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The Holy Eucharist as Communion and Sacrament
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
Our secularized, paganized, former Christian America is beyond salvation naturally speaking. The believing and true Catholic must wake up to the fact that God became man and remains with us in the Holy Eucharist to help us to make the impossible possible. Fr. Hardon shows clearly that much power and many graces are conferred on one who frequently receives him and adores him with deep faith and corresponding love. Do you want to absorb these truths deeply, live them heroically, and spread them with apostolic zeal?† Listen to Fr. Hardon attentively and prayerfully. Then commit the rest of your life as apostles of eternal life.†Fr. Hardon:
Suppose we begin with a prayer. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Hail Mary full of Grace, the Lord is with Thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Mother of the Holy Eucharist, pray for us. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our conference this evening is on the Eucharist as communion and sacrament. There is generally no difficulty in speaking about the Eucharist as Sacrament. In fact, thatís the way most Catholics understand the Eucharist. However, our focus is more specific. We wish to explore how the Holy Eucharist is a sacrament three times over as present sacrament, as communion sacrament, and as sacrifice sacrament. Tonightís focus is on the Holy Eucharist as communion sacrament.
We might begin by observing that the Churchís doctrinal history of Holy Communion as a means of nourishing our souls goes back literally to the first century, even before the New Testament was completed. To be exact, the Didache otherwise known as the teaching of the twelve apostles is unqualifyingly clear. However, from the very beginning, the Holy Eucharist was challenged as we know by those who questioned the reality of the Real Presence and the corresponding reality of the soul needing to be nourished no less than the body.
What is the source of the Churchís teaching? The source of the Churchís teaching is divine revelation as found in the sixth chapter of St. Johnís Gospel. John wrote his Gospel, as we know, to meet the two major challenges in Christianity by the end of the first century. One questioning Christís divinity and the other questioning his humanity. St. John, then, was first of all preserved to the end of the first century unlike all the other apostles who died martyrís deaths. The Holy Spirit preserved John so he would write his Gospel at the end of the first century by which time some of the most devastating errors on both who Christ is and what the Holy Eucharist is had arisen in Christianity. John concentrates so much on showing Jesus as God himself in human form that he might begin to wonder, why the stress in the fourth Evangelist on both Christís divinity and his humanity. The stress on Christís divinity was of course to emphasize that God truly became man. It is God, who became incarnate, but the stress on Christís humanity, how these needs to be underlined and circled, etched in bronze, it is Jesus Christ in his humanity whom we receive in Holy Communion. He promised, as we know in the sixth chapter of Johnís Gospel, that he would provide food and drink, in other words, nourishment for the soul. Letís be clear, nourishment for the soul animated by the grace of God. We Catholics believe there are two kinds of souls, two kinds of animation, there is the body animated by its principle of life, which we call the soul. There is the soul animated by its principle of life, and that is sanctifying grace. In other words, Christ instituted the Holy Eucharist in order to provide our souls with means, not only of sustenance to remain supernaturally alive, for, as we shall see to grow in this supernatural life. From the dawn of Christianity, the Church has been absolutely unambiguous in teaching there are two levels of life that we are to possess. One level of life when we are conceived in our motherís womb, the other level of life when our souls acquire that super human supernatural life when we are baptized. Two chapters of Johnís Gospel always go together. Chapter three and chapter six. In chapter three, remember the dialogue with Nicodemus where Christ speaks of the necessity of being born again, and Nicodemus in his, well, innocent stupidity asked, ďMaster, you canít mean that weíre supposed to enter our motherís womb a second time.Ē Oh Nicodemus, No, but we are to acquire or shall I say, reacquire, what our first parents lost by their sin. We are to reacquire what they have lost by our being baptized. In other words beyond and above the natural life of the body whose principle of life is the soul. We are to acquire a supernatural life for the soul. Sanctifying grace, as St. Augustine calls it, is the soul of the soul, anima anime. It is that soul of the soul, which needs to be sustained and nourished. In the sixth chapter of Johnís Gospel, the principle, indeed indispensable source of nourishment for that soul of the soul is the sacrament of Holy Communion.
