A Eucharistic Retreat
The Eucharist as Communion Sacrament
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
There is generally no difficulty speaking about Holy Eucharist as Communion
Sacrament. In fact, this is the most common way most Catholics think of Holy
Eucharist. However, our perspective will be more specific. We will reflect
on the meaning of Holy Eucharist as a channel of grace and on how Holy Communion
is a means of obtaining supernatural sustenance for the divine life we received
The Churchs doctrinal history of Holy Communion goes back to the first century
as found in the Didache, the teaching of the twelve Apostles, written
around the year 90 A.D. From then on, there has been a steady stream of ecclesiastical
teaching which continues to our day. As might be expected, this teaching has
grown in depth and clarity due to the challenges of erroneous doctrine, so
by now, we can speak without ambiguity about the sacramental effects of receiving
Our Lord in Holy Communion.
Source of The Churchs Teaching
The primary source of our faith in the effects of Holy Communion is the clear
teaching of Christ Himself as recorded by the evangelist St. John. As we have
already seen, heretical sects arose before the second century claiming Christ
was not truly God or not truly man. That is why, as history tells us, St.
John was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write the fourth Gospel mainly to
show Jesus was indeed both true God and true Man. That is why John concentrates
so much on showing Jesus was God Himself in human form. That is also why St.
John devotes the whole sixth chapter of his Gospel (72 verses) to the account
of Christs promise to give us His flesh to eat and His blood to drink. Just
as uncompromisingly as Christ taught that He was giving His real body and
His real blood for our spiritual nourishment, so the Catholic Church has taught
From the dawn of Christianity, the Church understood Holy Communion to be
the reception of the living Christ Himself. But now, there has been such a
medley of erroneous ideas about the Eucharist as communion that we better
make sure we know what we mean by Holy Communion. We believe Holy Communion
is Jesus Christ, in the fullness of His divinity and humanity, whom we receive
into our bodies in order to sanctify our souls.
State of Grace Required
When we say Holy Communion confers grace, this does not mean it confers sanctifying
grace. On the contrary, Holy Communion is a sacrament of the living. In order
to receive faithfully, a person must first of all be living in friendship
with God living in the state of grace. Otherwise, so far from benefiting
from Holy Communion, a person commits a sacrilege. And in St. Pauls words,
such a person draws condemnation on himself.
Im no mystic who can read the hearts of human beings, but we dont have
to be mystics to know that a lot of people, especially in our country, are
receiving sacrilegious Communions. With a horrendous drop in the amount of
people frequenting confession, common sense tells us many people with mortal
sins are still going to Communion. But as St. Paul tells us, this Communion
brings their own condemnation.
This follows logically from Christs own teaching that Holy Communion nourishes
the life of God already possessed by the communicant. We do not feed a dead
body with natural food and drink. No less can we feed a spiritually dead soul
with supernatural food and drink. The sacrament Christ instituted to restore
supernatural life to a person in mortal sin is the Sacrament of Penance, not
the Sacrament of Holy Communion.
The flood of errors rampant in allegedly Catholic circles is a deluge. I
was recently shown a parish bulletin in which parishioners were instructed
to tell only one sin when they go to confession. What if Ive committed two
mortal sins? How could I revitalize my spiritual life in order to receive
Holy Communion faithfully?
Effects of the Sacrament of Communion
There are nine effects of Holy Communion which are produced in the person
who receives Our Lord in the state of grace. Each of these effects has a mounting
library of literature explaining what the effects mean and how they sanctify
those who receive Our Lord worthily. Well just cover these nine effects briefly:
- Sustenance of supernatural life.
Following the promise of Christ, the most basic consequence of Holy Communion
is to enable the communicant to remain supernaturally alive. Not once, but
several times in the Gospel of John, Jesus came back to this theme: If anyone
eats of this bread, he shall live forever. Again: Unless you eat the flesh
of the Son of man and drink His blood, you shall not have life in you. Still
again: He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has life everlasting. And
once more: As the living Father has sent Me, and as I live because of the
Father, so he who eats Me, he also shall live because of Me. (John 52-59).
