Project Canterbury

The Catholic Life

Addresses and Papers Delivered at the Fourth Annual Catholic Conference
New York City, November 13th to 15th, 1928.

Auspices of the Central Conference of Associated Catholic Priests.

Milwaukee: Morehouse
London: A. R. Mowbray, 1929.

IV. The Catholic and His Communions

Rector of St. John's Church, Roxbury, Boston, Mass.

WHO is "the Catholic"? There are many here and many more at home who rejoice to call ourselves and to be called Catholics. That name of glory and ignominy is to us coterminous with Christian. If the exalted name by which the disciples were first called, at Antioch, were fully understood as connoting members of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, I believe we would be only too glad to be known as Christians plain and simple. To be a Catholic is to be a Christian in the fullest sense. Catholicism is no addition to Christianity. It is Christianity in action. Not in action in congresses necessarily, but in every-day life.

The truest Americans are not always those who send off the most fireworks, do the most flag-raising, or the loudest shouting, desirable as these expressions of patriotism may be; and there is far more to being a Catholic than bowing, genuflecting, making the sign of the cross, burning candles and incense, wearing vestments, ringing sanctus bells, and going to congresses. It is one thing to be enthusiastic in a great public meeting. It is quite another thing in our home, business, and parish, with all their difficulties and drawbacks, to live the Catholic life, to join with our Lord in offering His perfect Sacrifice on all Sundays, and when possible on other holy days and sometimes on ordinary days, to receive Him frequently in devout Communions, and then to go out and find Him in the sick, needy, and oppressed, to run our business according to His principles, to give generously of our means for the support and spread of His Church, to make our confessions regularly, to pray and fast in secret, and to grow into closer and closer union with our Lord. We as Catholics should be conspicuous for our love of God and our neighbor, and especially of our fellow Churchmen, all of whom are our fellow Catholics. We are not, here or elsewhere, to call ourselves Catholics in any exclusive sense. If any of our fellow Churchmen are not Catholics, then neither are any of us. No one is a Catholic by virtue of any opinions he holds or anything he does, but by what God has done to him. A Catholic is anyone who has been made a member of Christ and His Church by Holy Baptism, and it is the privilege of all of us who realize this fact and rejoice in it to help all so-called Episcopalians, indeed all baptized Christians, to understand and to be glad they are Catholics and to claim their Catholic name and heritage.

The only possible sense in which we can regard ourselves as Catholics more than other baptized persons is in that through the mercy of God we have been called and in some degree have entered into our Catholic heritage. A noted English priest says that Anglo-Catholics are no more Catholics than the rest of the Church of England except that they are aware of it, and that they simply claim to be the Church in England conscious. We Churchmen in the United States who rejoice to be known as Catholics may likewise say that we are the Episcopal Church conscious of its Catholic being and heritage. We do not demand any countersigns or passwords to admit anyone to our company. We certainly do not commit ourselves to, or seek to impose on others, any list of tenets or practices other than those set forth or implicit in the Book of Common Prayer, and those which the undivided Church has set forth.

We thank God for all in the Church who are being drawn to the sacraments, and especially to love of our Lord and devotion to Him in Holy Communion, yet do not care for party names and badges. We are humbly sorry if any of these, through our foolishness or any sort of exclusiveness on our part, have been made to feel that we think that they are not "quite Catholic." We have had time since the birth of the Catholic revival to grow out of such childishness, and we trust that if we once spake as a child and understood as a child and thought as a child we have now put away childish things. Therefore this paper about the Catholic and his Communions is addressed to no sectarian body of the elect, but to all communicants here and at home who desire closer union with our Lord in the sacrament of His love.

The Catholic is any baptized member of the Church and his communions are or should be the greatest thing in his life, the heart of all that he is and does. His desire should be to believe and to experience more and more fully what our Lord intended when He took the bread and the wine into His sacred hands and gave thanks, and after thus blessing them, gave them to His disciples saying, "This is my body," and "This is my blood." He has for his guidance what the whole undivided Church, enlightened by the Holy Spirit, held and taught for a thousand years, and which is so simply and splendidly expressed in our own Catechism, taking Christ's words to mean what He said, without laying down any definition as to the "how" of the great gift, but satisfied with the "what" and the "why." He need not bother his head as to how Christ is present in the Blessed Sacrament beyond what Christ Himself revealed, as told in the accounts of the Institution given by Saint Paul and the three Synoptic Gospels on the one hand, and on the other in the illuminating discourses at Capernaum and in the Upper Room, ascribed to our Lord in the Fourth Gospel, concerning eating His flesh and drinking His blood, and the work of the Holy Spirit in the same connection, and the statements of Saint Paul concerning the same in his Epistles.

