In these days when about 90 of our young people are approaching the altar to share Eucharist with us for the first time, we continue to reflect on what it means for us to receive Eucharist, or to share in Communion together.
When we gather in church on Sunday to pray together, as is the custom of Christians, we do so mindful that this is the Lord’s Day. Our gathering together to celebrate our life in Christ is part of what defines us in our discipleship of Jesus. From the earliest days, Christians have gathered together with other Christians on the Day of the Lord, to give praise and thanks to God. Very simply put, it’s what we do. When we don’t do it, some have argued that we can’t really call ourselves Christians. I don’t know that I’d go that far, but I do know from years of experience that when we fall into the habit of missing this aspect of the Christian life, we are certainly the less for it, both individually and communally. Coming together with other Christians on the Day of the Lord is important.
When we share Holy Communion together, we are making a statement about who we are and whose we are. We are acknowledging that we are not God, and that we rely on God for every good gift, including the gift of life itself. Sharing in Holy Communion is a sharing in the Body of Christ, a sharing in the very life of Christ himself. We are confessing our belief in the Body of Christ, and we are confirming our participation as members of the Body of Christ.
This truth leads us to another reality that is part of the mystery of Eucharist. When we share in the life of the “Body of Christ”, the Church, we are identifying ourselves as a people who are choosing to be part of a particular community of believers. This isn’t just any group, but a particular group. We belong to a community of believers who hold core truths to be real in our lives. The Creed we profess together as a community is a summary of those truths.
Our participation in Holy Communion is, for Catholic Christians, an expression of our shared beliefs. We can share communion together because we share a communion of beliefs. This is why when visitors from other faiths come to our Church we offer a prayer of blessing to them, but not Holy Communion. While some Christians practice what is called an “open table” at their communion services, Catholics do not. For Catholics, receiving communion is a statement that we share a communion of beliefs, that we enjoy together a oneness of faith, life and worship as believers. So if someone belongs to another Christian church that doesn’t believe as we believe, it could be very inappropriate to share Holy Communion with us.
It’s worth noting that through our sharing of Holy Communion we are affirming a particular way of “faith, life and worship.” It is not just our worship that is important when we share the Holy Eucharist together. Just as important is the life of faith to which we commit ourselves beyond our worship. When we focus on ‘right believing” (orthodoxy) apart from right living or right practice, then it can be very easy for us to disconnect how we live from our sharing in Holy Communion. No less than St. Augustine reminds us that we cannot, in faith, divorce correct belief from correct conduct, neither within the formal setting of our church community nor within the broader context of our life and living.
There is an ancient expression in our church, “Lex orandi, lex credendi”, meaning as we pray, so we believe. For true believers, as we pray and as we believe flows into how we live (lex vivendi). Drawing on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the US Bishops offer this thought for our reflection:
“At its heart, the Eucharist is a sacrament of communion, bringing us closer to God and to our brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ. If we live the fruits of the Eucharist in our daily lives, we will fill our families and our communities with the life-giving qualities that the Liturgy brings: hospitality, concern for the poor and vulnerable, self-offering, and thanksgiving.”
Congratulations to all our first communicants and to their families.