Over a century ago two Catholic university students had a serious discussion on death and the afterlife. They believed what the Church taught on judgment and eternity, but being young and curious, they still had questions—and so they made a solemn pact: if God would allow it, the one who died first would appear to the other and let him know how he was faring beyond the grave. As it happened, one of the two died soon afterwards, and the night after his funeral, he appeared to his friend, shining brightly with heavenly glory. In answer to his friend’s questions, he announced that—through the mercy of God—he was saved, and was experiencing the joys of Heaven. His friend rejoiced with him, and asked if there was anything in particular he had done which had merited him such a blessed fate. The new citizen of Heaven answered, “It was primarily the care I took always to receive Holy Communion with a pure heart.” Then he disappeared, leaving his friend much consoled and filled with a desire to deepen his own devotion to the Eucharist (Rev. John G. Hillier, Anecdotes & Scripture Notes for All Occasions, p. 204).
It is indeed true that if any of the saints, or our own deceased loved ones now in Heaven, were to appear to us, the most useful and important advice they could give us would be to receive Communion as often as we can and as worthily as possible—for nothing else can do as much good for our souls, or be so valuable in helping prepare us for death, judgment, and eternal joy.
Many non-Catholic Christians assume or believe the Eucharist is merely a symbolic meal, a relatively unimportant ritual, or at best a pious remembrance of what Jesus did at the Last Supper. Even worse, there are more than a few Catholics who don’t believe Holy Communion truly is the Body and Blood of Christ, or who, while believing, don’t give this Sacrament sufficient reverence and importance. However, Scripture clearly attests that God has both the power and the loving desire to work wonders on behalf of His children. In Deuteronomy (8:2-3, 14-16), Moses reminds the people of how the Lord miraculously fed them in the desert in a previously unknown way, and St. Paul (1 Cor 10:16-17) insists that the bread and wine blessed at Mass are not only a sign and source of unity, but an actual participation in the Body and Blood of Christ. In proclaiming this great truth, Paul is echoing the teaching of Jesus given in the Gospel of John (6:51-58), in which Our Lord claims to be the living bread come down from Heaven. The Jews, more than most other ancient peoples, had an abhorrence of the idea of cannibalism, and so Jesus would not have spoken of the need to eat His flesh and drink His blood if He had wanted to be understood merely in a vague, symbolic way. Bread and wine truly become His Body and Blood—and only by worthily receiving this divine gift are we perfectly united with Him while here on earth, and truly prepared to share His life in the world to come.
At the beginning of May forty-eight of our children made their First Communions, and a few days later I asked them to tell me in writing what the experience was like for them. I’m going to share some of their comments with you. A boy wrote, “At first I was nervous to go receive Jesus in front of the whole church. Then I felt good because now I am a true Catholic.” Another boy said, “In Communion I felt nervous, and then I was happy,” and a girl offered a similar comment, saying, “I felt happy and a little scared receiving Jesus.” Another child echoed this theme, writing, “I felt nervous when I entered church, because I was going to make my First Holy Communion and receive the Body and Blood of Christ—and at the end of [Mass] I could feel Jesus surging through my blood and my body and my veins.” Several of the children spoke of feeling different afterwards, including a girl who wrote, “It was really cool—I felt holy,” and a boy who said, “I felt holy, and I was blessed by the Lord.” Another boy was more specific, saying, “I felt happy; I felt a lot closer to God and Mary and Jesus. I am going to church a lot more.” The need to turn feelings into action was repeated by another boy, who wrote, “I felt very special that day. I am looking forward to the next Mass so that I can take Communion,” and by a girl who stated, “I was very happy to receive Jesus’ Body and Blood. It was one of the happiest days of my life. I felt very close to Jesus and God; I am really looking forward to celebrating Jesus this Sunday.” Finally, another girl wrote with great exuberance, “I felt so good that I almost fell over. Receiving Jesus made me feel so grown up; I wanted to have Communion more than 700 times!” I don’t know where that exact number came from, but it does express the idea that receiving Holy Communion is supposed to be a lifelong practice—assuming we’re in a state of grace.
Children’s testimonies can be valuable because, human nature being what it is, we can easily fall into a spiritual rut, or take this great gift for granted. While the reception of the Eucharist is meant to occur every weekend, it’s never supposed to be experienced as something routine. This is the deepest, most intimate union with our Divine Lord and Savior we can experience while on earth, and so we must never disrespect Him by approaching the altar in a bored or distracted manner. Above all, we must never receive Jesus while guilty of any serious sin, including missing Sunday Mass; one of the prime purposes of the Sacrament of Reconciliation is to restore us to grace, so that we may worthily receive the Eucharist. If necessary, we can come forward with arms crossed so as to receive a blessing instead, and then go to Confession as soon as possible afterwards.
In today’s Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, the Church teaches and reminds us that worthily receiving the Eucharist strengthens our souls, fills us with grace, draws us closer to Jesus, builds up our unity with other believers, and helps prepare us to enter into the fullness of eternal life in Heaven. For all these reasons, the time we spend here in church participating in the Mass and in humbly and gratefully receiving Holy Communion is infinitely more valuable and beneficial to us than anything else we will ever do during our earthly lives. As Jesus insists, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you do not have life within you.” His words are a promise, a challenge, and an invitation—and our spiritual destiny and future happiness depend on how we choose to respond.
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