John 6:32, 51-52:
"Then Jesus said to them: Amen, amen I say to you; Moses gave you not bread
from heaven, but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven... I am
the living bread which came down from heaven. If any man eat of this bread,
he shall live for ever; and the bread that I will give, is My Flesh, for
the life of the world."
First, a definition:
"Holy Communion" is the reception of the Blessed Sacrament (the Eucharist)
that has been confected by a priest during the Holy Mass. The Blessed Sacrament
may only be received sacramentally by one who:
is a living human
fasted the proper amount of time: 3 hours is the
1962 practice that most traditional Catholics follow (some follow the older
practice of a 12-hour fast); 1 hour is what we are canonically bound to by
the 1983 Code of Canon Law. Viaticum -- the "Food for the Journey" given
during Extreme Unction -- may be given at any
is in a state of
grace, i.e., is not in a state of mortal sin. If one is in a state of mortal
sin, he must go to Confession first lest he sin
further as St. Paul warns in I Corinthians 11:26-30:
shall eat this bread, or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall
be guilty of the body and of the blood of the Lord. But let a man prove himself:
and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of the chalice. For he that eateth
and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment to himself, not discerning
the body of the Lord. Therefore are there many infirm and weak among you,
and many sleep.
In addition, because
Communion is also a sign of Christian unity, those who receive are declaring
to the world that they accept all of the dogmas of the Church. Canon 915
of the 1983 Code of Canon Law affirms the Apostolic practice of the Church
in insisting that priests refuse Communion to those who are "manifest, obstinate,
persistent sinners" -- i.e., those who are public sinners (which includes
those who publicly disagree with Church teaching) who refuse to publicly
repent -- lest they cause scandal and confuse others as to what Church teaching
is. Those who disagree with what the Church teaches should not try to receive
Summary: one in grave sin is to police himself and refrain from receiving
Communion until he's received the Sacrament of Penance. If he fails to, his
spiritual father is to advise him in order to make him aware of his sin and
of the added sin of receiving Communion while not in a state of grace. If,
after being advised by his spiritual father, he still fails to police himself,
he is to be prevented from receiving the Eucharist, especially if the grave
sin is a public one.
The Eucharist must
be received at least once a year, during the Easter Season, by those who've
reached the age of reason, though frequent -- even daily -- Communion is
encouraged. Traditionally, the Eucharist shouldn't be received more than
once a day unless it is given as Viaticum during Extreme
Unction (the 1983 Code of Canon Law strangely allows for a second reception
of the Eucharist "only within a eucharistic celebration in which that person
The matter of the Sacrament itself are wheat bread made only of flour and
water, with nothing added (no honey, no spices, etc; nothing may be
added. The use of leavening in the Latin Church is illicit) and wine fermented
from grape juice. The former is confected by God through a true priest using
This is My Body
Hoc est enim Corpus Meum.
The latter is confected
by the words "this is the Chalice of My Blood," which are spoken in the below
context in the traditional Mass:
For this is the
Chalice of My Blood, of the new and eternal Testament: the Mystery of Faith:
which shall be shed for you and for many unto the remission of sins
Hic est enim Calix Sanguinis mei, novi et aeterni testamenti: mysterium fidei:
qui pro vobis et pro multis effundetur in remissionem peccatorum.
After the substance
of bread and wine are changed into His Body and Blood, the accidents -- the
appearance, taste, texture of bread and wine -- remain, but what looks like
"bread" and "wine" are, in substance, the Body, Blood, Soul,
and Divinity of Christ. In other words, outside of Eucharistic miracles which
have taken place over 2,000 years, what the eyes and mouth see and taste
are the accidents of "bread" and "wine," but what is truly received
is Christ and remains Christ until and unless the accidents change
such that they are no longer compatible with the species of "bread" and "wine."
By this we know, for example, that once the Host goes into one's stomach
and is digested, or if a liquid were added to the Precious Blood such that
the accidents are no longer recognizable as the accidents of "wine," the
Sacrament is no longer there.
