epiclesis and the consecration. When the priest calls down the Holy Spirit upon the gifts of bread and wine with the gesture of his hands over the paten and chalice (the epiclesis), the bells ring once. At that moment we should all be kneeling, whether we are in the pew or against the back wall or in the church foyer. Jesus is coming upon the altar! We are about to witness a miracle! When the words of consecration are spoken and the Sacred Host is elevated, and the same with the chalice of His Precious Blood, the bells are rung, and we should all be kneeling in adoration. This is not the time to go to the restroom; it is not the time to be moving about in the church. All time ceases at this most sacred moment. The sacrifice of Calvary is re-enacted. The perfect sacrifice of Jesus is offered to the Father in worship. Heaven touches earth and God is present on our altars. Our response, our focus at this divine moment should be one of total concentration and reverence. No distractions, no movement, only love and thanksgiving, wonder and awe in His presence.
Our gestures are not only an expression of our personal faith, but by them we help one another to worship well and with greater reverence. Let us teach those around us by the way we express our faith and love in the simple gestures we offer our Lord present in the Most Blessed Sacrament upon our altars and in our tabernacles.
The next article will focus on our preparation and thanksgiving for the gift of the Eucharist.