“He who eats My Flesh and drinks My Blood
abides in Me and I in him.” (John 6:57).
Jesus In Me
Holy Communion: Jesus is Mine
In Holy Communion Jesus gives Himself to me and becomes mine, all mine, in His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. Thus, one day, St. Gemma Galgani said candidly to Jesus, “I am Your master.”
With Communion, Jesus enters my heart and remains corporally present in me as long as the species (the appearance) of bread lasts; that is, for about 15 minutes. During this time, the Holy Fathers teach that the angels surround me to continue to adore Jesus and love Him without interruption. “When Jesus is corporally present within us, the angels surround us as a guard of love,” wrote St. Bernard.
Perhaps we think too little about the sublimity of every Holy Communion, and yet, St. Pius X said that “if the Angels could envy, they would envy us for Holy Communion.” And St. Madeleine Sophie Barat defined Holy Communion as “Paradise on earth.”
All the saints have understood by experience the Divine marvel of the meeting and the union with Jesus in the Eucharist. They have understood that a devout Holy Communion means to be possessed by Him and to possess Him. “He who eats My Flesh and drinks My Blood abides in Me and I in him” (John 6:57). One time St. Gemma Galgani wrote, “It is now night, tomorrow morning is approaching and then Jesus will possess me and I will possess Jesus.” It is not possible to have a union of love more profound and more total: He in me and I in Him; the one in the other. What more could we want?
“You envy,” said St. John Chrysostom, “the opportunity of the woman who touched the vestments of Jesus, of the sinful woman who washed His feet with her tears, of the women of Galilee who had the happiness of following Him in His pilgrimages, of the Apostles and disciples who conversed with Him familiarly, of the people of the time who listened to the words of grace and salvation which came forth from His lips. You call happy those who saw Him ... But, come to the altar and you will see Him, you will touch Him, you will give to Him holy kisses, you will wash Him with your tears, you will carry Him within you like Mary Most Holy.”
For this reason the saints have desired and longed for Holy Communion with ardent love; for example, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Paschal Baylon, St. Veronica, St. Gerard, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, St. Dominic Savio, St. Gemma Galgani ... it is pointless to continue because one would really need to list all the saints.
For example, it happened one night to St. Catherine of Genoa, that she dreamed that the following day she would not be able to receive Holy Communion. The sorrow that she experienced was so great that she cried unceasingly, and when she woke up the next morning she found that her face was all wet from the tears she shed in her dream.
St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus has written a little Eucharistic Poem, “Desires near the Tabernacle,” in which, among other beautiful things, she said, “I would like to be the chalice there, where I would adore the Divine Blood. I can however in the Holy Sacrifice, gather It in me every morning. My soul is therefore more dear to Jesus, it is more precious than vessels of gold.” And what was not the happiness of the angelic Saint when, during an epidemic, daily Communion was conceded to her?
St. Gemma Galgani one time was put to the test by a confessor who forbade her to receive Holy Communion. “O Father, Father,” she wrote to her spiritual director, “today I went to Confession and the confessor has said that I must stop receiving Jesus. O my Father, my pen does not want to write more, my hand shakes strongly, I cry.” Dear Saint! Truly a seraphim all on fire with love for the Eucharistic Jesus.
Similarly, St. Gerard Majella, for a false and slanderous report from which he did not wish to defend himself, was punished by being deprived of Holy Communion. The suffering of the Saint was such that one day he refused to go to serve Holy Mass for a priest who was visiting, “because,” he said, “on seeing Jesus in the Host in the hands of the priest, I would not be able to resist taking by force the Host from his hands.” What longing consumed this wonderful Saint! And what a rebuke for us who, perhaps, are able to receive Holy Communion daily with ease and we do not do it. It is a sign that we lack the essential: love. And perhaps we are so in love with earthly pleasures that we can no longer appreciate the heavenly delights of union with Jesus in the Host. “Child, how can you feel the fragrance of Paradise which diffuses Itself from the Tabernacle?” asked St. Philip of a young man in love with the pleasures of the flesh, of dances and amusements. The joys of the Eucharist and the satisfaction of the senses are “opposed to each other” (Gal. 5:17) and the “sensual man perceives not these things which are of the Spirit of God” (1 Cor. 2:14). This is wisdom which comes from God.
St. Philip Neri loved the Eucharist so much that, even when he was gravely ill, he received Holy Communion every day, and if Jesus was not brought to him very early in the morning he became very upset and he could not find rest in any way. “I have such a desire to receive Jesus,” he exclaimed, “that I cannot give myself peace while I wait.” The same thing took place in our own time to Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, since only obedience could make him wait until 4 or 5 a.m. to celebrate Mass. Truly, the love of God is a “Devouring Fire” (Deut. 4:24).
When Jesus is mine, the whole Church exalts, the Church in Heaven, in Purgatory and the Church on earth. Who can express the joy of the Angels and Saints at every Holy Communion devoutly received? A new current of love arrives in Paradise and it makes the blessed spirits vibrate every time that a creature unites himself to Jesus to possess Him and be possessed by Him. A Holy Communion is of much greater value than an ecstasy, a rapture or a vision. Holy Communion transports the whole of Paradise into my poor heart!
For the souls in Purgatory, then, Holy Communion is the dearest personal gift which they can receive from us. Who can say how much Holy Communions are helpful in their liberation? One day St. Mary Magdalene of Pazzi's dead father appeared to her and he said that one hundred and seven Holy Communions were necessary for him to be able to leave Purgatory. In fact, at the last of the one hundred and seven Holy Communions offered for him, the saint saw her father ascend into Heaven.
