III. THE LITURGY OF THE HOLY EUCHARIST
The ceremonies centered about the Holy Eucharist are of two types—those established by Christ and those established by the Church. The former were performed by our Lord at the Last Supper, and consisted of the consecration—that is, the change of the bread and wine into His body and blood by the words: “This is My body….. This is My blood of the new testament which shall be shed for many unto remission of sins"—and the distribution of Holy Communion to His disciples.* This ceremony which took place at the Last Supper was not only the institution and the administration of a sacrament but also the offering of a sacrifice. By a sacrifice is meant a religious rite designed to honor God and to atone for sin by offering to the Almighty a victim, and destroying or slaying it. That Christ offered a sacrifice at the Last Supper with His own body and blood as the victim is evident from His own words. For He said of His body, present under the species of bread, that it was being given for you (Luke xxii. 19), and of His blood, present under the species of wine, that it was being shed unto remission of sins (Matthew xxvi. 28). Such expressions clearly indicate that He was performing a sacrificial rite. Since then our Saviour offered a sacrifice at the Last Supper, the rite in which the Holy Eucharist is consecrated—the Mass, as we call it—is also a sacrifice. For the Mass is the repetition of what He did at the Last Supper, in compliance with His command: “Do this for a commemoration of Me.” The supreme sacrifice of the Christian dispensation is indeed our Saviour‟s death on the cross. By the efficacy of this sacrifice the Eternal Father received infinite honor and thanksgiving, and all men received sufficient means for the pardon of their sins and for the attainment of eternal life. The Mass does not add any merit or satisfaction to the sacrifice of the Cross; it merely applies to men the merits and satisfactions of this sacrifice. Nevertheless, the Mass is a true sacrifice, giving honor and thanks to God, renewing the Sacrifice of the Cross, and having as its victim and principal priest the same Christ who was the victim and the priest in the sacrifice of the first Good Friday. The chief difference between the two is that whereas on the cross our Lord‟s blood was really shed and He really died, in the Mass His blood is separated from His body only figuratively, by the twofold consecration of the bread into His body and the wine into His blood.
** We say that on Calvary Christ was immolated in a bloody manner, in the Mass in an unbloody manner; or, that on Calvary He really died, in the Mass He dies only mystically.
* Although the scriptural narrative does not state that our Saviour Himself received Holy Communion at the Last Supper, it is probable that He did so.
**Although our Lord is present wholly and entirely under each of the two species, as far as the words of consecration are concerned only His body becomes present under the species of bread and only His blood under the species of wine. Hence, in the twofold consecration there is a vivid representation of Christ’s death................
Some theologians believe that the Last Supper and the Cross were two distinct sacrifices, while others think they were the two parts of one and the same sacrifice — the offering and the immolation respectively. However, this question is very secondary to the important doctrines on which all Catholics agree — that both at the Last Supper and on Calvary Our Lord performed a sacrificial function, and that the Mass is a true sacrifice renewing the sacrificial death of Christ in a mystical manner, just as the rite of the Last Supper in a mystical manner anticipated it. As was said above, Christ is the principal priest in the offering of every Mass, inasmuch as He instituted this sacred rite and commissioned the Apostles and their successors in the ministry to continue it in His name. Perhaps, too, He takes a direct and immediate part in the celebration of every Mass, invisibly exercising His priestly power in union with the visible priest when he says the words: “This is My body ... This is My blood.” Only those can offer Mass as officiating priests who have received the priestly power through the sacramental rite of ordination from bishops who in turn have received their power in an unbroken line of succession from the Apostles. However, in this group are included not only Catholic priests but also the priests of the non-Catholic Oriental churches, in which bishops have been properly consecrated and priests properly ordained even after these churches separated from Catholic unity. But the Catholic Church does not recognize the power to offer the Holy Sacrifice in the clergymen of the Anglican Church, because in the sixteenth century this denomination changed the rite of ordination so that it was no longer able to confer the priesthood. The second class of eucharistic ceremonies, those established by the Church, are numerous and inspiring. Thus, the simple form of sacrificial act established by Christ—the consecration and Communion— has been enhanced in the course of time by the Church‟s legislation adding the reading of portions of the Old and New Testament, prayers of praise, thanksgiving and petition, the use of incense, vestments, music, etc. In these matters there is considerable diversity in different parts of the Church, especially between the Western (or Latin) church and the Eastern (Oriental) churches. Thus, at the present day the Holy Sacrifice is offered by Catholics in eleven different languages and seventeen different rites, or ceremonial usages. Among Eastern Christians the term Liturgy is used to designate the eucharistic sacrifice, which Latin Catholics call the Mass. Although the additions made by the Church to this sacred rite are not necessary to make it a sacrifice, priests are strictly obliged to employ them, apart from very extraordinary circumstances. For example, in lands where the Church is being persecuted the Pope