- Promise of Bodily Resurrection from the Dead.
In the same context of Johns Gospel, Christ promised the person receiving
Him in Holy Communion: I will raise him up on the last day. Consequently,
receiving the Glorified Christ into our pathetically mortal bodies is a prelude
and promise for having our bodies immortalized and glorified on the day of
resurrection at the end of time.
- Remission of Venial Sins.
As explained by the Church, whatever the soul loses by venial sins can be
totally restored through Holy Communion. Thus, we can follow through on the
same analogy as bodily sustenance. The daily wear and tear on our bodies
resulting from effort, exertion and fatigue has its spiritual counterpart
in the human soul. There are strong, healthy bodies and strong, healthy souls.
And there are weak, debilitated human bodies that need repair just as there
are weak debilitated human souls in need of repair. In the words of St. Ambrose,
this daily bread (of Holy Communion) is taken as a remedy for daily infirmity.
- Protection against future sins.
Two basic forms of spiritual protection are taught by the Church. Holy Communion
protects the recipient from the contingent of sin, like a spiritual vaccine.
And it protects the soul from the assaults of temptation like a supernatural
armor against the attacks of the world and the devil.
St. Cyprian, writing in the early third century, says Christians imprisoned
and tortured for the name of Christ received from the hand of the bishop the
sacrament of the Body and Blood of the Lord, so they would not yield to a
Roman prosecutor and deny the faith. Before going on trial, they pleaded,
Give me Communion, so Ill be able to resist.
From the very beginning of the Church, this was the reason Holy Communion
was brought to the early Christians in prisons for their faith and to strengthen
them in their struggle with the enemies of Christs name. If you think for
a moment that the age of persecution has passed, youre living in a dream
world. The real world in which we live is a world that hates Christ and his
followers. And yes, the verb is hates. Anytime I begin to doubt that, all
I have to do is turn to the media, which will do anything to tear down the
name of Christianity and especially loves to humiliate the Catholic Church.
Leave it to the media; they dont miss a single opportunity. We desperately
need to receive Holy Communion as often as we can to protect us against the
virulent hatred found in Christs enemies today.
- Curbs the urges of concupiscence.
We know that concupiscence is the wound of original sin. Concupiscence is
the unruly desires of the will and the body which require supernatural control.
There is no way known to God or man that we can control our passions of flesh
or soul by ourselves or even with the help of other human beings. And for
years Ive told my students in teaching comparative religion that Christianity,
with emphasis on Catholic Christianity, must be the one true religion. It
provides the means for human beings to live as human beings by controlling
If we rely on our own human nature, we simply cannot control our passions
of flesh or soul. We need to use supernatural means, especially those found
in the Eucharist. This is so true and the verdict of history is certain: either
a person receives Holy Communion frequently or regularly or human nature is
no match for the passions of the flesh and spirit that plague every human
Forty years in the Priesthood has taught me many things, but this stands
out: no one can control their passions on their own. This is especially true
for the two most demanding passions of pride and lust pride to dominate
others and lust to enjoy pleasures of the flesh. Either we receive Holy Communion
and acquire mastery of these irrational drives, or we become further moral
casualties in the war between ourselves and the forces of evil. The greatest
saints were among the most passionate people known in human history. But they
needed the means of controlling and actually stilling this passionate machine
going at 90 miles an hour. They found the supernatural means to do this in
- Spiritual joy.
The Church compares the effects of savory food and drink for the body with
a spiritual satisfaction assured the soul through Holy Communion. For example,
we can eat food A and we can eat food B, and both foods may nourish the body
equally. But theres a great difference between eating food you enjoy and
eating food with which you have to make an act of faith that its good for
Similarly, we are not only to practice virtue; we are to enjoy
doing the will of God. Of course, this happiness may be joined with physical
or emotional pain. But even so, our living the life of grace should be peace-giving,
joy-receiving and happiness-producing. And faith tells us that the principle
source of this earthly beatitude is the frequent reception of Holy Communion.
