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Intimacy of Holy Communion

Fr. Scott A. Haynes


On the Feast of Corpus Christi, we should meditate upon that sacred moment of Holy Communion. As the Priest approaches the communicant to give him Holy Communion, he should endeavor to imagine that his soul is rather like the poor manger of Bethlehem. Like the manger, his soul is rather rough like the straw, but just as that beautiful Babe of Bethlehem ennobled that crude manger to make it His throne, so Our Lord wishes to elevate the soul that devoutly receives Him, so that He might reign over each human heart as His own Kingdom.

Even though our Savior is an Infant wrapped in swaddling clothes, He is, nonetheless, the Shepherd of our souls, just as we are the sheep of His flock. How fitting, therefore, that the faithful come to the communion rail, the altar of the common man, to eat from this holy manger, this feeding trough, not ordinary food, but the Bread come down from Heaven.
Pope Benedict XVI once said:
“Communion only reaches its true depth when it is supported and surrounded by adoration.” [1]
For this reason, the universal norm in the Church is that we kneel down as we receive Holy Communion:
“The practice of kneeling for Holy Communion has in its favor a centuries-old tradition, and it is a particularly expressive sign of adoration, completely appropriate in light of the true, real and substantial presence of Our Lord Jesus Christ under the consecrated species.” [2]
The ancient practice of receiving Holy Communion on the tongue recalls the intimate imagery of the nuptial banquet. Holy Communion recalls the Biblical verse from the Book of Canticles in the Old Testament:
“Let Him kiss me with the kiss of His Mouth.” [3]
Communion is an act of love. Saint Ambrose believed this, for he said:
Osculum mihi Christus infigat! (“May Christ plant a kiss on me!”)
If we consider the reception of Holy Communion in such a context, we can discern the spirituality of Holy Communion that is fostered in the hearts of the faithful who are formed by the Church's ancient tradition of reception of Holy Communion on the tongue. Imagine a wedding banquet in which the husband and his wife are to partake of their wedding cake together and feed each other in a moment of tender nuptial love.

Though it might seem a ridiculous or juvenile behavior for adults to do this on almost any other occasion, for modern man, this charming ceremony of the marriage feast has become an important ritual; it is a rich symbol of the reality of the Sacrament of Marriage where two are made one flesh.[4] How cold and aloof it would be for the husband to omit this little rite of the marriage banquet! How shocking it would be for the husband to delegate this little ceremony to his best man. This is absolutely ridiculous. Imagine the groom permitting some other man to usurp him in this intimate moment with his own newlywed wife.

Remember Saint Paul teached that a man and his wife are “two in one flesh.” [5] This intimate human ceremony of the bridegroom feeding his bride the cake is a symbol of his love for her. No man other than the Bridegroom must perform this little rite for the bride for the bridegroom desires to show his bride his tender affection by placing that little piece of wedding cake in her mouth.

Now if we can understand how important is this ritual and the symbol of the wedding cake, cannot we see how important it is that the Priest, who stands there in the very person of Christ the Bridegroom, feed the Bride, the members of the Church, not with a symbol of Himself, but with the Sacred Host which is His very Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity?

Therefore, my dear friends in Christ, see what an intimate moment Holy Communion is. As you endeavor to receive Him with fervor and attention, prepare your soul by a worthy Confession, so that it be free of sin to receive Him.

Remembering once again that image of Christ as the Infant King of Bethlehem… ask our Lady and St. Joseph to help you adore Jesus the way they adored Him in the manger, so that your heart will receive Him in the midst of a cloud of adoration and worship that rises like incense to the very throne of God.

Notes: [1] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, trans. Rev. John Saward (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000), 90. [2] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, cited in the Letter “This Congregation” of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, July 1, 2002. See also Prot. n. 1322/02/L published in November/December 2002 issue of Notitiae. [3] Song of Songs 1:2 (Canticles 1:1). [4] Genesis 2:24. [5] 1 Corinthians 6:16.
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