St. Bonaventure made himself an apostle of this truth and he spoke of it in vibrant tones, “O Christian souls, do you wish to prove your true love towards your dead? Do you wish to send them the most precious help and golden key to Heaven? Receive Holy Communion often for the repose of their souls.”
Finally, let us reflect that in Holy Communion we unite ourselves not only to Jesus but also to all the members of the Mystical Body of Christ, especially to the souls most dear to Jesus and most dear to our heart. It is in Holy Communion that we realize fully the words of Jesus, “I in them ... that they may be perfect in unity” (John 17:23). The Eucharist renders us one, even among ourselves, His members, “all one in Jesus” as St. Paul says (Gal. 3:28). Holy Communion is truly all love of God and neighbor. It is the true “feast of love,” as St. Gemma Galgani said. And in this “feast of love” the soul in love can exult singing with St. John of the Cross, “Mine are the heavens and mine is the earth, mine are men, the Just are mine and sinners are mine. The Angels are mine, and also the Mother of God, all things are mine. God Himself is mine and for me because Christ is mine and all for me.”
Filius Mariae Virginis
The Purity of Soul Necessary for Holy Communion
What is there to say about the great purity of soul with which the saints approached to receive the Bread of Angels? We know that they had a great delicacy of conscience which was truly angelic. Aware of their own misery, they tried to present themselves to Jesus “holy and immaculate,” (Eph. 1:4) repeating with the Publican, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13), and having recourse with great care to the cleansing of Confession.
When St. Jerome was brought Holy Viaticum at the end of his life, the Saint prostrated himself on the ground in adoration and he was heard to repeat with profound humility the words of St. Elizabeth and those of St. Peter, “How is this, that my Lord should come to me?” “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8). And how many times was the angelic and seraphic St. Gemma tempted to not receive Holy Communion, holding herself to be nothing else than a vile “dunghill”?
Padre Pio of Pietrelcina used to repeat with trepidation to his brethren, “God sees blights even in the angels. What must He see in me!” For this reason he was very diligent in making his sacramental Confessions.
“Oh, if we could only understand Who is that God Whom we receive in Holy Communion, then what purity of heart we would bring to Him!” exclaimed St. Mary Magdalen of Pazzi.
For this reason St. Hugh, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Francis de Sales, St. Ignatius, St. Charles Borromeo, St. Francis Borgia, St. Louis Bertrand, St. Joseph of Cupertino, St. Leonard of Port Maurice and many other saints went to Confession every day before celebrating Holy Mass.
St. Camillus de Lellis never celebrated Holy Mass without first going to Confession, because he wanted at least “to dust off” his soul. Once, at sundown, in a public square in Livorno, before taking leave of a priest of the same religious order, foreseeing that he would not have a priest to confess to on the following morning before his Mass, paused, took off his hat, made the sign of the Cross and went to Confession right there in the square to his confrere.
Also, St. Alphonsus, St. Joseph Cafasso, St. John Bosco, St. Pius X, and Padre Pio of Pietrelcina went to Confession very often. And why did St. Pius X wish to lower the age for First Holy Communion to seven years, if not to allow Jesus to enter into the innocent hearts of children, which are so similar to angels. And why was Padre Pio so delighted when they brought him children five years old who were prepared for First Holy Communion?
The saints applied to perfection the directive of the Holy Spirit, “Let everyone first examine himself, and then eat of that Bread and drink of that Chalice; because he who eats and drinks unworthily, eats and drinks unto his own condemnation” (1 Cor. 11:28-29).
To examine themselves, to repent, to accuse themselves in Confession and to ask pardon of God, and in this way, every day profit from the Sacrament of Confession, was something natural for the saints. How fortunate they were to be capable of so much! The fruits of sanctification were constant and abundant because the purity of soul with which each saint welcomed into himself Jesus, “the Wheat of the elect,” (Zach. 9:17) was like the good ground “... which brings forth fruit in patience” (Luke 8:15).
St. Anthony Mary Claret illustrates this fact very well: “When we go to Holy Communion, all of us receive the same Lord Jesus, but not all receive the same grace nor are the same effects produced in all. This comes from our greater or lesser disposition. To explain this fact, I will take an example from nature. Consider the process of grafting, the more similar the one plant is to the other, the better the graft will succeed. Likewise, the more resemblance there is between the one that goes to Communion and Jesus, so much the better will the fruits of Holy Communion be.” The Sacrament of Confession is in fact the excellent means whereby the similarity between the soul and Jesus is restored.
For this reason St. Francis de Sales taught his spiritual children, “Go to Confession with humility and devotion ... if it is possible, every time that you go to Holy Communion, even though you do not feel in your conscience any remorse of mortal sin.”
In this regard it is well to recall the teaching of the Church. Holy Communion must be received only while one is in the grace of God. Therefore, when one has committed a mortal sin, even if one has repented of it and has a great desire to receive Holy Communion, it is necessary and indispensible to confess oneself first before receiving Holy Communion, otherwise one commits a most grave sin of sacrilege, for which Jesus said to St. Bridget, “there does not exist on earth a punishment which is great enough to punish it sufficiently!”