sometimes permits priests to offer Mass in an abbreviated form and without the use of vestments. But there never can be any dispensation from the essential features of the Holy Sacrifice instituted by Christ—the consecration of both bread and wine and the Communion (at least of the priest). Although only an ordained priest can celebrate Mass, the laity also participate in the offering of the Holy Sacrifice. For the act of sacrifice is a public function, performed in the name of a society; and so, it is in reality the entire Church that offers each Mass through the priest as a public official. Accordingly, the laity assisting at Mass should realize that they are collaborating with the priest at the altar in offering the Divine Victim to His heavenly Father, and should join in the sacred rite as intimately as possible. For this purpose it is commendable to follow the prayers and ceremonies in a Missal. To receive Holy Communion during the Mass is also a praiseworthy act, since it is not only the reception of the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist but is likewise the partaking of the Victim of the eucharistic sacrifice. And although strictly speaking only the priest who celebrates Mass is obliged to partake of the Holy Eucharist at the Communion, it is the wish of the Church that at every Mass some of the laity receive the body and blood of our Saviour “in order that more abundant fruit of this most holy sacrifice may come to them,” as the Council of Trent expressed it (Denzinger, Enchiridion, n. 944). In most of the Eastern rites the faithful communicate under the appearances of both bread and wine, and this was the custom in the Latin Church also in the early centuries. But since the fifteenth century, according to the general law in the Latin Church,* Holy Communion is administered under the species of bread alone, so that only priests celebrating Mass receive both species. There are good reasons for this, such as the danger that the consecrated species of wine may be spilled. Ancient tradition justifies this practice, for although in the early days of Christianity both species were ordinarily * There are some exceptions. For example, the deacon and the subdeacon at the Pope’s Solemn Mass receive the Blessed Sacrament under both species administered, there were some exceptions. Thus, those who were confined to bed by sickness or were in prison were given only the species of bread, while infants were sometimes communicated immediately after Baptism with the species of wine alone. The doctrinal basis of this restriction of Holy Communion to one species is the Catholic teaching that Christ is entirely present under each species, so that a person who receives only the species of bread receives the body, blood, soul and divinity of our Saviour just as completely as a person who receives both species. It is worth noting that a Latin Catholic is permitted to receive Holy Communion under both species from an Oriental Catholic priest in whose rite the Blessed Sacrament is administered in this manner. Out of reverence for the Holy Eucharist the Church prescribes that ordinarily one may not receive Holy Communion unless he has abstained from all food and drink since midnight.(See current rules below) In reckoning midnight one may follow any system of time that may be to his advantage. Thus, when daylight saving time prevails, a person need not begin this eucharistic fast until 1 A. M., which is midnight by standard time. However, one who is not fasting may receive Holy Communion as viaticum if he is in danger of death, and also may consume the Blessed Sacrament to preserve It from violation. Moreover, one who has been confined to bed by illness for a month and has no hope of a speedy recovery may receive Holy Communion once or twice a week, with the advice of his confessor, after having taken medicine or liquid nourishment. Finally, the Holy See sometimes grants special permission to individuals or groups to receive Holy Communion after taking food or drink when it would be impossible or very difficult for them to observe the eucharistic fast. The eucharistic ceremonies in vogue in the Catholic Church besides Mass and Holy Communion, such as Benediction, processions of the Blessed Sacrament, visits to our Lord in the tabernacle, are of ecclesiastical origin. They are of long standing use in the Church and are commended to the devotion of the faithful as a means of animating their faith and stimulating their love toward Him who for love of us dwells ever in our midst.
What are the current rules for fasting before Holy Communion?
(a) For many centuries the Church commanded a strict fast from midnight before one could receive Holy Communion. However, in the 1950's Pope Pius XII introduced a much more lenient form of fasting before Holy Communion in order to give Catholics an opportunity to receive Holy Communion more frequently.
(b) Pope Pius XII also allowed the celebration of afternoon and evening Masses every day, when the spiritual good of a considerable number of the faithful requires it. It is the right of the bishop of each diocese to decide when such Masses may be offered in his diocese.
(c) Paul VI further reduced the fasting requirement after the Second Vatican Council, requiring only a one hour fast from all food and drink (excluding water). This may be reduced to 15 minutes for those who are sick or for other important reasons. This is the practice currently in force.
When may Holy Communion be received without fasting?
Holy Communion may be received without fasting when one is in danger of death, or when it is necessary to save the Blessed Sacrament from insult or injury.
(a) Ordinarily the danger of death comes from sickness or injury. But it is not necessary that a person be in danger of death from sickness in order to receive Holy Communion without fasting. The danger of death may come from some other cause. A soldier, for example, who is about to go into battle or a person about to be executed may receive Holy Communion without fasting.
