Culmination of Christian Initiation
The holy Eucharist completes Christian initiation. Those who have been raised to the dignity of the royal priesthood by Baptism and configured more deeply to Christ by Confirmation participate with the whole community in the Lord's own sacrifice by means of the Eucharist.( Catechism of the Catholic Church)
The Eucharist is "the source and summit of the Christian life." The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it. For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch. ( Catechism of the Catholic Church)
The other Sacraments give us grace, the Holy Eucharist gives us not only grace but the Author of all grace, Jesus, God and Man. It is the center of all else the Church has and does.
As St. Mark records that, at the Last Supper, Jesus "took bread, blessed and broke it and gave it to them: "Take this, this is my Body" (Mk 14:22). That word blessed in Greek is eucharistesas, from which the name Eucharist is derived.
Jesus is present wherever the appearances of bread and wine are found after the consecration. He is found even when the host is divided. The substance of bread and wine is gone, only the appearances remain. The Church calls this change transubstantiation: change of substance.
St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote: "The Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ". St. Justin the martyr wrote: "We have been taught that the food is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh". The Council of Trent in 1551 defined that Jesus is really present in the Eucharist, body and blood, soul and divinity.
The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Church’s life. Through the Eucharist Christ’s life, death and resurrection are made real, are made present, and are offered sacramentally. In the Eucharist, Christ unites his Church and all her members with his work of salvation. All ministries and sacraments of the Church are bound up with the Eucharist in which Christ, acting through the ministry of the priesthood, gives himself as an offering to the Father. Through the Liturgies of the Word and of the Eucharist the events of Christ’s life are made present. In Holy Communion, Christ completes the initiation of the faithful, nourishes them throughout their lives, and consoles them at the time of death with Viaticum.
Receiving Holy Communion
Only Catholics may receive holy Communion, and Catholics who do receive holy Communion must be property disposed. We welcome our fellow Christians to this celebration of the Eucharist as our brothers and sisters.
The statement urges us to pray that the action of the Holy Spirit will overcome the sad divisions which have separated us. This is a clear realization that while Christians share a common faith, there are still significant issues and practices that keep us apart. Someday, God willing, they will be resolved.
Because Catholics believe that the celebration of the Eucharist is a sign of the reality of the oneness of faith, life and worship, members of those churches with whom we are not yet fully united are ordinarily not admitted to holy Communion."
Christians may receive holy Communion in "exceptional" cases but only with the specific permission of the bishop and only when very particular conditions are in place. From a Catholic perspective, members of Orthodox Churches and Polish National Churches are permitted to receive holy Communion.
The reception of holy Communion in a Catholic Church presumes Catholic belief about the Eucharist. Catholics believe in the doctrine of "transubstantiation," that the bread and wine become, in a substantial way, the Body and Blood of Christ. Catholics also believe that the Eucharist is a authentic sharing in the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary.
Perhaps you have heard that on special occasions, such as weddings and funerals, some priests will invite all those in church, including those who are not Catholic, to receive holy Communion. This practice is improper and theologically unsound. The invitation for everybody to receive holy Communion is inappropriate.
Holy Communion is a great and holy privilege, and Catholics must be properly disposed. We are encouraged to receive Communion devoutly and frequently.
In order to be properly disposed to receive Communion, participants should not be conscious of grave sin and normally should have fasted for one hour. A frequent reception of the Sacrament of Penance is encouraged.
In holy Communion we are receiving a precious gift. And while we know that we are never worthy to receive the Lord, we must be as well disposed as possible for this sacred encounter. Most people are very reverent in receiving Communion.
I am occasionally disturbed by the casual manner in which some people approach the altar of the Lord failing to respond, half-asleep, chewing gum, abruptly grabbing the sacred Host from the priest, deacon or extraordinary minster of Holy Communion, talking to others.
The age of discretion both for Penance and Holy Communion is the time when a child begins to reason, that is about the seventh year. From that time on begins the obligation of fulfilling the precept of both Penance and Communion.
