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‘Unworthy Communion’

Fr. Jerome R. Secillano, MPA

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THERE are times that consecrated hosts are not enough to “feed” communicants during masses. Either the sacristan didn’t prepare enough or there are simply too many unexpected communicants wanting to receive Jesus. This does not happen very often but one begins to wonder whether these communicants are aware that spiritual and moral “worthiness” is a must in receiving Jesus during that so great and so holy a moment.

 

During confessions, I got a sense that penitents don’t even have a complete awareness of what are considered to be sins. They keep on rattling off situations or circumstances that make for a good “telenovela” but hardly about their sins. Their coming to confession is, therefore, to simply unload their burdens and feel good about themselves. Of course, the role of a priest is to guide them come to their senses and ask whether they violated the Ten Commandments, the moral norms or other Biblical teachings. Only then do they realize that they are committing grave sins all along.

 

The point is there are those who completely lost the “sense of sin”. These people think that they are spiritually and morally well, hence, are fit to receive Holy Communion. But more serious are those who are conscious of grave sins and yet continue to receive the body and blood of Jesus. In either case, it must be clarified that it is not an inherent right of every believer to receive Holy Communion even if Jesus urges us to receive him in the sacrament of the Eucharist: “Truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (Jn. 6:53).

 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) sees those words as mere invitation and not an absolute command without any preconditions. It says, “To respond to this invitation we must prepare ourselves for so great and holy a moment. St. Paul urges us to examine our conscience: “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself” (I Cor. 11:27, 29). Anyone conscious of grave sin must receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to communion” (CCC 1385).

 

What was said above echoes the needed spiritual and moral predisposition to receiving Jesus. But the same Catechism continues to teach that a sort of liturgical preparation or participation is also a must. It says, “To prepare for worthy reception of this sacrament, the faithful should observe the fast required in their Church. Bodily demeanor (gestures, clothing) ought to convey respect, solemnity, and joy of this moment when Christ becomes our guest” (CCC 1387).

 

While we emphasize the need for a whole scale preparation for receiving Holy Communion, it would be interesting to know the effects of such when people fail in all aspects of these preparations.

 

St. John Vianney, the patron saint of priests, had some very interesting reflections on the matter. He listed five ill effects that go with “unworthy communion”.

First, it outrages God more than all other mortal sins. John Vianney believed that a man who takes “unworthy communion” attacks the person of Jesus Christ himself instead of scorning only his commandments, like other mortal sins (St. John Vianney, The Cure of Ars, Eucharistic Meditations, 2001).

 

Second, whoever communicates unworthily “crucifies Jesus Christ in his heart”. The saintly priest stressed that the death of Jesus in Calvary seemed to affect even the least sensible of creatures but by receiving communion unworthily, man shows insensitivity to Christ’s humiliation and insults Jesus further. He said, “My God, how can a Christian have the heart to go to the holy table with sin in his soul, there to put Jesus Christ to death”?

 

Third, “Unworthy Communion” is a more criminal profanation than that of the holy places. When one does something abominable inside that of a holy place, it is called “local sacrilege”, which is considered a grave sin. But John Vianney emphasized that it is more grievous to receive Holy Communion under sinful circumstances. The saint said, “That poor wretch unites the Holy of Holies to a prostitute soul, and sells him to iniquity. Yes, that poor wretch plunges his God into a raging hell. Is it possible to conceive anything more dreadful”?

 

Fourth, “Unworthy Communion” is in certain respects a greater crime than the deicide of the Jews. Quoting St. Paul, the pastor said, “St. Paul tells us that if the Jews had known Jesus Christ as the Savior, they would never have put him to suffering or death; but can you my friend, be ignorant of him whom you are going to receive”? He said further, “If you are guilty, unhappy man, do not draw near; or else tremble, lest the thunders of heaven be hurled upon your criminal head to punish you and cast your soul into hell.”

 

Fifth, “Unworthy Communion” imitates and renews the crime of Judas. According to this great saint, if Judas delivered Jesus to his enemies by a kiss of peace, an unworthy communicant carries his cruel duplicity by hiding or disguising some sins with a hypocritical reverence on his face and place himself among the faithful destined to eat this Bread.

 

St. John Vianney truly considered “unworthy communion” a great abomination against Jesus and a scandal in the faith. An unworthy communicant may appear to be pious to those who do not know him. But a “crime” may not ultimately be kept secret, especially since God sees beyond what man could not actually see.

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