We go on. The state of grace is necessary to receive the graces that Christ wants to confer to the sacrament of Holy Communion. May I speak clearly; the sacrament of Holy Communion does not confer sanctifying grace. Thatís why Christ instituted the Sacrament of Penance. Or as our Holy Father prefers calling it, the Sacrament of Confession. I like that. Anyone who goes to Holy Communion not in the state of grace, not only does not receive grace. That person commits the grave sin of blasphemy. Loses further grace as St. Paul tells us, ďSuch a person draws condemnation on himself.Ē We do not have to be mystics to know that not a few people are receiving sacrilegious communions --- widespread. I never tire repeating what our present Holy Father told the assembled American hierarchy on his first pilgrimage to America. In Chicago, in the name of God, he told them, I hear on Sundays most of your people who attend Mass receive Holy Communion, but I also understand that not many go to Confession. In other words, to receive Holy Communion, we must be in the state of grace in order to obtain the graces that Christ intends to confer through the Holy Eucharist as Communion sacrament. You might say this stands to reason. You donít feed a human corpse. A person in mortal sin is a spiritual corpse. Holy Communion is a source of nourishment, but the soul had better be alive with what weíve been calling the soul of the soul, otherwise known as sanctifying grace. I cannot tell you what a flood of errors are pouring, surely in the United States, on just this subject. Not too many months ago, I understand, forty parishes in the Archdiocese of Chicago do hear confessions. The priests give general absolution. Just refresh our memories; a general absolution is to be a rare, most extraordinary event. There must be a real emergency and a large number of penitents, the Church tells us, is not such an emergency. An epidemic, a time of war, 5,000 soldiers going to battle need general absolution, but letís be clear. Those receiving general absolution validly must get the imperative, they must intend soon the Latin word is mox, soon after having received general absolution, they must intend to make a personal, private, individual confession of their mortal sins. Unless they have that intention, the general absolution is invalid.
Now the centerpiece of our conference: The effects of the sacrament of Holy Communion. These I will draw mainly from the teaching of the Council of Trent. Protestantism in the sixteenth century flooded Christianity with a deluge of errors, but none more devastating than their denial of the Real Presence. And the consequent effects of receiving Holy Communion. I would like to number these as we go along.
First, sustenance of the supernatural life. Following the promise of Jesus Christ, the most basic effect of Holy Communion is to enable the communicant to remain supernaturally alive. And that is mentioned not once, but several times in the Gospel of John. ďIf anyone eats of this bread, he shall live forever.Ē And again, Christ in Johnís Gospel, ďUnless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you shall not have life within you.Ē Or again, ďHe who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has life everlasting.Ē And once more, ďAs the living father has sent me and as I live because of the Father, so he who eats me, he also shall live because of me.Ē Christ could not have been more concretely specific on the need for Holy Communion to sustain ourselves in supernatural life.
Second effect: The promise of bodily resurrection from the dead. In the same context of Johnís Gospel, Jesus Christ, the person receiving him in the sacrament of communion, ďI will raise him up on the last day.Ē Consequently, receiving the glorified Christ into our pathetically mortal bodies is a prelude and a divine promise of having our bodies immortalized and glorified on the day of resurrection at the end of present time. What a dream world people can be living in. These bodies of ours we want to have reunited with our souls and glorified. Very well. Two thousand years of the Churchís teaching tells us, we insure our bodily glorified resurrection by receiving Christ glorified in Holy Communion.
Third effect: Remission of venial sins. As explained by the Church, whatever the soul loses by venial sins can be totally restored through Holy Communion. Note the adjective, venial sins. Every sin, as weíve been saying, always has two effects. One called guilt, the other called penalty. The guilt means loss of grace. It has nothing to do with emotional feelings. Guilt means loss of grace. Penalty means a debt of pain. Holy Communion restores us to that state, which we had before we had sinned, restores the grace we had lost through venial sin, and remitting the punishment, here temporal punishment due to the venial sins we had committed. This in no way detracts from the value of the sacrament of confession. We are speaking of the sacrament of Holy Communion. Part of the infallible teaching of the Church is that Holy Communion removes both the debt of punishment and restores grace, but watch it. Depending on the frequency of receiving and the fervor of reception.