St. Ambrose said that persons who commit this sacrilege “come into church with a few sins, and leave it burdened with many.” St. Cyril wrote something yet stronger: “They who make a sacrilegious Communion receive satan and Jesus Christ into their hearts — satan, that they may let him rule, and Jesus Christ, that they may offer Him in sacrifice as a Victim to satan.” Thus the Catechism of the Council of Trent (De Euch., v.i) declares: “As of all the sacred mysteries ... none can compare with the ... Eucharist, so likewise for no crime is there heavier punishment to be feared from God than for the unholy or irreligious use by the faithful of that which ... contains the very Author and Source of holiness.”
On the other hand, Confession made before Holy Communion to render a soul already in the state of Sanctifying Grace more pure and more beautiful, is something precious even though not required. It is precious because it clothes the soul with a more beautiful “wedding garment” (cf. Matt. 22:12) with which it may take its place at the table of the angels. For this reason the most conscientious souls have always made frequent use (at least once a week) of the sacramental cleansing of absolution, even for venial sins. If you want great purity of soul in order to receive Jesus, no purity shines brighter than that which one obtains when he makes a good confession, where the cleansing Blood of Jesus renders the repentant soul divinely bright and beautiful. “The soul that receives the Divine Blood becomes beautiful, as being clothed in a more precious garment, and it appears so beautifully aglow that if you could see it you would be tempted to adore it,” declared St. Mary Magdalene di Pazzi.
Holy Communion with Mary
Oh, how much it pleases Jesus to be received by a soul cleansed and clothed with His Divine Blood! And what affectionate delight He takes when such a soul is a chaste virgin! For “the Eucharist came from the Paradise of Virginity” (namely, Mary), said St. Albert the Great; and our Eucharistic Lord does not find such a paradise except in virginity. No one can repeat, quite like a virgin, with the Spouse of the Canticle of Canticles at every Holy Communion: “All mine is my true Love, and I am all His; ... He goes out to pasture among the lilies ... Come back, my heart's Love” (Cant. 2:16-17).
One praiseworthy way of preparing for Holy Communion is to invoke the Immaculate Virgin, to count on Her to enable us to receive Jesus with Her humility, Her purity and Her love — praying rather that She Herself may come to receive Him in us. This pious practice is much recommended by the Saints, in particular St. Louis Grignion de Montfort. St. Peter Eymard, St. Alphonsus Liguori, and Saint Maximilian Mary Kolbe. “The best preparation for Holy Communion is that which is made with Mary,” wrote St. Peter Eymard. A delightful illustration is given by St. Thérèse of Lisieux, picturing her soul as a little three or four-year-old girl whose hair and dress were in disarray, ashamed to present herself at the altar rail to receive Jesus. However she appeals to the Madonna, and “immediately,” the Saint writes, “the Virgin Mary occupies Herself with me. She quickly replaces my dirty dress, ties up my hair with a pretty ribbon and adds a simple flower ... This is enough to make me attractive and enables me to take my place without embarrassment at the banquet of the angels.”
Let us try this method of preparation. We will not be disappointed. We will be able to say what St. Gemma exclaimed in ecstasy, “How beautiful it is to receive Communion with the Mother of Paradise!”
Thanksgiving After Holy Communion
The time of Thanksgiving after Holy Communion is the most ideal time for an intimate exchange of love with Jesus. Let it be a love of total self-giving thus returning Jesus' love so wholeheartedly that there is no longer two of us but one, so to speak, in soul and body. Let it be a love that vivifies and unites, — He in me and I in Him, so that we may be consumed in the uniqueness and unity of His love.
“You are my loving prey just as I am the object of Your immense charity,” said St. Gemma to Jesus with tenderness.
St. John wrote, “Blessed are they that are called to the wedding banquet of the Lamb” (Apoc. 19:9). In truth, in Eucharistic Communion rightly received, the soul realizes, in a heavenly virginal union, a nuptial love for the Spouse, Jesus, to Whom the soul can say with the most tender enthusiasm of the Bride in the Canticle of Canticles: “Let Him kiss me with the kiss of His mouth” (Cant. 1: 1).
Thanksgiving after Holy Communion is a small foretaste, while on earth, of the love which will be experienced in Paradise. In Heaven, in fact, how shall we love Jesus if not by being one with Him eternally? Dear Jesus, sweet Jesus, oh how I ought to thank You for every Holy Communion that You grant me! Did not St. Gemma have good reason to say she would thank You in Paradise for the Eucharist more than for anything else? What a miracle of love to be so completely united with You, O Jesus!
Water, yeast, wax
St. Cyril of Alexandria, Father of the Church, used three illustrations to show the union of love with Jesus in Holy Communion: “He who receives Communion is made holy and Divinized in soul and body in the same way that water, set over a fire, becomes boiling. ... Communion works like yeast that has been mixed into dough so that it leavens the whole mass: ... Just as by melting two candles together you get one piece of wax, so, I think, one who receives the Flesh and Blood of Jesus is fused together with Him by this Communion, and the soul finds that he is in Christ and Christ is in him.”
For this reason St. Gemma Galgani used to speak in awed wonder of the Eucharistic union between “Jesus Who is All and Gemma who is nothing.” In an ecstasy she exclaimed, “What great sweetness there is, O Jesus, in Communion! I want to live in Your embrace and die in Your embrace.” And Blessed Contardo Ferrini wrote, “Ah, Holy Communion! unspeakable heights for a human spirit to reach! What does the world have that equals these pure, heavenly joys, these tastes of eternal glory?”
