Dear Parish Family:
This and the following weekend will mark a great milestone in the lives of children in our parish. The Saint Magdalen de Pazzi community will be celebrating with those who have been preparing for weeks to receive, for the first time, Jesus in Holy Communion. For me, this is one of the most satisfying times of parish life as a pastor. It is a joy to be so close to these children and see their awe and wonder for t he sacrament they are encountering. While it is true they may not fully understand everything about the Eucharist, they have been taught the most essential truth: namely, that the bread they eat is not bread, but the very Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. It is a mystery that will engage the rest of their lives and this side of heaven will never fully comprehend it.
One of the things I love about this time of year is that the whole parish can participate in the celebration. We can all be renewed in the meaning and importance of receiving Holy Communion. Unfortunately, for most people, receiving Holy Communion has a tendency to become routine. When we lose the wonder and awe of the Eucharist, we need to be reawakened to Jesus' gift of Himself to us.
Receiving Holy Communion requires that we prepare ourselves for this sacred encounter. The Church teaches us that to be properly disposed to receive the Eucharist we must first of all examine our conscience. If we are in a state of grave sin, that is, if we have broken one of the Commandments or are living in a way that is inconsistent with Christian life, then we need to ask God for repentance and go to sacramental confession before we go to Holy Communion.
We must also have fasted from food and drink, unless for medical or other serious reasons, for one hour before receiving Communion. This is called the Eucharistic fast. It is meant to alert us to the importance of receiving our Lord in a state of mindfulness, and desiring Him as the true food of our soul.
Moreover, we must be striving to live in charity with all people. This does not mean that we like everyone. Rather, this means that we desire and pray for the salvation of others. We also seek to avoid being an obstacle of sin in other people's lives. We should be eager to interact with others as brothers and sisters destined for life eternal. Christian charity motivates us to go out of our way to help other people in their physical, emotional and spiritual well being, so as to "receive all as Christ."
It is also helpful to remember that coming to Mass is the high point of our week. From early Christian times, the faithful have gathered on Sunday to honor Christ in His resurrection, to listen to the Word of God, to break the Bread and be nourished by Holy Communion. Unfortunately, attending weekly Mass has become much less of a priority. Too often we can end up treating going to Mass as a burden to be fit in amongst other more important things, such as getting the back yard cleaned up for guests or spending the day at sporting events. While we may have busy lives, if we are too busy to go to Mass, then we are just plain too busy. We may ask ourselves: are we willing to be counter cultural today? Eternity is about praising God forever.
If we are not in the practice of praising Him in this world, why would we think we will change our minds in the last moment of our lives? We usually die with the same attitude that we live. How are we living and for what?
We should also come to Mass dressed to celebrate, clad to encounter the King of kings. Especially during summer months it can be tempting to simply slip over to Mass dressed in our back yard attire or clothes that are more suitable for the beach. Keep in mind that modesty in dress is a virtue that indicates a desire in our soul for the sacred. How we dress tells others what we think of ourselves, others and of God. It may sound harsh and judgmental, but it is simply a fact of life in every culture and place. Let us recommit to dressing for an occasion that befits the glory of God and our Christian dignity.
In addition, it is good to be reminded that when we draw near to receive Holy Communion, we should do so with reverence. We should not be chewing gum. We should make a sign of respect by either a bow or a genuflection. We should not reach or grab for the sacred host, but rather extend our hands with open palms. We should step aside and consume the host immediately. If we receive on the tongue, we must open our mouth enough for the priest or minster to place the host on a slightly extended tongue. The way we receive Him expresses our love for Him. Let us be mindful of Who we are receiving.
Finally, we must stay until the end of Mass. It may be very tempting to exit right after Communion, but the celebration is not over yet. In fact, the time immediately following our reception of Holy Communion is a precious moment of self reflection with the Lord, leading us to greater unity with Him and one another. He deserves this importance. Our fellow parishioners need our good example, and our family needs to see us set this as a priority. Please stay for the whole Mass; do not leave until the priest and ministers have exited the church. There is no good reason for us to dismantle that sacred tradition of the Church merely as matter of our habit. Of course, there will be an occasional time when we must leave early. However, it appears to be a bad practice that we must help each other to break.
So, First Communicants - we are proud of you and grateful that you remind us how special it is to receive Jesus in Holy Communion. Our prayer is that you will deeply abide in Jesus' great love for you, and that your whole family will come alive to Him more and more.
Easter peace and Joy!