Because of the above, it is not okay to refer to the Blessed Sacrament as
"bread" or to the Precious Blood as "wine." Once the bread and wine have
been consecrated, they are no longer "bread" and "wine"; they are Christ
-- Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, and the proper words to use to speak
of them are "Blessed Sacrament," "Eucharist," "Precious Blood," "Sacred Host"
("Host" comes from the Latin word "hostia" meaning "victim"), etc. The
consecrated Hosts and Precious Blood are and will remain Christ regardless
of the faith of the people in the pews. They are and will remain Christ whether
on the Altar or in the tabernacle or in your mouth or, God forbid, on the
floor. They are and will remain Christ for ten years or a thousand years,
as long as the accidents of bread and wine remain.
The Precious Blood is always consumed totally by the priest at the Mass,
and the priest will always consume one Sacred Host, distributing others to
the people, if present. Remaining Hosts are kept in a
ciborium inside the tabernacle between Masses,
and this Divine Presence is signalled to us by the
sanctuary lamps that burn always outside the tabernacles
of our churches and invite us to adore
Him and be in His Presence to pray.
The effects of receiving the Sacrament are:
union, by love,
an increase in
sanctifying grace in the soul when received by a "living member of the Church"
(i.e., one who is in a state of grace)
the blotting out
venial sin and preserving the soul from mortal sin, in proportion to the
the rewards promised
by Christ in His words, "He that eateth My Flesh and drinketh My Blood, hath
everlasting life: and I will raise him up on the last day."
The proper way
to receive the Blessed Eucharist at the altar rail at Mass is to kneel and
fold one's hands in the "prayer" gesture (or place them under the houseling
cloth at the altar rail, if such a cloth is used; don't touch the cloth or
the rail in either case). An acolyte or altar boy will hold a paten underneath
your chin so that no precious particles will fall to the floor. The priest
will bless you by making a Sign of the Cross with the Sacrament (a small
one in the air) and then place the Sacrament on your tongue, all while saying
nostri Jesu Christi custódiat ánimam tuam in vitam æternam.
May the Body of
Our Lord Jesus Christ preserve your soul unto life everlasting. Amen.
Open your mouth
wide enough and stick out your tongue far enough to easily receive the Sacrament
(once received, don't respond "Amen" as is done in the Novus Ordo Rite).
Many priests recommend closing your eyes when receiving so that you're not
tempted to follow his hand; it's best to not move at all. And, of course,
don't close your mouth until the Host is safely on your tongue and the priest's
hand is out of the way! Make the Sign of the Cross
after receiving Communion, then return to your pew and kneel in thanksgiving
(many people cover their faces with their hands or veils at this time to
increase a sense of intimacy).
Please note that the Eucharist is not chewed, but is allowed to soften in
the mouth and then swallowed. 1 This
is to avoid having the smallest particle stuck in one's teeth where it might
be desecrated later by coming into contact with the profane. Having the very
Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ mingle with a gulp of Mountain
Dew is hardly the treatment He deserves -- but pondering the very possibility
of such a thing is to induce gratitude for the amazing humility with which
He comes to us under the appearance of bread; why, if He were to come to
us in a way that revealed His glory to our senses, we would no doubt die
from being in the Presence of such obvious Holiness.
The Eucharist should never be touched but by consecrated hands (i.e., the
hands of a priest, who is the ordinary minister of the Sacrament, or of a
delegated deacon, who is the extraordinary minister of the Sacrament) unless
emergency or true charity dictate otherwise, and
women should have their heads covered whenever
they are in His Presence -- whether during simple visits to a church where
the tabernacle is, during sick calls or
Unction, and when receiving the Eucharist at Mass.
A beautiful, traditional, partially
indulgenced prayer to pray after receiving
Communion is the "Anima Christi" (Soul of Christ) -- a favorite prayer of
St. Ignatius of Loyola. The origins of this ancient prayer are unknown, but
it dates to at least A.D. 1334.
| Soul of Christ,
Body of Christ, save me.
Blood of Christ, inebriate me.
Water from the side of Christ, wash me.
Passion of Christ, strengthen me.
O good Jesus, hear me.
Within Thy wounds, hide me.
Separated from Thee let me never be.
From the malignant enemy, defend me.
At the hour of death, call me.
To come to Thee, bid me,
That I may praise Thee in the company
Of Thy Saints, for all eternity. Amen.