There is another value Holy Communion has that deserves our reflections, and it is in reference to the Blessed Trinity. One day St. Mary Magdalene di Pazzi was kneeling with arms crossed among the novices after Communion. She raised her eyes heavenward and said, “O Sisters, if only we would comprehend the fact that while the Eucharistic Species remain within us, Jesus is there and working in us inseparably with the Father and the Holy Spirit and therefore the whole Holy Trinity is there ...” She could not finish speaking because she became wrapt in ecstasy.
Remain at least fifteen minutes
The Saints chose, when it was possible, to set no time limit for thanksgiving after Communion, which would last at least a half hour. St. Teresa of Jesus told her daughters, “Let us detain ourselves lovingly with Jesus and not waste the hour that follows Communion. It is an excellent time to deal with God and put before Him the matters that concern our soul. ... As we know that good Jesus remains within us until our natural warmth has dissolved the breadlike qualities, we should take great care not to lose such a beautiful opportunity to treat with Him and lay our needs before Him.”
St. Francis of Assisi, St. Juliana Falconieri, St. Catherine, St. Paschal, St. Veronica, St. Joseph of Cupertino, St. Gemma, and many others, used to almost always go into a loving ecstasy immediately after Holy Communion. As for the duration, only the angels measured the time. Also St. Teresa of Avila nearly always went into ecstasy right after receiving Holy Communion, and sometimes it was necessary to carry her away bodily from the Communion grille.
St. John of Avila, St. Ignatius Loyola, and St. Aloysius Gonzaga used to make their thanksgiving on their knees for two hours. St. Mary Magdalene di Pazzi wanted it to continue without interruption. It was necessary to constrain her so that she might take a little nourishment. “The minutes that follow Communion,” the Saint said, “are the most precious we have in our lives. They are the minutes best suited on our part for treating with God, and on His part for communicating His love to us.”
St. Louis Grignion de Montfort used to remain for Thanksgiving after Holy Mass at least a half hour, and he would not let there be any worry or engagement that could make him omit it. He said, “I would not give up this hour of Thanksgiving even for an hour of Paradise.”
Let us also then make the following resolutions: That we will so organize our time and our lives that we will remain in Thanksgiving after Holy Communion for at least fifteen minutes; And further resolve to allow nothing to stop us from taking this time for Thanksgiving. These minutes in which Jesus is physically present to our souls and within our bodies are heavenly minutes that we should by no means waste.
St. Philip and the candles
The Apostle, St. Paul, wrote, “Glorify and bear God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:20). There is no time in which these words, taken literally, apply so well, as during the time immediately after receiving Holy Communion. How unfeeling it is, then, for someone to receive Communion and leave the church at once as soon as Mass is over, or as soon as he has received Our Lord! We may remember the example of St. Philip Neri, who had two altar boys with lighted candles go to accompany a man who had left the church right after his Communion. — What a beautiful lesson! For the sake of good manners, if for no other reason, when a person receives a guest he pauses to give his attention to him and takes interest in him. If this guest is Jesus, then we will only have reason to be sorry that His bodily presence within us scarcely lasts fifteen minutes or a little more. In view of this, St. Joseph Cottolengo used to personally oversee the baking of hosts for Mass and Communion. To the sister assigned to this he gave the following instruction: “Make the hosts thick so that I can linger a long time with Jesus. I do not want the Sacred Species to quickly dissolve.”
Are we not perhaps acting contrary to the example of the Saints when we regard our period of Thanksgiving as too long and perhaps feel impatient to get it over with? But, oh how we should watch ourselves here! For if it is true that at every Communion Jesus “gives us a hundredfold for the hospitality we show Him,” as St. Teresa of Jesus declares, then it is likewise true that we must answer a hundredfold for neglecting this hospitality. A fellow Capuchin of Padre Pio of Pietrelcina told how one day he went to Confession to the holy friar, and, among other things, confessed omitting his Thanksgiving after Holy Mass because, he said, some ministry made him unable. While Padre Pio was lenient in judging the other faults, when he heard him confess this omission, he grew more serious, and, with a stern look, he said firmly, “Let us see to it that our being unable is not just being unwilling. I always have to make my Thanksgiving; otherwise I pay dearly.”
Let us give the matter serious thought and attention. When it comes to something so very precious as this Thanksgiving, let us take to heart the Holy Spirit's admonition, “Let not your share of desired good pass you by” (Ecclus. 14:14).
Thanksgiving with the Madonna
There is a special beauty in a Thanksgiving made in Mary's company in honor of Her Annunciation. Right after Holy Communion we carry Jesus within our souls and bodies, just as the Blessed Virgin Mary did when She had received the message of the angel. We cannot find a better way to adore and love Jesus at that time than by making our dispositions agree with those of the Mother of God, making our own the same sentiments of adoration and love that She had toward Her Divine Son Jesus enclosed under Her Immaculate Heart. It can be helpful in achieving this, to recite meditatively the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary. Let us try it. We cannot fail to profit by becoming united this way with the Madonna in order to love Jesus with Her Heavenly Heart.
The Bread of the Strong and Viaticum for Heaven
It ought not to be necessary to say that for everybody, Christ in the Eucharist is the true Bread to make them strong. It is the nourishment to make men heroic, to sustain martyrs, and to bring strength and peace to souls in their last agony.
In the Eucharist, Jesus repeats to us, who suffer and moan in this valley of tears, this affectionate summons, “Come to Me, all you that labor and are burdened, and I will refresh you” (Matt. 11:28). For certainly “The life of man upon earth is a warfare“ (Job 7:1). Moreover, Jesus' followers ”shall suffer persecution“ (cf. 2 Tim. 3:12; Matt. 5:10); and it is true that they that are Christ's “have crucified their flesh with its passions and concupiscences” (Gal. 5:24), and that we ought to live as dead “with Christ to the elements of the world” (Col. 2:20).
