The past three Sundays we have been reading from John's Gospel chapter 6. This past Sunday we really start getting to the heart of the matter. It's a great reading, and I really want to go further, but we'll have to wait. For this Sunday's readings, follow this link to the USCCB website.
The Question: How do I prepare to receive the gift of the Eucharist?
In response to murmuring criticism, Jesus emphasizes that eating his Bread leads to eternal life. The Eucharist is therefore "a pledge of the life to come" and "an anticipation of the heavenly glory" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1402). As St. Ingnatius of Antioch wrote in the early second century, we "break the one bread that provides the medicine of immortality, the antidote for death, and the food that makes us live forever in Jesus Christ" (quoted in CCC 1405). The Eucharist is "already the foretaste of the kingdom to come" (CCC 2837), and in the Mass, "we already unite ourselves with the heavenly liturgy and anticipate eternal life, when God will be all in all" (CCC 1326). Because the Eucharist is such a transcendent gift, let us always receive it with the greatest care and devotion. "To respond to this invitation, we must prepare ourselves for so great and so holy a moment. St. Paul urges us to examine our conscience ... Anyone conscious of a grave sin must receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to communion" (CCC 1385).
This is a great question and something that I believe many Catholics don't quite "get." I know I didn't get it for a long time. I don't think I ever understood it as a child and young adult, but as I started coming back to the Church about 8 years ago I noticed something I had never noticed before. Communion wasn't just a symbolic rememberance of the Last Supper, it was a central part of the Mass. And the reason for this was that we believe that the Eucharist is in fact the actual body of Jesus Christ. That revelation gives you a whole new perspective on the Eucharist.
At some point in my journey back to the Church I discovered the amazing words of John's 6th chapter in his Gospel. Jesus talks in parables so often, but not this time. He meant the words he said: He is the bread and his blood is the wine, and we can not have eternal life without Him. And when those around Him grumble that this can't be true, he sticks to his words. That's how this particular Gospel reading starts, with the Jews murmuring about Jesus' claims, they don't understand what he is saying. How could they? They are supposed to eat him, how can that be! It's a great mystery that we experience each and every time we attend Mass.
So, knowing that we are receiving the actual body and blood of our Lord when we come forward for the Eucharist, it is important that we prepare ourselves. I always feel best receiving the Eucharist when I have recently received the sacrament of Reconciliation.
Prayer is also important, of course. I have recently started trying to focus my prayer better before Mass begins, before receiving the Eucharist, and after receiving the Eucharist. Before Mass I focus on prayers of thanksgiving as well as asking God to open my heart and mind to listen to the readings and homily presented that day. Before Communion I have found it helpful to again be thankful and to ask for God's mercy that I may receive the body and blood of His Son worthily. Keeping this in mind has become important to my preparation for receiving the Eucharist. After receiving the Eucharist I spend my prayer time thanking God again for all his goodness. In addition I take many prayers to Him that are on my heart while he is so incredibly present in my body.
What a gift the Eucharist is!! It's no wonder it is the "Source and Summit" of our faith. The whole of John 6 is a testimony to the importance of this in our faith.
Finally, a friend recently sent me this incredible video and it is such a beautiful illustration of exactly what this "Following the Message" question is all about. So I share it with you here:
Now your turn: How do you prepare to receive the gift of the Eucharist?
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