Corpus Christi, salva me.
Sanguis Christi, inebria me.
Aqua lateris Christi, lava me.
Passio Christi, conforta me.
O bone Iesu, exaudi me.
Intra tua vulnera absconde me.
Ne permittas me separari a te.
Ab hoste maligno defende me.
In hora mortis meae voca me.
Et iube me venire ad te,
Ut cum Sanctis tuis laudem te
in saecula saeculorum. Amen.
When offering the
Eucharist outside of the Mass (such as during sick calls or Unction), the
priest should wear a surplice and stole. If the communicant (the one receiving
Communion) is able to kneel, he should; if he is bedridden, a white linen
cloth should be laid over his breast to ensure no particles fall and are
desecrated. If one is unable to receive the Host, the priest may arrange
for some of the Precious Blood to be given instead. Under either species
-- i.e., either the Host or the Precious Blood -- the Sacrament is "the entire
Christ" -- Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, so one should never feel as though
one is being "deprived" by receiving Christ in one form rather than the
Also note the language used in reference to Holy Communion: while many
Protestants speak of "taking Communion," Catholics use the phrase "receiving
Communion" -- a more passive terminology that emphasizes humility, that reminds
us that it is by grace that we are saved, and that emphasizes the role of
the ordained priesthood.
If one enters the
Church as an adult, First Communion is usually given on the same day of
Confirmation (which both take place, typically
but not necessarily, during the Easter Vigil).
If one grows up in the Church, First Communion is offered at the discretion
of one's priest. It may be given to a lone child after the priest has discerned
that the child understands the Sacrament and is able to form proper intent,
or it may be given to a group of children who've been properly prepared together,
such as a first grade class. In either case, the
Sacrament of Confession is received first before
Little boys will dress in their finest suits, and little girls will often
wear special white First Communion dresses and veils (their dresses should
fit the rules of feminine modesty in Church -- nothing sleeveless, etc.).
On a mundane, sociological level, a child's "First Communion" is a rite of
passage, an acknowledgement that he
has reached the age of reason and is now liable for many of the penalties
involved in ecclesiastical censure; it is, in other words, a marker that
the child is growing up... Gifts are given to the new communicant (typically
Rosaries, prayer books, Bibles, etc.), and a party typically follows the
Mass during which he first receives the Sacrament. These mundane aspects
of a child's "First Communion" should never, ever overshadow the greater
reality! In some parts of the world, a child's First Communion is turning
into a lavish, extravagant, keeping-up-with-the-Joneses bat-mitzvah, with
little girls, wearing dresses that cost hundreds and hundreds of dollars,
carried about by limousine to parties with expensive ice sculptures and
la-di-da waiters. It is disgusting!
While a child's First Communion should be memorable and very beautiful,
it should, above all, be holy and with all priorities in place. On
the more fundamental and profound level, First Communion is an initiation
into one of the Great Mysteries. Parents should prepare the child by firmly
grounding him in basic catechesis. While it's the priest's decision as to
whether or not your child is adequately prepared, it is your job as a parent
or godparent to do the preparing; it is the parents and godparents who are
ultimately responsible for the Catholic education of the child. The
child should understand what transubstantiation is. He should know that God,
Who created all things -- the Sun and Moon and Stars -- is able to speak
things into reality, and that at the Mass, this is what God, through His
priest does. The child should understand that though the accidents of bread
and wine remain, what the bread and wine truly become is Sacrament.
They will learn all of this best by watching the adults around them, especially
parents and godparents, who should ask themselves:
Do I treat and
speak of the Blessed Sacrament with reverence?
Do I kneel toward
the tabernacle when I enter a church?
bow my head and cross myself
when passing by a church to honor the Real Presence of Christ in the tabernacle?
fast before receiving Communion?
Am I sure to never
receive the Sacrament in a state of mortal sin?
Do I make
visits to the Blessed Sacrament?
Do I allow the
children to attend a parish in which lay people sacrilegiously handle the
Sacrament as "extraordinary Eucharistic ministers"?
Do I allow the
children to attend Masses wherein the rubrics and prayers after consecration
destroy faith in the Real Presence?