It is also true that with Jesus “I can do all things in Him Who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13); for Jesus is “all” (cf. John 1:3; Col. 1:17). In Holy Communion He makes Himself “all mine.” I can, then, say with the Servant of God, Luisa M. Claret de la Touche, “What need I fear? He Who sustains the world is within me. The Blood of a God circulates within my veins: Have no fear, O my soul. The Lord of the Universe has taken you up into His Arms and wants you to find rest in Him.”
Hence, St. Vincent de Paul was able to ask his missionaries, “When you have received Jesus into your hearts, can any sacrifice be impossible for you?” And St. Vincent Ferrer, during the two years he had to suffer in prison as a victim of persecution, exceedingly abounded with joy in all his tribulations (cf. 2 Cor. 7:4), because he managed to be able to celebrate Holy Mass every day in spite of his fetters and chains and the darkness of his dungeon. The same fortitude and joy was given to St. Joan of Arc when she was allowed to receive Jesus in the Holy Eucharist before going to her execution at the stake. When Jesus entered her dark prison, the Saint fell on her knees, and, wearing her chains, received Jesus, and became absorbed in prayer. As soon as she was bidden to go forth to her death, she rose and made her journey without interrupting her prayer. She proceeded to the stake and died amid the flames, ever in union with Jesus, Who remained in her soul and in that body which was sacrificed.
Strength of the Martyrs
The whole history of the martyrs, from St. Stephen, the protomartyr, to the angelic martyr, St. Tarcisus, and the more recent martyrs, is a story of the super-human strength which the Eucharist bestows on them as they do battle against the devil and against all the hellish powers that operate in the world (cf. 1 Pet. 5:9).
Remember, also, the heavenly comfort and help which Holy Communion brings to the sick, and not merely to their souls, but to their bodies also, which sometimes become wonderfully healed. It used to happen, for example, to St. Lidwina and to Alexandria Da Costa, that during the whole time the Sacred Species remained within their bodies, their terrible physical sufferings would marvellously cease. It likewise happened to St. Lawrence of Brindisi and St. Peter Claver, that all the pains of the serious ailments that had been tormenting them, would cease when they were celebrating Holy Mass.
Take care of the soul first
But most consoling of all is the Christian's final Holy Communion, which is called Viaticum; that is, food for the journey from this life to the next. Oh, what great importance the Saints attached to our receiving It in good time and with the best dispositions!
When St. Dominic Savio was sent home because of a grave illness, the doctor held out good hopes of his recovery. But the holy youth called his father and said, “Father, it will be a good thing if I deal with the heavenly Doctor. I want to go to Confession and receive Holy Communion.”
When St. Anthony Claret's declining health began to cause serious concern, two physicians were called in for advice. Noticing this, the Saint realized the gravity of his illness and said, “I understand; but first let us think about the soul, and then the body.” And he wanted to receive the Sacraments at once. After that was done, he sent for the two physicians and told them, “Now do what you want to do.”
First the soul, and then the body. Is it possible that we do not appreciate this? Often we are so unthinking that we concern ourselves a great deal about getting the doctor in to tend to the sick person, whereas we get around to summoning the priest only at the last minute when the patient is, perhaps, too far gone to receive the Sacraments with full awareness, or cannot even receive them at all. Oh how foolish, how unwise we are! How can we escape being answerable, if, by failing to call the priest on time, we put a dying person's salvation in jeopardy and deprive him of the support and great help that he could receive in his last moments?
The Eucharist is the highest guarantee pledging true life to the Christian who dwells in this poor land of exile. “Our bodies,” writes St. Gregory of Nyassa “when united to Christ's Body, gain a beginning of immortality, because they are united to Immortality.” When the body's short life is failing, we look to Jesus, Who is eternal Life. He is given to us in Holy Communion in order to be the true and enduring Life of our immortal souls and to be the Resurrection of our mortal bodies: “He who eats My Flesh and drinks My Blood has life everlasting” (John 6:55). “He who eats this Bread shall live forever” (John 6:59), because “I am the Resurrection and the Life” (John 11:25).
Ah! What a great grace Holy Viaticum is! When the holy Curé of Ars was dying and heard the ringing of the bell that announced the arrival of Holy Viaticum, he was moved to tears, and said, “How can we not weep when Jesus is coming for the last time to us with so much love?”
Yes, Jesus in the Holy Eucharist is Love that has become my food, my strength, my life, my heart's craving. Every time I receive Him, during life or at the time of death, He makes Himself mine in order to make me His. Yes, He is all mine and I am all His — the one in the other, the one belonging to the other (cf. John 6:57). This is the fullness of Love for the soul and for the body, on earth and in Heaven.
Every Day With Him
Jesus is in the tabernacle for my sake. He is the Food of my soul. “My Flesh is food indeed and My Blood is drink indeed” (John 6:56). If I want to nourish myself spiritually and be fully supplied with life, I must receive Him. “Amen, amen I say to you, unless you eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, you shall not have life in you” (John 6:54). St. Augustine informs us that the Catholic people in his diocese in Africa called the Eucharist by the word “Life.” When they were to go to Holy Communion, they would say, “We are going to the Life.” What a wonderful way of expressing it!