Bishop Gore, in his recent valuable little book, Holy Communion, has carefully worked out the bearing of these two sets of sources on each other. It is truly remarkable, from the human standpoint, how they supplement and explain each the other. Without either we should be in danger of asking the question of the Jews, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" In brief, our Lord, according to the discourse given in Saint John 6, astounded His hearers by saying, "Unless ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood ye have no life in you," and many more like words. He is represented as using the most forcible language to state that men are called not only to believe on Him but to partake of His own life as spiritual food. When even His own disciples demurred, He went on to say, "Doth this offend you? What and if ye shall see the Son of Man ascend up where He was before? Not as I am now shall I be eaten as the Bread of Life, but as I shall be hereafter, still man but with My human nature glorified in heaven. It is the spirit that quickeneth, the flesh profiteth nothing. The words I speak unto you they are spirit and they are life. Ye are not to think of My flesh and blood of which I have been speaking as carnal, but as spirit and life, as taken into the spiritual world, into heaven, ascended and glorified."

Now take the Synoptic Gospel and Saint Paul's account of the Institution. The Apostles were still in the dark until after the happenings of the last year of Christ's ministry, and especially in the last week, in the Upper Room on the eve of the crucifixion, on the resurrection day and forty days following, at the ascension and the marvelous experience at Pentecost. Jesus prepared them for the inevitable sacrifice as He was able, and on the night in which He was betrayed He instituted the Holy Communion. As they saw Him take the bread and the wine and heard the words, "This is My body," and, "This is My blood," must they not have recalled, "I am the living bread," "The bread I will give is my flesh which I will give for the life of the world," "Unless ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood ye have no life in you"?

And then as if to follow up the concluding part of the Capernaum discourse, "What and if ye shall see the Son of Man ascend up where he was before" and "It is the spirit that quickeneth," etc., He began the sayings, as recorded in the Fourth Gospel, in the Upper Room, where He is represented, the supper being ended, as giving the great teaching about the Holy Spirit; that when He was gone out of their sight, He would not really be gone, He would come to them, for there would be another Comforter and yet not another. (The Greek word is "Paraclete," which means representative and agent.) The Holy Spirit would come, He said. He would come not as a substitute to supply the absence of Christ, but as the agent to accomplish His presence. "I will come to you." The Holy Spirit, as His representative and agent, was to enter the heart of all His own to graft them into Christ the True Vine, and to communicate to them continually the life of Christ, that abiding in Him they might bear fruit, as apart from Him they could do nothing.

Saint Paul many years earlier gave the same idea, that it is the spirit's function to engraft up into Christ and to communicate to us the life of Christ. How wonderfully the Epistles of Saint Paul and the discourses in the Fourth Gospel fit together with the accounts of the Institution and make clear that the meaning of the Holy Communion is the conveyance to us, through the action of the Holy Spirit, of the actual life of the glorified Christ, the spiritual substance of His manhood, for that is what "the flesh" or "the body," and "the blood" mean. The flesh is the substance, the stuff of humanity—and "the blood" in the Jewish idea means "the life." To eat His Flesh and to drink His Blood, by the quickening of the Spirit means we are to assimilate as spiritual food the very essence or substance of the sacrificed manhood of Christ.

Our Catechism combines the truths of the two sources in the words, "The inward part or thing signified (in the Lord's Supper) is the Body and Blood of Christ which are spiritually taken and received in the Lord's Supper." There you have no minimizing of the words of Christ in the accounts of the Institution, "This is my body," and, "This is my blood," and you also have the gist of the discourses of the Fourth Gospel concerning the work of the Holy Spirit and of the teaching of Saint Paul.

For the sake of our brethren who still in large numbers misunderstand and unconsciously misrepresent it, we cannot too often reiterate that the Catholic belief in Christ's presence in the Blessed Sacrament is not a carnal but a spiritual presence. Let us not forget either, how greatly blessed we are in our American Liturgy in having the work of the Paraclete made plain, in the Invocation of the Word and Holy Spirit, in our Prayer of Consecration, to bless and sanctify the creatures of bread and wine, and that the gift we receive is the Body and Blood of Christ. This is sometimes obscured by ceremonies that make it appear that the consecration is effected by the words "This is My Body" and "This is My Blood" which evidently is not the intention of our rite.

The Catholic therefore realizes that the gift in Holy Communion is a spiritual not a carnal partaking of Christ, and that the Holy Spirit is the agent effecting the real presence of Christ's glorified and spiritualized humanity in the Sacrament. If the outward veils were lifted we should not see carnal body and blood, not Christ in the manger, or on the Cross, but Christ in His risen and glorified manhood, the Incarnate and Crucified, indeed the same Christ, but with His humanity spiritualized as He is in heaven.

This brings us to the Catholic in church at Mass, having come to offer the Eucharistic Sacrifice and to receive his Communion.

The priest beginning the canon turns to the people saying, "Lift up your hearts," and the people, rising to their feet according to the ancient custom, respond, "We lift them up unto the Lord." Here is the bidding for us in heart and mind to enter into heaven and there to give thanks, the bidding to eucharistic prayer, and then as if no longer able to wait, we salute the whole company of heaven and join with them in saying, "Holy, holy, holy," bowing before the Triune God to laud and magnify His glorious Name who fills heaven and earth, praising Him whose only begotten Son, our great High Priest who once offered Himself the Lamb of God as our sacrifice in time, but who in eternity ever pleads for us as the Lamb as it had been slain, is about to take again the bread and the wine into His holy hands and bless them by the agency of His Holy Spirit, through the words and acts of the priest, and unite them to Himself and to His heavenly offering.