Do I attend Protestant
worship services? If I do, for the cause of charity, do I go through the
motions of receiving "communion" at the services of Protestant faith communities?
(Catholics may not attend Protestant services except for attending weddings
in which neither of the couple had ever been Catholic, and attending funerals,
which Catholics may certainly attend out of charity. Never may a Catholic
eat the bread/crackers or drink the wine/juice offered during the services,
and in no case may he join in prayers that are in no way Catholic.)
Your children will
learn more from your example than anything else.
As to preparation for the Rite itself, parents and godparents should consider
the natural intimidation that most children experience in such formal
circumstances (especially if the child is receiving his First Communion
alone) and affirm their child
emotionally, letting them know it's OK to be nervous. A "practice-run" with
everyday, ordinary bread might be helpful,
2 with the parent or godparent showing
the child the proper posture and gesture. Anticipate the child's questions
("What will it taste like?" for example) and encourage the child to express
any concerns and fears he might have. Teach him to pray the sentiments expressed
in the Anima Christi prayer, if not the prayer itself, after receiving the
Host. Perhaps getting a holy card that contains
this prayer, or writing the prayer out for him on a small piece of paper
so he can refer to it after Communion will help.
I'll note here, too, that Pope St. Pius X, the "Pope of the Eucharist," is
one of the patrons of First Communicants as it was he who especially encouraged
frequent and early Communion -- as soon as a child is able to understand
the Sacrament -- in the Latin Church. Teach your child about this great Pope
and encourage him to pray to him, asking St. Pius X to intercede in making
your child's First Communion most fruitful. One standard prayer to this holy
man is this one, the first part of which is most appropriate to the day:
Glorious Pope of
the Eucharist, St. Pius X, who sought to restore all things in Christ, obtain
for me a true love of Jesus that I may live only for Him. Help me, that,
with lively fervour and a sincere will to strive for sanctity of life, I
may daily avail myself of the riches of the Holy Eucharist in Sacrifice and
Sacrament. By your love for Mary Mother and Queen of all, inflame my heart
with tender devotion to her.
Blessed model of the priesthood, obtain for us holy and zealous priests and
increase vocations to the religious life. Dispel heresy and incline hearts
to peace and concord, that all nations may place themselves under the sweet
reign of Christ. Amen.
St. Pius X, pray for me.
of First Communicants is Blessed Imelda Lambertini (A.D. 1322-1333), who
died while receiving her First Holy Communion. Very much in love with Jesus,
she'd begged her family to let her live at the Dominican convent at the age
of nine. Her family relented, as did the Dominicans, but she still could
not yet receive Communion. She longed for it, however, would watch the Sisters
receive Our Lord, and would pray for spiritual
Communion. One day -- it was the Vigil of
the Ascension -- she was making her
spiritual Communion, and the Sisters saw a beautiful light glowing over her,
and a Host at the center of it, hovering above her head. The priest was summoned,
and Imelda received the Eucharist at once -- but in such an ecstasy that
she literally died of love. Her relics can be venerated in the Church of
Saint Sigismondo in Bologna. Italy (see relics page
for a picture). Pope St. Pius X made her a Patroness of First Communicants.
(Here you can download a 4-page Microsoft Word document
containing the story of Blessed Imelda for your children. Use your discretion,
as the story might frighten young ones who don't understand death and
1 If you take medications that dry the mouth, or otherwise
lack enough saliva to swallow the Host without chewing, go ahead and chew.
We're not Pharisees.
2 A little American Catholic cultural trivia:
some Catholic schools used to teach their First Communion classes using NECCO
® Wafers candies made by the New England Confectionery Co. (hence the
name "NECCO") as "hosts" for
practice. Catholic children often use
them to "play Mass," too, and many a priest has memories of using the candies
that way as a child. The chalky-sweet wafers come in 8 flavors, all mixed
in a single roll: lemon (yellow); orange (orange); lime (green); clove (purple);
cinnamon (white); wintergreen (pink); licorice (black); and chocolate (brown).
The New England Confectionery Company, by the way, is the same company that
makes "Mary Janes" and "Conversation Hearts" -- those little hearts, created
in 1866 and imprinted with love messages such as "Be Mine" or "Kiss Me,"
that are sold for St. Valentine's