To keep my supernatural powers and energies — my supernatural life — in good health, I must nourish them. The Holy Eucharist is exactly what is needed for this, for It is the “Bread of life” (John 6:35), the “Bread that has come down from Heaven” (John 6:59), which bestows, replenishes, preserves and increases the spiritual energies of the soul. St. Peter J. Eymard ventured to say, “Communion is as necessary for us to sustain our Christian vitality, as the vision of God is necessary to the angels, to maintain their life of glory.”
Every day I ought to nourish my soul, just as every day I feed my body in order to give it physical vitality. St. Augustine teaches, “The Eucharist is a daily Bread that we take as a remedy for the frailty we suffer from daily.” And St. Peter J. Eymard adds, “Jesus has prepared not just one Host, but One for every day of our life. The Hosts for us are ready. Let us not forfeit even One of Them.”
Jesus is that Host, that Victim of love, Who is so sweet and so healthful to the soul, as to move St. Gemma Galgani to say, “I feel a great need to be strengthened anew by that Food so sweet, which Jesus offers me. This affectionate therapy that Jesus gives me every morning unstiffens me and draws to Him every affection of my heart.”
For the Saints, daily Communion fulfills an imperative need for Life and Love, corresponding to Jesus' divine desire to give Himself to be every soul's Life and Love. We should not forget that Holy Thursday was the day for which Jesus had “longed” (cf. Luke 22:15). Hence, the holy Curé of Ars said emphatically, “Every Consecrated Host is made to burn Itself up with love in a human heart.” And St. Thérèse of Lisieux wrote to another Sister, “It is not in order to occupy a golden ciborium that Jesus every day comes down from Heaven, but it is to find another heaven, namely, our soul, in which He takes His delight,” and when a soul well able to do so does not want to receive Jesus into its heart, “Jesus weeps.” “Therefore,” continues St. Thérèse, “when the devil cannot enter with sin into a soul's sanctuary, he wants the soul to be at least unoccupied, with no Master, and well removed from Holy Communion.” It should surely be evident that we are here concerned with a snare of the devil; for only the devil can be interested in keeping us away from Jesus. May we be on our guard, then. We should try not to fall victim to the devil's deceptions. “Endeavor not to miss any Holy Communion,” St. Margaret Mary Alacoque advises; “We can scarcely give our enemy, the devil, greater joy than when we withdraw from Jesus, Who takes away the power the enemy has over us.”
Daily Communion is a daily wellspring of love, of strength, of light, of joy, of courage, of every virtue and every good. “If anyone thirst, let him come to Me and drink,” Jesus said (John 7:37). He alone is the “Fountain of water springing up unto life everlasting” (John 4:14). How can there be anyone who is in the state of Sanctifying Grace not want, or who finds it hard, to go to this divine “table of the Lord” (1 Cor. 10:21)?
The great Lord Chancellor of England, St. Thomas More, who died a martyr because of his resistance to schism, used to hear Mass every morning and receive Holy Communion. Some friends tried to persuade him that this care was not suitable for a layman heavily engaged in so many affairs of state. “You present all your reasons, and they rather convince me the more that I should receive Holy Communion every day,” he said. “My distractions are numerous, and with Jesus I learn to recollect myself. The occasions of offending God are frequent, and I receive strength every day from Him to flee from them. I need light and prudence to manage very difficult affairs, and every day I can consult Jesus in Holy Communion. He is my great Teacher.”
Someone once asked the celebrated biologist, Banting, why he cared so much about daily Communion. “Have you ever reflected,” he answered, “what would happen if the dew did not fall every night? No plant could develop. The grass and flowers could not survive the evaporations and the dryness that the day's heat brings in one way or another. Their cycle of energies, their natural renewal, the balance of their lymphatic fluids, the very life of plants requires this dew ...” After a pause, he continued: “Now my soul is like a little plant. It is something rather frail that the winds and heat do battle with every day. So it is necessary that every morning I go get my fresh stock of spiritual dew, by going to Holy Communion.”
St. Joseph Cottolengo recommended to the physicians of his House of Divine Providence that they hear Mass and go to Communion before undertaking their difficult surgeries. This was because, as he said, “Medicine is a great science, but God is the great Physician.” Blessed Joseph Moscati, the celebrated physician of Naples, used to be very regular about this, and go to unbelievable lengths (at the cost of enormous inconvenience, especially in view of the frequent trips he had to make) to avoid missing daily Communion. If on any day it was quite impossible to receive Communion, he had not the courage that day to make his doctor's calls; for he said, “Without Jesus I do not have enough light to save my poor patients.”
O, the ardent love the Saints have for daily Holy Communion! And who can properly describe it? St. Joseph of Cupertino, who did not fail to receive his beloved Lord every day, once ventured to say to his brothers in religious life, “Be sure that I will depart into the next life on the day that I cannot receive the Pecoriello (the Great Lamb)” as he affectionately and devotedly called the Divine Lamb. And, in fact, it took a severe illness to prevent him from receiving Our Lord in the Eucharist one day; and that was the day of his death!
When St. Gemma Galgani's father was worried about his daughter's health, he criticized her for setting out too early every morning to go to Mass. His criticism drew this answer from the Saint: “But father, as for me, I become ill if I don't receive Jesus in the Holy Eucharist.”
