On Frequent Communion

In our present situation, frequent communion is the norm. The standard situation is: if you go to Mass, then you receive Communion. We have to get away from this. For a long time, Catholics received the Sacrament very infrequently. St Pius X encouraged "frequent and daily Communion" (Sacra Tridentina). He wrote that it "should be open to all the faithful, of whatever rank and condition of life; so that no one who is in the state of grace, and who approaches the Holy Table with a right and devout intention can be prohibited therefrom. A right intention consists in this: that he who approaches the Holy Table should do so, not out of routine, or vain glory, or human respect, but that he wish to please God, to be more closely united with Him by charity, and to have recourse to this divine remedy for his weakness and defects."

I think that Pius' intention was good; indeed, this writing is part of the Magesterium and so I am bound to accept it with both my intellect and will. Having said that, in the 100-odd years since he wrote, we passed the golden mean. If you stay in the pew at Communion, at most Masses you stick out like a sore thumb. This wouldn't be so bad, if the Confession lines were as long as the Communion lines. Yes, Jansenism was a heresy, but a small dose of its thought might be good for our day. We need to regain a sense of fear and trembling prior to receiving Communion. Anything less is not giving Christ, whom Communion is, his due. Are there persons who receive Communion outside the state of grace? That's hard to say. But it is not hard to say that persons who have have unconfessed sins whose object is grave matter receive Communion.

When everybody is going up to receive Communion, there is tremendous pressure to follow suit. It can be hard hard to stick out like a sore thumb. Non-Catholics, non-Christians even, have received Communion because they are trying to fit in. Persons in sins of grave matter, if not mortal, have received Communion. Persons who thought they should refrain from receiving Communion have opted not to attend ferial Masses which they normally do, because they were concerned about what others would think, since they normally receive. We need to begin (or return to) practices which will allow for frequent and daily Communion, while moderating the excesses we see today. When a Catholic in a state of grace chooses not to attend their normal ferial Mass because they don't want to receive Communion, we have a problem. If this kind of situation exists, we must ask ourselves at each Mass if we desire to receive the Sacrament to please God, or if we desire it out of routine, vanity, or seeking regard from our fellow human persons at Mass.

"Clearly, full participation in the Eucharist takes place when the faithful approach the altar in person to receive communion. Yet true as this is, care must be taken lest they conclude that the mere fact of their being present in church during the liturgy gives them a right or even an obligation to approach the table of the Eucharist. Even in cases where it is not possible to receive sacramental communion, participation at Mass remains necessary, important, meaningful and fruitful. In such circumstances it is beneficial to cultivate a desire for full union with Christ through the practice of spiritual communion, praised by Pope John Paul II and recommended by saints who were masters of the spiritual life."

This is from Pope Benedict XVI's much under-appreciated Sacramentum Caritatis. What I'm saying here echoes it, I believe. The fullness of actuosa participatio includes sacramental Communion. If our Pope writes that we must take where lest we conclude that being present at Mass obliges us receive, then we should conclude that this is happening. And isn't this what it means when we refrain from attending Mass because we don't want to/think we should receive Communion? There is more to actuosa participatio than reception of Communion.

A reflection on Communion, informed by Hemming's "Worship as a Revelation", pp 120 ff.: St Thomas Aquinas distinguished two modes of receiving Communion: spiritual, which is salvific; and sacramental, which imparts no spiritual benefit to the recipient. Spiritual and sacramental communion are independent of whether or not one receives the Sacrament. One might make a spiritual communion without doing so; and one might receive the Sacrament and fail to make a spiritual Communion. (Aside: This is the language with Hemming, and apparently St Thomas, use. I'm not perfectly satisfied with it, because today, a spiritual communion is what you are advised to do if you cannot receive the Sacrament. Probably, we need to change the terminology we use when we cannot receive the Sacrament, and let St Thomas keep his use of the term. Anyway, under some circumstances, we cannot receive the Sacrament due to sin. If we are in a state of mortal sin, then we are inherently incapable of making a spiritual communion. However, if we are unable to receive Communion due to having broken the eucharistic fast, or arriving prohibitively late to Mass, then we can make a Spiritual Communion (in St Thomas' sense of the term). Anyway, our terminology needs be more precise. ) So we see that receiving the Sacrament is not necessary for actuosa participatio. We can make a Spiritual Communion without doing so. Making a Spiritual Communion, and receiving the Sacrament, is a more full expression of actuosa participatio, I would venture, but receiving the Sacrament is not a necessary condition.

So how do we correct the excesses which have swung the pendulum to the extreme of frequent reception, from reception once a year? First, catechesis. Read. Read blogs, read books. Discuss the issue with your friends. For us laity: observe the three-hour eucharistic fast. A post on this can be read at "In the Light of the Law". Act as though the three-hour fast is the law of the Church. You'll receive the Sacrament less often than you do now. Resolve not to receive the Sacrament if you have unconfessed sin of a grave matter, even if it may not be mortal--err on the side of caution. You'll receive the Sacrament less often than you do now. I think it would be advisable to simply resolve to receive the Sacrament only a fraction of the times you attend Mass. If you go on Sundays, resolve that once a month you will not receive. If you go to daily Mass, resolve that once a week you will not receive...even if you are in a state of grace. Just give it up, once in a while, and offer your Spiritual Communion at that instance for the intention that souls who ought refrain from the Sacrament will do so. At the service on Good Friday, abstain from the Sacrament. I always thought it was odd that we received on Good Friday. It seemed almost wrong in a way. I've recently found out: I'm not crazy! Until 1955, we didn't receive on Good Friday; only the celebrant received the Sacrament. We don't need to receive the Sacrament every day of the year. We certainly don't need to receive Christ on the day he died. "The proper place for the faithful on Good Friday is the place occupied by Mary the Mother of God and John, the beloved disciple--at the foot of the cross--unable to do anything at all while the most central saving act for mankind is completed in all its horror and splendour before our very eyes." (Hemming, 118-19) The advice of St Francis de Sales (Introduction to the Devout Life, 2.21) is interesting: "Begin your preparation for Holy Communion on the evening before by many loving aspirations and transports and retire a little earlier so that you may rise earlier in the morning. etc" Maybe it's just me, but I don't go to bed earlier the night before I receive the Sacrament, in preparation for it. If you do this, you'll receive the Sacrament less often than you do now.

For priests, deacons, and confessors: Give homilies discussing the necessary disposition for receiving the Sacrament; worship with an ars celebrandi which will fill us with awe at the Mystery unfolding before us; instill faith in the Real Presence. We'll receive the Sacrament less often than we do now. In confession, make it painfully clear what is mortal sin, and what is grave matter. We will receive the Sacrament less often.

Frequent communion is good, and commendable. It forgives our venial sins, and strengthens us against temptation. But there is such a thing as too--frequent communion. Let us seek the golden mean between our obligation (once a year), and reception at every Mass we attend.

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