Fourth effect. Protection against future sins. Two basic forms of future protection are taught by the Church as effects of receiving Holy Communion. The Holy Eucharist received protects the recipient from the contagion of sin like a spiritual vaccine. What an effect. And secondly, it protects the soul from the assaults of temptation, like a supernatural armor, especially from the assaults of the world and the devil. St. Cyprian, one of the fathers of the Church, writing in the early third Century says, ďChristians imprisoned and tortured for the name of Christ received from the hand of the Bishop the sacrament of the body and blood of the Lord so that they would not yield to a Roman prosecutor or deny their faith before going on trial. They pleaded, ďGive me communion so I will be able to resist.Ē My dear friends, all I can do is raise my voice, but I cannot tell you how desperately, I mean that adverb literally, how desperately we need Holy Communion in todayís world to be protected from a world, which I donít hesitate saying is itself possessed by the evil spirit. From the very beginning of her history, the Church recognized that Holy Communion had to, and the verb had to, be brought to Christians in prison to provide them with the strength they needed to remain faithful to Jesus Christ. I hope you donít think Iím wasting my breath, the Roman Empire had nothing, I mean this with all my heart, had nothing, on the culture of the United States in our day. The pressure to conformity with, not just a pagan society, as was the Roman Empire, but a de-Christianized, paganized society. The pressure to conformity, I repeat, demonic. If we think for a moment that the age of persecution has passed, we are living in a dream world. The real world in which we live is a world that hates Christ. I mean that verb literally, hates Christ and hates his followers. I know how well I know. And among my worst enemies have been ordained prelates and priests. The media calculated deliberately, I donít know by now how many times I have repeated Marshall McLuhanís statement, ďThe modern media are engaged in a Luciferian conspiracy against the truth.Ē I say, amen, amen. We need to believe that Holy Communion should be received as often as we can to protect us against the virulent hatred found in Christís enemies today. Shrewd, cunning, smiling, demons.
Fifth effect of the Holy Eucharist as Communion: It cures, or shall we say curbs, the urges of concupiscence. As we all know, concupiscence is not removed when we are baptized. Our falling human nature remains our leaning Tower of Pizza. We are naturally, spontaneously, proud, lustful, irascible, covetous, envious, lazy, and gluttonous. As a result, we need to curb, control, these spontaneous passions to which we are all subject. And Holy Communion provides us the indispensable means we need to control what is naturally not controllable. Hear me; these passions are not naturally controllable. Christ tells us that without me you can do nothing. And that me in the without me, that me is especially, He, Jesus Christ, received physically in Holy Communion. For years I have told my students in teaching comparative religion, that Christianity with emphasis on Catholic Christianity must be the one true religion. Why? It provides the means for human beings to live as human beings by controlling themselves. If we rely on our own human nature, we are fools. Thatís why psychiatry is a massive delusion. We need to use supernatural means, especially those found in the Holy Eucharist. This is so true, and the verdict of history is certain. Either a person receives Holy Communion frequently and regularly or human nature is no match for the passions that plague every human being. This is especially true for the two most demanding passions of pride and lust. This year, Iíll keep repeating, my 50th year in the priesthood has taught me a lot. I have told people in the name of God; go to Communion often, even daily. Otherwise, forget it. You will never overcome either your pride or your lust and the two go together. All of this, I repeat, the verdict of history of the experience, I would add, of every Catholic priest, who has come to know human souls.
Effect number six, Spiritual Joy. The Church compares the effects of savory food and drink for the body with a spiritual satisfaction assured the soul through Holy Communion. For example, we can eat food and we can eat food, food A and food B, and both foods may nourish our body. But what a difference. As every cook knows, between eating food you enjoy and eating food where you have to, well, make an act of faith that the food is good for you. Similarly, we are not only to practice virtue, how this needs to be said. Iíve asked people; do you want to enjoy the spiritual life? Do you want to enjoy practicing virtue? What do you mean? I am asking the question, do you? Of course. He might add, but I donít. Guaranteed, receive Holy Communion as often as you can. Wonder of wonders, youíll come to enjoy the practice of virtue. I tell people, try it out. As we know, our service of God should be satisfying. We speak of the twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit, and the Latin verb to enjoy is frui. The Holy Spirit wants us to enjoy doing Godís will, and there is no more effective way known to God or Man for enjoying the practice of virtue and doing Godís will than receiving Holy Communion, Iíll add once more, as you can.
Effect number seven: Perseverance in grace. One of the most sobering truths of our faith is that even living a lifetime of virtue is not in itself a guarantee of perseverance. Hear it. Final perseverance is a special gift from God that we cannot directly merit, in the sense of earn, by living a good life. We must pray for the gift of final perseverance and receive the sacrament of Holy Communion. In other words, we must keep asking our Lord as we do in closing every Hail Mary; letís say the last part of the Hail Mary together, Holy Mary, Mother of God, Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen. Now, and at the hour of our death. In other words, we must both pray as we do for the grace of final perseverance. Iíve assisted too many people at their deathbed, good people, and holy people. The devilís last chance. Oh how the devil tries to seduce these people, especially through discouragement, which he hopes will lead to despair. The grace of final perseverance, I repeat, must be prayed for and must be obtained through the reception of frequent Holy Communion. This is the Churchís teaching from the dawn of Christian history.