When St. Catherine of Genoa learned of the interdict put on her city, carrying a prohibition against Mass and Holy Communion, she went on foot every day to a remote Sanctuary outside Genoa in order to go to Communion. When she was told that she was overdoing things, the Saint replied, “If I had to go miles and miles over burning coals in order to receive Jesus, I would say the way was easy, as if I were walking on a carpet of roses.”
This should teach a lesson to us who may have a church within a short walk, where we can go at our convenience to receive Jesus into our hearts. And even if this should cost us some sacrifice, would it not be worth it?
But there is yet more to this, if we reflect that the Saints would have wanted to receive Communion not just once, but several times a day.
Full Ciborium, Empty Breadboxes
Let us go forward! We should not apologize for doing something so holy as receiving daily Communion, to which every blessing for soul and body is attached.
The surest means of remaining immune to the pestiferous diseases that surrounds us is to fortify ourselves with Eucharistic food.
Blessings for the Soul
As for blessings for the soul, St. Cyril of Alexandria, Father and Doctor of the Church, wrote: “If the poison of pride is swelling up in you, turn to the Eucharist; and that Bread, Which is your God humbling and disguising Himself, will teach you humility. If the fever of selfish greed rages in you, feed on this Bread; and you will learn generosity. If the cold wind of coveting withers you, hasten to the Bread of Angels; and charity will come to blossom in your heart. If you feel the itch of intemperance, nourish yourself with the Flesh and Blood of Christ, Who practiced heroic self-control during His earthly life; and you will become temperate. If you are lazy and sluggish about spiritual things, strengthen yourself with this heavenly Food; and you will grow fervent. Lastly, if you feel scorched by the fever of impurity, go to the banquet of the Angels; and the spotless Flesh of Christ will make you pure and chaste.”
When people wanted to know how it came about that St. Charles Borromeo kept chaste and upright in the midst of other youths who were loose and frivolous, this was his secret: frequent Holy Communion. It was this same St. Charles who recommended frequent Communion to the young St. Aloysius Gonzaga, who became the Saint of angelic purity. Assuredly, the Eucharist proves to be “the wheat of the elect and wine which sprouts forth virgins” (Zach. 9:17). And St. Philip Neri, a priest thoroughly familiar with young people, remarked, “Devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and devotion to the Blessed Virgin are not simply the best way, but in fact the only way to keep purity. At the age of twenty nothing but Communion can keep one's heart pure ... Chastity is not possible without the Eucharist.” This is most true.
Blessings for the Body
And what of the blessings that the Holy Eucharist brings for the body? St. Luke said of Our Lord, “Power went forth from Him and healed all” (Luke 6:19). How many times at Lourdes has this not again proved true of Our Savior in the Eucharist? How many bodies have been healed by this kind Lord, veiled within the white Host? How many people, who were suffering from sickness or from poverty, have there not been who have received, with the Eucharistic Bread, the bread of health, of strength, and aid for other needs?
One day St. Joseph Cottolengo noticed that a number of patients in his House of Providence had not chosen to receive Holy Communion. The ciborium remained full. Now that same day the pantry ran out of bread for the forthcoming meal. The Saint, setting the ciborium on the altar, turned and very animatedly made this expressive statement: “Full ciborium, empty bread boxes!”
This bore out a truth. Jesus is the fullness of life and love for my soul. Without Him, all else is empty and arid. With Him I have limitless reserves every day for every good, purity and joy.
Spiritual Communion is the reserve of Eucharistic Life and Love always available for lovers of the Eucharistic Jesus. By means of Spiritual Communion the loving desires are satisfied of the soul that wants to be united with Jesus, its dear Bridegroom. Spiritual Communion is a union of love between the soul and Jesus in the Host. This union is spiritual but nonetheless real, more real than the union between the soul and the body, “because the soul lives more where it loves than where it lives,” says St. John of the Cross.
Faith, Love and Desire
As is evident, Spiritual Communion assumes that we have faith in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Tabernacle. It implies that we would like Sacramental Communion, and it demands a gratitude for Jesus' gift of this Sacrament. All this is expressed simply and briefly in the formula of St. Alphonsus: “My Jesus, I believe that You are really present in the most Blessed Sacrament. I love Thee above all things, and I desire to possess Thee within my soul. Since I cannot now receive Thee sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. — (Pause) I embrace Thee as being already there and unite myself wholly to Thee. Never, never permit me to be separated from Thee. Amen.”
Spiritual Communion, as St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Alphonsus Liguori teach, produces effects similar to Sacramental Communion, according to the dispositions with which it is made, the greater or less earnestness with which Jesus is desired, and the greater or less love with which Jesus is welcomed and given due attention.
A special advantage of Spiritual Communion is that we can make it as often as we like — even hundreds of times a day — when we like — even late at night — and wherever we like — even in a desert, or up in an airplane.
It is fitting to make a Spiritual Communion especially when we are attending Holy Mass and cannot receive Our Lord sacramentally. While the priest is receiving his Holy Communion, our soul should share in it by inviting Jesus into our heart. In this way every Holy Mass we hear is a complete one, with the Offertory, the sacrificial Consecration, and Holy Communion.
The two chalices
Jesus Himself told St. Catherine of Siena in a vision how precious a Spiritual Communion is. The Saint was afraid that a Spiritual Communion was nothing compared to a Sacramental Communion. In the vision, Our Lord held up two ciboriums, and said, “In this golden ciborium I put your Sacramental Communions. In this silver ciborium I put your Spiritual Communions. Both ciboriums are quite pleasing to Me.”
