Monday, February 18, 2013

Holy Communion

Holy Communion

The third Sacrament of Initiation is that of Holy Communion or Eucharist. The Second Vatican Council Fathers taught that the Holy Eucharist is the "source and summit of the Christian life." Following the spiritual gifts bestowed on us at Chrismation/Confirmation, the Christian journey needs to be continually nourished and strengthened by the Bread of Life, the precious and life-giving body and blood of Our Lord. Jesus gave us the Sacrament of his body and blood at the Last Supper: "Take, eat, this is my body...Take, drink, this is my blood." And the exhortation: "Do this in memory of me." Holy Communion feeds us with the Real Presence of the Risen and Glorified Christ in the Sacrament of his body and blood, under the signs of bread and wine. 

We are washed (Baptism), rubbed (Chrismation) and fed (Holy Communion) as one liturgy professor summed up in a class I had years ago. Holy Communion spiritually unites us to Our Lord and nourishes us on the journey during this earthly life. Holy Communion is 'the bread come down from heaven' (John 6: 58). Christ feeds us with the gift of himself to sustain us in the Christian life and spiritually strengthens us in the trials we daily have to face in this present life. Imagine going through this life without food to physically nourish us or without water to quench our thirst --- we would die of starvation and dehydration. Without the spiritual food of Christ's body and blood we are spiritually starving; it is impossible to pass through this life and not partake of the holy Mysteries given to us during the Divine Liturgy/Holy Mass. Jesus says: "For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood, abides in me and I in him" (John 6: 55-56). 

The Old Testament foreshadows this Sacrament with the Pascha meal, the Passover, the various prophecies concerning the "true sacrifice," and in a special way the sacrifice offered by the King of Salem, Melchisedek, as found in Hebrews 7, 1-10.

The Sacraments are outward signs. Let's take a look now at some of the visual signs or aspects of the Sacrament:

1. Preparation and Offering of the gifts of bread and wine, the Prayer of Consecration, the Consummation or Communion. The victim in sacrifice is offered, sacrificed, consumed.

2. the bread is prepared from wheat and in the Eastern Churches it must be leavened because this is keeping with what Christ did at the Last Supper (see Exodus 12: 8; Jude 6: 20; Matthew 26: 26; Luke 22: 19; John 13: 1). We see this in the actions of the Apostles and first Christians (see Acts 2: 42 and 20: 7). The use of leavened bread is an unbroken tradition since Christ and maintained in the Eastern Churches.

3. The wine must be pure, prepared from grapes, and typically red in color to resemble the color of blood. A little bit of water is mixed with the wine keeping with an ancient Jewish custom (see Proverbs 9: 5), and would have been a tradition used by Christ. The mixture of the water with wine is also is a reminder of the water and blood that flowed forth from the side of Christ when he was pierced on the Cross by Longinus (John 19: 34).

4. The Prayer of Consecration, Anaphora, Canon, Eucharistic Prayer. 

The whole Anaphora prayer is consecratory. The Holy Spirit sanctifies and consecrates the gifts of the bread and wine; the priest serving the Divine Liturgy/Holy Mass is the simple instrument used to make the activity of the Holy Spirit visible. The priest prays and the Holy Spirit sanctifies the holy gifts: "Again we offer unto Thee this reasonable and unbloody service, and beseech Thee and pray Thee and supplicate Thee: send down Thy Holy Spirit upon us and upon these Gifts here offered: And make this bread the precious Body of Thy Christ; and that which is in this chalice, the precious Blood of Thy Christ. Changing them by Thy Holy Spirit. Amen. Amen. Amen."

The graces of this Holy Mystery are essential for salvation. We should do well to be properly prepared by fasting before we receive Holy Communion. It is our moral duty to examine our consciences and make sure that we are in a state to properly receive the Sacrament of Christ's body and blood, for if we receive unworthily, we receive unto our condemnation and not for the healing of soul and body. We must approach the Holy Mystery with the fear of God and with Faith.

Holy Communion is for all those who have been baptized into Christ, Chrismated and  profess the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Faith. Infant Communion is practiced because of the words of Jesus: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, you have no life in you," (John 6: 53).

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