Holy Communion

We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy. Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen

By Communion is meant the actual reception of the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Ascetic writers speak of a purely sacramental reception; that is, when the Eucharist is received by a person capable indeed of the fruits but wanting in some disposition so that the effects are not produced; of a spiritual reception, that is, by a desire accompanied with sentiments of charity; and of a sacramental and spiritual reception, that is, by those who are in a state of grace and have the necessary dispositions. It is of this last kind there is question here. For real reception of the Blessed Eucharist it is required that the sacred species be received into the stomach. For this alone is the eating referred to by our Lord (John 6:58). Under the moral aspect will be considered, in reference to Holy Communion: necessity; subject; dispositions. The liturgical aspect will embrace: minister of the sacrament; method of administration.

Necessity

The doctrine of the Church is that Holy Communion is morally necessary for salvation, that is to say, without the graces of this sacrament it would be very difficult to resist grave temptaions and avoid grievous sin. Moreover, there is according to theologians a Divine precept by which all are bound to receive communion at least some times during life. How often this precept urges outside the danger of death it is not easy to say, but many hold that the Church has practically determined the Divine precept by the law of the Fourth Council of Lateran (c.xxi) confirmed by Trent, which obliges the faithful to receive Communion once each year within Paschal Time.

Subject

The subject of Holy Communion is everyone in this life capable of the effects of the Sacrament, that is all who are baptized and who, if adults, have the requisite intention. Children may not be admitted to the Blessed Eucharist until they have attained to years of discretion. When may they be said to have attained the age of discretion? In the best-supported view of theologians this phrase means, not the attainment of a definite number of years, but rather the arrival at a certain stage in mental development, when children become able to discern the Eucharistic from ordinary bread, to realize in some measure the dignity and excellence of the Sacrament of the Altar, to believe in the Real Presence, and adore Christ under the sacramental veils.

Dispositions

That Holy communion may be received not only validly, but also fruitfully, certain disposition both of body and of soul are required. For the former, a person must be fasting from the previous midnight from everything in the nature of food or drink. The general exception to this rule is the Viaticum, and, within certain limits, communion of the sick. In addition to the fast it is recommend with a view to greater worthiness, to observe bodily continence and exterior modesty in dress and appearance. The principal disposition of soul required is freedom from at least mortal sin and ecclesiastical censure. For those in a state of grievous sin confession is necessary. This is the proving oneself referred to by St. Paul (1 Corinthians 11:28). The only case in which one in grievous sin might dispense with confession and rest in content with perfect contrition, or perfect charity is when on one hand confession here and now is morally speaking impossible, and where, on the other a real necessity of communication exists.