And once Jesus said to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, when she was absorbed in addressing yearning sighs to Him in the tabernacle, “I love so much a soul's desire to receive Me, that I hasten to it each time it summons Me by its yearnings.”
It is not hard to see how much Spiritual Communion has been loved by the Saints. Spiritual Communion at least partly satisfied that ardent desire to be united to their Beloved. Jesus Himself said, “Abide in Me and I in you” (John 15:4). And Spiritual Communion helps us stay united to Jesus, even when we are far from a church. There was no other way to appease the fond yearning that burned in the hearts of the Saints. “O God, my whole soul longs for You. As a deer for running water, my whole soul thirsts for God” (Ps. 41:2).
This is the loving sigh of the Saints. St. Catherine of Genoa exclaimed, “O dear Spouse (of my soul), I so strongly crave the joy of being with Thee, that it seems to me that if I were dead, I would come to life in order to receive Thee in Holy Communion.” Blessed Agatha of the Cross felt such an acute yearning to live always united to Jesus in the Eucharist, that she remarked, “If the Confessor had not taught me to make Spiritual Communion, I could not have lived.”
For St. Mary Frances of the Five Wounds, likewise, Spiritual Communion was the only relief from the acute pain she felt when shut up at home far from her beloved Lord, especially when she was not allowed to receive Sacramental Communion. At such a time she went out on the terrace of her home and, looking at the church, she tearfully sighed, “Happy are they who have received Thee today in the Blessed Sacrament, O Jesus. Blessed are the walls of the church that guard my Jesus. Blessed are the priests, who are always near the most lovable Jesus.” Spiritual Communion alone was able to satisfy her a little.
During the day
Here is one of the counsels which Padre Pio of Pietrelcina gave to one of his spiritual daughters: “In the course of the day, when it is not permitted to you to do otherwise, call Jesus, even in the midst of all your occupations, with a resigned sigh of the soul and He will come and will remain always united with your soul by means of His grace and His holy love. Make a spiritual flight before the Tabernacle, when you cannot go there with your body, and there pour out the ardent desires of your spirit and embrace the Beloved of souls ...”
Let us, too, profit by this great gift. During the times that we suffer trial or feel abandoned, for example, what can be more valuable to us than the company of our Sacramental Lord by means of Spiritual Communion? This holy practice can work with ease to fill our days with acts and sentiments of love, and can make us live in an embrace of love that depends just on our often renewing it so that we scarcely ever interrupt it.
St. Angela Merici was extremely fond of Spiritual Communion. Not only did she make it often and exhort others to do it, but she chose to leave it as an inheritance to her daughters, so that they might practice it ever afterwards.
What shall we say of St. Francis de Sales? Does not his whole life seem like a chain of Spiritual Communions? He made a resolution to make a Spiritual Communion at least every quarter of an hour. Saint Maximilian M. Kolbe had the same resolve from the time of his youth. The Servant of God, Andrew Baltrami, has left us a short page of his personal diary, which is a little program for a life lived in uninterrupted Spiritual Communion with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. These are his words: “Wherever I may be I will often think of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. I will fix my thoughts on the holy Tabernacle — even when I happen to wake up at night — adoring Him from where I am, calling to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, offering up to Him the action I am performing. I will install one telegraph cable from my study to the church, another from my bedroom, and a third from our refectory; and as often as I can, I will send messages of love to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.” What a stream of divine affections must have passed over those precious cables!
Also during the night
The Saints were eager to make use of these and similar holy means in order to find an outlet for their overflowing hearts; for they never felt they had gone far enough in their endeavor to love. “The more I love Thee, the less I love Thee,” exclaimed St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, “because I would like to love Thee more, but I cannot. O enlarge, enlarge my heart.”
When St. Roch spent five years in prison because he had been judged to be a dangerous vagabond, in his cell he kept his eyes ever fixed at the window, praying in the meantime. The guard asked, “What are you looking at?” The Saint answered, “I am looking at the tower of the parish church.” The tower reminded him of a church, a tabernacle, and the Eucharistic Jesus, inseparably joined to his heart.
The holy Curé of Ars said to his flock, “At the sight of a church tower you can say: Jesus is there, for there a priest has celebrated Mass.” Blessed Louis Guanella, when he was travelling by train with pilgrimages to the various shrines, used to always advise pilgrims to turn their minds and hearts to Jesus every time they saw a church tower from the carriage window, “Every bell tower,” he would say, “indicates a church, where there is a Tabernacle, where Mass is said, and where Jesus stays.”
Let us take a lesson from the Saints. They would like to pass on some spark of the love burning in their hearts. Let us undertake to make many Spiritual Communions, especially during the busiest moments of the day. Then soon the fire of love will enter us. For something very consoling that St. Leonard of Port Maurice assures us of, is this: “If you practice the holy exercise of Spiritual Communion a good many times each day, within a month you will see yourself completely changed.” Hardly a month — clear enough, is it not?
|“My heart feels as if it were being drawn by a superior force each morning just before uniting with Him in the Blessed Sacrament. I have such a thirst and hunger before receiving Him that it's a wonder I don't die of anxiety. I was hardly able to reach the Divine Prisoner in order to celebrate Mass. When Mass ended I remained with Jesus to render Him thanks. My thirst and hunger do not diminish after I have received Him in the Blessed Sacrament, but rather, increase steadily. Oh, how sweet was the conversation I held with Paradise this morning. The heart of Jesus and my own, if you will pardon the expression, fused. They were no longer two hearts beating but only one. My heart disappeared as if it were a drop in the ocean.”