Children are prepared for and given the opportunity to celebrate the Sacrament of Penance before their first reception of Eucharist.
The child's readiness for the celebration of each of the sacraments is determined by the child, the parent, who is the primary educator of his/her child, and the pastor or his delegate.
Some manner of assessment to determine a child's readiness to enter preparation for and after appropriate formation will take place. The pastor and/or the catechist (designated by the pastor) and the parent(s) will assess the child's readiness for celebration of the Sacrament of Eucharist by an interview or equivalent process prior to the celebration of the Sacrament.
A child's readiness for the celebration of the sacrament is judged on the following criteria:
Guidelines for First Eucharist and ReconciliationPolicy
For the administration of the Most Holy Eucharist to children, it is required that they have sufficient knowledge and careful preparation so as to understand the mystery of Christ according to their capacity, and can receive the Body of the Lord with Faith and devotion1.
Children who have attained the use of reason, who can offer proof of baptism and who have been deemed ready through a suitable process of discernment and immediate catechesis may receive the sacrament, after being prepared according to their capacity by penance.
For the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, immediate catechesis consists of a two (2) year sacramental preparation program, the norm being reception of First Eucharist in grade 2 with a previous year in grade 1. However, since the readiness level will vary from student to student, it cannot be considered automatic when an individual reaches a specific grade level. In the case of home schoolers, evidence of this preparation must be provided to the pastor. The final decision for the reception of First Eucharist in this situation will be made jointly by the student, pastor and parents.
First Eucharist may be celebrated in parishes as a communal celebration or on an individual basis as a family celebration. If First Eucharist is celebrated individually, it is suggested that a communal celebration follows at the close of the academic year.
1. The discernment and catechesis prior to First Eucharist involves the child as well as the pastor, parents and/or sponsors, and catechists. If there is a dispute about the readiness of the child the final decision is between the pastor and the child’s parents. The catechesis for First Eucharist should be supported by prayer and ritual with the parish community. The role of the community in both the ongoing and immediate catechesis for First Eucharist deserves special note. During their preparation, candidates not only learn the truths of faith regarding the Eucharist, but also how to participate actively. The worshiping community, gathered at Sunday Eucharist, is the primary role model for these candidates.
2. The immediate family of each child should model a pattern of hospitality, celebration, sharing meals, mutual forgiveness, and gratitude to a child’s understanding of Eucharist. To support the family in all of this, the parish provides a preparation program for parents and/or sponsors during the time of immediate catechesis for the child.
3. Church law states that sacramental confession is to precede reception of communion. However, one is to confess serious sin prior to receiving communion only if one is conscious of such sin.
4. Parents may decide that their child is not ready for the sacrament of reconciliation before first Eucharist. Before reaching such a conclusion, parents are first to be informed of the church’s norm and the reasons for it. They are also to have participated in the parent preparation preceding discernment for the sacrament of reconciliation. Parents are then to consult with the pastor, catechist, or where appropriate, the parish director of religious education. With the above steps taken, the ultimate decision belongs to the parents. Their decision is to be respected and an exception to the norm of the church is to be allowed so that a child can be admitted to first Eucharist without a prior sacramental confession. To do otherwise and require absolutely that all children celebrate first penance before First Eucharist without any possible exception would be beyond the church’s law and counter to sound theology.
5. No child should be denied reception of first Eucharist because the child has not first approached the sacrament of penance.
Because the Sacrament of Reconciliation involves the internal forum, according to Canon Law no information about the reception of the Sacrament should be recorded or registered. Giving a certificate with the date of first reception and the signature of the pastor is a violation of Church law.
1. Code of Canon Law. Canon Law Society of America, Washington, D.C. 20064. 1983. Canon #913.
2. Canon #914
3. Code of Canon Law. Canon Law Society of America, Washington, D.C. 20064. Canon #914.
4. Canon #988
5. Canon #989
6. Canon #91-100