For example, people often tell me, Father, Im trying to do Gods will, but
its such a burden. I read the lives of the saints, and I cant believe it;
it must be spiritual fiction. I cant live a life like that.
In turn, I ask, How often do you go to Communion?
Start going at least twice a week or even every day if you can. Then
come back and talk to me again.
Having a doctorate, not in medicine, but in Theology, I know one way
a doctor recognizes the value of the medication he prescribes: he asks, Does
it do any good? With 45 years of experience in the Priesthood, I can tell
you, this works. This prescription frequent reception of Holy Communion
- Perseverance in Grace.
One of the most sobering truths of our faith is that even a lifetime
of virtue is not of itself a guarantee of final perseverance. Final perseverance
is a special gift from God that we cannot directly merit as a reward for a
lifetime of service to God. Indeed, with a lifetime of struggling and laboring
to do the will of God, we might think: the least God can give me is the
guarantee that Im going to die in His friendship. No. I must obtain that
gift of final perseverance, the most important grace which will open the doors
Final perseverance must be prayed for. That is why we close every Hail
Mary with the invocation, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our
death. And we can obtain the grace of final perseverance. The Church tells
us the single most powerful guarantee for assurance of dying in Gods friendship
is frequent and fervent reception of Holy Communion.
- Growth in the Supernatural Life.
It stands to revealed reason that Holy Communion increases sanctifying
grace, nurtures our spiritual life and enables us to grow in Gods grace as
no other means available to us in this valley of tears. There is more here
than meets the eye. Every worthy reception of Holy Communion deepens the life
of God in our souls, draws us closer to the Holy Trinity and makes us more
pleasing to the Divine Majesty. After all, this is the source of growth in
the spiritual life. The essence of holiness is not in the practice of virtue
but in the persons possession of grace. A newborn child just baptized is
holy because that child possesses the grace of God. That is why over the centuries,
the Communion Sacrament of the Eucharist has been called Holy Communion.
It should really be called Holifying Communion or Sanctifying Communion.
The Holy Eucharist sanctifies. The Holy Eucharist makes us more like Christ
and increases the divine life in our souls.
- Remission of sin.
It is part of Christs teaching that Holy Communion removes both the
guilt of venial sin and the debt of pain due to our forgiven sins. This does
not minimize the importance and value of the Sacrament of Confession, but
it does mean in Holy Communion, we have a divinely ordained means for the
remission of sin on these two levels: on the remission of guilt of venial
sin (not mortal sin) and on the remission of temporal punishment (not eternal
punishment) for those sins. Through Holy Communion, our duty to suffer is
medicated by the merciful God. In Holy Communion, we receive the merciful
God who exercises His mercy every time we receive His body into our body,
His soul into our soul. As a result, He makes us less sinful with every Communion
we receive. You might say this is the parallel to growth in sanctity.
Id like to close this meditation with the prayer of Thomas Aquinas for thanksgiving
after Holy Communion.
I give you thanks, Holy Lord, Father Almighty, everlasting God, that you
have vouchsafed to feed me, a sinner, your unworthy servant for no merits
of my own, but only through the goodness of Your great mercy with the precious
body and blood of Your Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ. I ask that this Holy Communion
may not add to my guilt for punishment, but become a saving intercession for
pardon. May it serve as an armor of faith and a shield of good will. May it
drive out my evil inclinations, dispel all wicked desires and fleshly temptations,
increase my charity, patience, humility, obedience in all my virtues. May
it be a firm defense against the plots of all my enemies, both seen and unseen;
a perfect quieting of all movements to sin both in my flesh and spirit; a
strong attachment to You, the only true God; and a happy ending of my life.
I beg of You to tend to bring me, a sinner, to the ineffable face where we
will, with Your Son and the Holy Spirit who are two holy ones, two alike,
full satisfaction, everlasting joy
my pleasure and perfect happiness. Amen.
Copyright © 1998 by Inter Mirifica
No reproductions shall be made without prior written permission.