There is a lot of theology to explain why you and I did not receive the Body of our Lord at Mass this Sunday (I, like yourself, only got a blessing today, because I have sin right now that I must first confess). The following overview should, I pray, explain in a simple way why, since the early Church, those who have not confessed their sins to the priest and received absolution ought to refrain from receiving the Lord’s body, and how refraining while unworthy is an act of love for our Lord.
First of all: let us not, through a modernist and rationalist “wisdom,” that is to say, our own foolishness, reason around the words of Jesus our Lord. This faith is a religion in which the spirit and the material meet and are sanctified by Christ Jesus: so while he says on many other occasions and in other words this same thing, the fundamental truth, put plainly, is this promise:
“And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “THIS IS MY BODY which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
However, to receive of this blessing and unity with our Lord, St. Paul gives us a very stern warning:
“Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.
Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself.”
1 Corinthians 11:27-29
So let us become informed of what we must do to worthily prepare ourselves to receive Him. The early Church understood what Paul expected, and documented it: we must confess our sins to His ordained minister, who has been given this authority to absolve us from our sins, if we are contrite:
“Jesus said to them again “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.”
And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.
If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
And so we must remember that we are not entitled to receive His body at all in the first place, except by His grace. But certainly not only by virtue of faith, but by His forgiveness through absolution of our sins as administered by the ordained minister of reconciliation. This is what St. Paul refers to:
“That is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”
2 Corinthians 5:19-20
So once we have made our profession of belief in the One Catholic Faith and rejected the erroneous doctrines of rebellious schisms and separations:
“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all…so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles.”
Ephesians 4:4-6 & 14
We can then make our confession, receive absolution with thanksgiving and love, and in the state of grace, made worthy, receive the Body of our crucified Lord.
And so the early church fathers and disciples of the Apostles, ordained by them to carry on these ministries, attest to this in many declarations, but the two below are some of the most blatant:
The Didache, also known as The Teachings of the Apostles, is one of the oldest church documents (c. AD 50) and says the following:
“In the church you shall acknowledge your transgressions, and you shall not come near for your prayer with an evil conscience. This is the way of life…but every Lord’s day, gather yourselves together and break bread and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure.”
These Church fathers expound further:
“Yet most men either shun this work, as a public exposure of themselves, or else defer it from day to day. I presume [they are] more mindful of modesty than salvation; just like men who, having contracted some malady in the more private parts of the body, avoid the probing of physicians, and so perish of their own bashfulness.”
Tertullian, Repentance 10 (AD 203)
“In addition to these, there is also a seventh [remission of sins], but it is hard and laborious. The remission of sinners through penance when the sinner washes his pillow in tears, when his tears are his nourishment day and night. And when he does not shrink from declaring his sins to a priest of the Lord and from seeking medicine.”
Origen of Alexandria, Homilies on Leviticus 2:4 (c. AD 249)
In a world where we pride ourselves on our ‘independence’ and freedom of thought, it is easy to lose our awareness of the Objective Truths of God, including this “foolish” (in the eyes of man) belief in the real Body and Blood of Christ.
Let this bear witness to the truth: many have not only defended this belief passionately with words, such as St. Paul, St. Justin Martyr, St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Irenaeus of Lyon, and others.
Furthermore, some have defended it with their lives, even in this modern age. During the boxer rebellion, for example, a young girl was beaten to death when she was found secretly receiving our Lord’s body.
Even as recently as the last few years a seminarian in Iraq put his life on the line to save the Eucharist from desecration. Before fleeing his hometown, which was about to be invaded by ISIS, he hurried into the church and removed the precious Body from the tabernacle to protect it from abuse and sacrilege which is done to it when ISIS finds it. Story: ISIS-affiliate group desecrates Filipino church, desecrates the Eucharist
Truly, the forces of evil recognize its sanctity. Even Satanists have been known on occasion to try to pocket the Eucharist and take it to a “black mass” to be mocked and desecrated in unspeakable ways. For this reason, as well as for the spiritual health of those who have not yet professed their Catholic faith, the Church carefully guards His Body and reserves it, as He did, for those who are born again in baptism and consecrated to him, professing the Catholic Faith.
And ultimately, that’s what it comes down to: the reception of the Body and Blood of our Lord at Holy Mass is one’s ultimate profession of the Catholic Faith. “First Communion” is a precious, precious day for Catholics, which we celebrate and remember, but for which all of us have to wait. It is the moment at which our relationship with Christ is consummated, as He gives us His Body, and we reciprocate with our bodies and our lives, offering them as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1-2), so that like our Blessed Mother, Mary, we may say, “be it done unto me according to thy WORD,” (Luke 1:38) and conceive within our hearts the fruits of His Spirit, alleluia, alleluia, amen!
Let us not, therefore, approach our Lord’s Body casually or with entitlement, but with humility and thanksgiving.
And lastly, do not hurry to receive your first communion. Savor the craving, cherish the desire. Like a young lover, wait patiently for the day of the consummation of your Love for our Lord. It is WELL worth the wait.