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Eucharist: Frequently Asked Questions

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The liturgical life of the Church revolves around the sacraments, with the Eucharist at the center (National Directory for Catechesis, #35). At Mass, we are fed by the written Word of God (Bible) and nourished by the Body and Blood of Christ, the Word made flesh, incarnate in the Eucharist. 

We believe that the Risen Jesus is truly and substantially present in the Eucharist. The Eucharist is NOT a sign or symbol of Jesus; IT IS JESUS. The priest, through the power of his ordination and the action of the Holy Spirit, transforms the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus. This is called transubstantiation.  The substance of bread and wine are truly transformed (or changed) into the substance of the Most Holy Body and Most Precious Blood of Jesus Christ, being no longer bread, and no longer wine, even though the new substance preserves the accidents (or properties) of bread and wine still.

Spiritual Food


Just like our physical bodies must be nourished simply to sustain life, so our souls must be nourished so that the divine life of God given us in baptism is not lost.  This is so done through the Word of God that is entrusted to the safekeeping of the Church, both in oral (Sacred Tradition) and written (Sacred Scriptures) forms.  The Word of God instructs us on the Way of everlasting life, and the path to heaven.  So also must our soul be nourished by the Word of God incarnate in the Eucharist.  Through it we are united body and soul to God.

Must we eat the Eucharist?


So necessary is this that Jesus said unless we eat His flesh and drink His blood we have no life in us, but that we must do it if we want to live forever.  "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life."  Many Jewish people were overly appalled by this claim of His that they left Jesus and no longer followed Him over this teaching.  Those who did not believe in this sacrament, the Eucharist, stopped being His disciples.  It is a indeed a mystery, and a challenging teaching but one that Jesus did not retract at the risk of losing believers.  It is a teaching that disciples must accept in order to follow Jesus, as He made emphatically clear.  Jesus says to us and to all, as He did to his closest followers, "Will you also go away?"  To remain united to this teaching is to remain united to Jesus, or to reject this teaching is to depart or "go away" from Jesus.

How does this happen?


In the bible we read that the Eucharist was instituted at the Last Supper.  The God of the universe  spoke His powerful Word in the beginning to create from nothing, saying, "'Let there be light,' and there was light." (Gen 1:3)  The same God whose Word is so powerful to create from nothing what did not exist is no less able to change one thing into another, bread into His body and wine into His blood, at the utterance of His all-powerful Word.  Since Jesus previously said His body and blood must be eaten in order to live forever, at the Last Supper Jesus showed how was to happen.  Taking bread, Jesus spoke over it saying, "This is my body...Do this in remembrance of me."  Similarly, Jesus pronounced words over the wine in which He called it "the new covenant in my blood."  (Lk 22:19,20)

A "new covenant" was established by the Lord Jesus, Almighty God, which He expected them to live and keep, commanding them to do it, saying, "Do this..." Gathering most especially on the Lord's Day (Sunday) and other days particularly sacred to the Lord (Holy Days), we Christians have faithfully kept this covenant with God to this day, and will do so until He comes again.  There is no better or more sacred way to keep the Lord's Day holy, as we must, than to celebrate this covenant.

Who can receive the Eucharist and when?

The Eucharist is called Holy Communion because through this sacrament one is most perfectly united to the living God.  The word communion means "union with."  The union of the faithful with God in the Eucharist is reserved to those who first unite themselves to Him in faith.  Faith is necessary, and so Holy Communion is reserved to those who are Catholic and profess the Catholic Christian faith as true in its entirety.  If we do not believe the Catholic Faith, we cannot receive Holy Communion because we are not in union with God and the truths He has revealed.

Therefore, sufficient knowledge and the use of reason is a general requirement for one to receive Holy Communion.  Children are typically instructed for at least two years and prepared to receive Holy Communion for the first time in 3rd grade.  Adults who have never made their First Holy Communion must also go through a process of instruction and preaparation.

Does sin affect Holy Communion?


In addition to faith which unites us to God, we need to be in a state of grace.  If we have a mortal sin on our conscience that we have not confessed and had forgiven in the sacrament of Confession, we cannot receive Holy Communion because mortal sin breaks our union with God and His Church.  We fall out of a state of grace when we commit a mortal sin.  First we must be forgiven in Confession, which reconciles us, restoring us to a state of grace, bringing us into union with God and His Church once again, and enabling us to receive worthily the Lord God in Holy Communion.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, "Anyone who desires to receive Christ in the Eucharist must be in a state of grace. Anyone aware of having sinned mortally must not receive communion without having received absolution in the sacrament of penance (Confession)." (CCC 1415)  It is also a precept of the Church that we should receive Holy Communion at least once a year during the Easter Season.