Effect number eight: Growth in the supernatural life. You might say it stands to revealed reason that Holy Communion increases sanctifying grace. It nurtures our spiritual life and enables us to grow in Godís grace as no other means available to us in the valley of tears can do, but there is more here than meets the eye. Every worthy reception of Holy Communion deepens the life of God in our souls, automatically, spontaneously, and infallibly. The moment we receive our Lord in Holy Communion, at that moment, feeling has nothing to do with it, we are thereby made more holy with the essence of holiness as we know is the possession of Godís grace. Every Holy Communion received draws us closer to the Holy Trinity and makes us more pleasing to the divine majesty. After all, this is the source of growth in the spiritual life. It is the essence of holiness. Let me repeat. It may not be obvious. The essence of holiness is not, is not the practice of virtue. The essence of holiness is the possession of Godís grace. A week old child just baptized is holy and couldnít possibly have practiced any virtues. But that child is in possession of Godís grace. And every Holy Communion received increases; I repeat, infallibly, the life of God in our souls which is another name for Godís grace. And that is why for all the reasons weíve given so far, for the first time in the history of the Catholic Church, never before, in almost 2000 years has the Vicar of Christ not only allowed or permitted, but encouraged the faithful to receive Holy Communion more than once a day. Never before, and the condition Iím sure you all know, the first communion on the same day need not be at Mass. The second communion on the same day must be received when or while assisting at the sacrifice of the Mass. Because, and this is the literal truth, in the mind of the Vicar of Christ, never before in the history of Christianity, has there been a more desperate need for holy people possessed of Godís grace to withstand the deluge of demon assault on the followers of Jesus Christ.
Number nine: Remission of sin. We have touched on this before, but now we are more explicit. It is part of Christís teaching that Holy Communion removes both the guilt of venial sin and the debt of pain due to our forgiven sins. As Iíve said before, this does not minimize the importance and value of the sacrament of confession, but it does mean that in Holy Communion we have a divinely ordained means for the remission of sin on both levels. And watch it, God allows us to sin so that we might be more holy, dare I say it, mysteriously, because we have sinned. The humiliation of having offended God, the realization of my infidelity, God intends as a means, not only through Holy Communion, of restoring the grace I had lost. But of becoming more holy than I would have been, what a statement, had I not sinned.
Now our closing observation, the apostate of Holy Communion. You might wonder what is an apostle of Holy Communion. My answer, an apostlate of Holy Communion. Is one who shares with others his own deep experience of the blessing received by receiving Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist? The Church tells us that Holy Communion is holy precisely because it sanctifies those who receive our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. This experience is to be passed on to others. After all, that is the heart of charity. What is the heart of charity? The heart of charity is to share with others what God in his merciful love has given to me. Is there any gift, any gift, deeper or more sublime, greater, or more divine, that the Lord can give us than himself, the God man in Holy Communion? However, letís be honest, to engage in this apostolate we must be strongly motivated, motivated, deeply convinced from our own, both experience and depth of our faith, we must be convinced of the miraculous power, I repeat, miraculous power, I repeat once more the miraculous power which Holy Communion gives those who receive our Lord to do the humanly impossible because we receive the incarnate miracle worker every time we receive Holy Communion. It is impossible to exaggerate the power, the power that Christ confers on those who receive him in the Blessed Sacrament with deep faith and corresponding love.
The Holy Eucharist has been the source of charity. It is not coincidental, but profoundly providential, that Jesus gave us the humanly impossible commandment of loving one another as he has loved us. And, at the same Last Supper at which he instituted the Holy Eucharist, you might say, he had no choice. It is impossible to love those who do not love us. And love them not only with generosity, but love them even to sacrificing our lives. For those who may not love us only Christ Himself can give us the power we need to do this humanly impossible thing of loving those who do not love us, even to dying out of love for them.
Lord Jesus, you instituted the sacrament of Holy Communion to give us the light we need to see you in everyone whom you place into our lives. You gave us this sacrament to provide us with the strength to do what is humanly impossible, to love those who not only do not love us but positively hate us, oppose us. Lord Jesus, deepen our faith in your Real Presence so that receiving you here on earth we may love as you want us to this side of heaven. So that we may join those who have learned the meaning of love from you in the Sacrament of Holy Communion. ††Amen. Mary, mother of the Holy Eucharist, pray for us.
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