IV. THE DIVINE GUEST OF THE SOUL
When promising the Holy Eucharist our divine Saviour said: “Amen, amen I say to you, except you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, you shall not have life in you” (John vi. 54). From these words it is evident, that there is a grave obligation incumbent on all the members of Christs Church to receive Holy Communion. However, it is not the same type of obligation as that which binds all men to receive Baptism, or that which binds those who have sinned grievously after Baptism to receive Penance. These obligations are concerned with a means necessary to salvation, whereas the obligation to receive the Holy Eucharist denotes only a precept to be fulfilled. However, it is a divine precept, since it was imposed by the Son of God. Our Lord did not specify how frequently we must receive His body and blood, but left the determination of this matter to His Church. In the earlier centuries the faithful were commanded to approach the holy table at least three times a year —at Christmas, Easter and Pentecost; but in 1215 the Fourth Council of the Lateran decreed that those who have reached the age of discretion must receive Holy Communion at least once a year, and that at Easter. This legislation still prevails. Moreover, Catholics old enough for Holy Communion are obliged to receive the Holy Eucharist as viaticum (literally “food for a journey”) when they are in danger of death. The Lateran Council mentioned above decreed that the obligation to receive Holy Communion should begin with “the years of discretion,” and until comparatively recent times this phrase was generally interpreted as signifying the age of ten or twelve years. However, in 1910 a decree of the Roman Congregation of the Sacraments, approved by Pope Pius X, prescribed that the age of discretion is to be understood as synonymous with the age of the beginning of reason, which usually occurs about the seventh year. And so, in recent times little ones of tender years have been admitted to the holy table. Of course, children only seven years old cannot be expected to have an adequate understanding of the Holy Eucharist
The Easter season, during which this precept can be fulfilled, by the general law of the Church lasts from Palm Sunday to Low Sunday, two weeks. For good reasons a bishop may extend this period in his diocese from the fourth Sunday of Lent to Trinity Sunday, eleven weeks. In the United States, by special dispensation, the Easter season lasts from the first Sunday of Lent to Trinity Sunday, fourteen weeks.
Holy Communion also produces a social effect, in that it unites all Catholics into one great family, irrespective of national and educational and economic distinctions. It is true, Baptism fundamentally constitutes the bond between the members of the Church, but the Holy Eucharist fosters this unity so effectively that it is sometimes called “the sacrament of unity.” For, rich and poor, learned and unlearned, Europeans and Africans and Americans gather at the same banquet table to partake of the same food, the body and the blood of Christ, the Saviour of all mankind. And greater aid toward the promotion of peace and friendliness among men is provided by this common participation in the Holy Eucharist than by man-made pacts and International laws. The effects of Holy Communion are proportionate to the fervor of the recipients. Hence, it is most important that we prepare devoutly and attentively for each Holy Communion. It is sometimes stated that a single Holy Communion can make the recipient a saint; and the statement is no exaggeration, for as far as the power of the Blessed Sacrament is concerned, there is no limit to the graces it can bestow. The only limitations are those set by the dispositions of mind and heart found in the communicants. Besides a devout preparation, we should also make a fervent thanksgiving, for our Lord is truly present within our breast for about fifteen minutes after the actual reception of Holy Communion, and this amount of time at least should be employed in acts of ardent love and of petition for the graces we need. We have been speaking of the benefits conferred on men by the Holy Eucharist as a sacrament. As a sacrifice the Holy Eucharist is intended primarily to adore and to thank God and to atone to Him for sin. However, it also obtains actual graces for those who share in its efficacy and obtains for them the remission of some of the debt of temporal punishment. The most practical way of benefiting by both the sacrificial and the sacramental power of the Holy Eucharist is to assist attentively at Mass and to receive Holy Communion devoutly. The most common name of the great sacrament we have been studying—the Holy Eucharist—indicates the sentiment that should predominate in our heart when we think of this supreme gift of our Blessed Saviour. For the word “Eucharist” means “Thanksgiving.” This name is given to the sacrament of Christs body and blood because at its institution He gave thanks to His Father (Matthew xxvi. 27). It is a most appropriate title because through the eucharistic sacrifice we can best thank the Almighty for His favors to us, and also because this name reminds us that we should ever be grateful to our Lord for giving us Himself in this sacrament. And the most suitable way to show our gratitude is to make the Holy Eucharist the very center of our lives, proving by our devout assistance at Mass, our frequent visits to the Blessed Sacrament and our fervent reception of Holy Communion that we are profoundly thankful to the Son of God for this most precious gift of His love.
Imprimi Potest: WILLIAM T. McCARTY, C.SS.R., Provincial Superior. Brooklyn, N. Y., November 9, 1939. Nihil Obstat: ARTHUR J. SCANLAN, S.T.D., Censor Librorum. lmprimatur: FRANCIS J. SPELLMAN, Archbishop of New York. New York, December 14, 1939