What the Catholic should experience here is an entrance into heaven. It is there in the heavenly places, the spiritual world, that the consecration and offering and communion take place. What is pled and done, given and received is in heaven. We must not regard His presence as Priest and Victim, our Sacrifice and our Food, as drawn from the heavenly place. Our Lord in heaven in His crucified and glorified humanity gathers in His children on earth in order that they may join in His perpetual oblation, and that He may feed them with His own glorified humanity, thus working in the Prayer of Consecration through His Church on earth, which He has filled with His Holy Spirit.

Our citizenship is in heaven. To offer and feed upon the heavenly sacrifice aright we must be in heaven when we gather at the altar.

It is the aim of the true Catholic to live in heaven continually. His baptism made him an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven, not an heir to look forward to heaven, but a present possessor of heaven here in earth, if he chooses to enjoy his inheritance. Heaven is within him and the heavenly life is renewed and increased in him by each good communion he makes. Between his communions, however, he is subject to temptations luring him out of heaven, to descend to earthly appetites and passions, to stoop to worldly ambitions and practices. Sometimes he stumbles and falls into sin, is smirched and wounded. In his misery he longs to be back in the heavenly life, to go to the heavenly feast, to walk in the light as God is in the light, to be cleansed from all sin by the blood of Jesus Christ His Son and be restored to fellowship in the kingdom.

The way back to that feast and fellowship, the Catechism says, is "to examine themselves whether they repent them truly of their former sins." This is the first step in preparation for Communion. The subject of this paper is not the Catholic and his confession, but at least I must say here that the Prayer Book makes provision for the Catholic to open his grief to some minister of God's Word and receive godly counsel and advice, which, in plain language, means make his confession in the hearing of a priest and receive absolution. The Catholic rule is that all mortal or deadly sins should be so confessed before Communion, or, if this is not possible, at least to have the intention of so confessing as soon as possible.

However, the coming of the restored member to the heavenly feast and fellowship should be with far more than sorrow for sin. The Catechism says next he is to come "steadfastly purposing to lead a new life," which should not be simply a life avoiding certain sins, but a life aimed at steady growth into the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ. A part of the Catholic's self-examination will therefore be to discover his needs, the virtues he lacks.

We should expect our communions to be fruitful, and for this we must prepare for them in such a positive way as will enable our souls to respond to our Lord's coming. The benefit of communion depends upon our power of assimilation. A good communion is no negative or passive act. Grace is not poured into us as water into a jug. There is nothing of mechanical or magical necessity about Holy Communion. The benefits can only be given to those who have already. What God wants to give must already be in us at least to the extent of desire, by His prevenient grace. Being made in the image of God, we have capacity for Him, and being human, Christ's sacred humanity corresponds to and supplies our needs. Christ in us through the Blessed Sacrament draws out what is already in us in germ and increases it. Baptism places us in the way of attaining the goal of our creation, union with God. The Eucharist continually places before us that goal and provides the means of attaining it; unlike Baptism it is to be received continually. We must, therefore, prepare, as it were, our capacity for receiving what God wants to give. He wants to supply all our spiritual needs.

Our needs are so many we cannot at every communion specify all of them. It is wise, therefore, in addition to the general intention of closer union with our Lord in all ways, for ourselves, for others, and the whole Church, to come to communion with a special intention, having found in our preparation some special need or needs. As our union with Christ is also not an individual matter only, but is bound up with the whole mystical body of Christ in the communion of saints, we will frequently include a special intention for other members of Christ, living and departed, and for persons not yet identified with His Church. To receive communion fruitfully and to the fulness of our capacity thus prepared, we must exercise faith.

Faith is the next requirement specified in the Catechism, "a lively faith in God's mercy through Christ," faith that we and others can become what God wants us to be, faith that we are forgiven and that we will receive the increase of benefits we need.

It would be an ungrateful child who, growing up and continually coming to his parents or elder brother for special help, had no thankful remembrance for past and present blessings. The Catechism accordingly says here that we must come to our Lord in communion "with a thankful remembrance of His death." We come to join in "the continual remembrance of the sacrifice of the death of Christ and the benefits we receive thereby," to join with our great High Priest in presenting in heavenly places the continual offering of the great accepted sacrifice of His perfect humanity, the Lamb as it had been slain, and to feed upon this everliving sacrifice. It is the eternal self-giving of God who also once gave Himself as man on the Cross, "He loved me and gave Himself for me," and we are drawn by His love to partake of the new life which flows from His death. Thanksgiving—that is what Eucharist means. He Himself is our great Thank-offering, "Our Sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving," which we humbly beseech the Father to accept, the sacrifice which is "our bounden duty and service," and which we present to the Father in gratitude for all He has done for us through His Son and His Holy Spirit. We join our thanksgiving as well as our offerings, our prayers, and intercessions to the one true, pure, immortal Sacrifice, Jesus crucified and glorified, and to the thanksgiving of all who are in Him, all His saints, His blessed Mother, His holy apostles, evangelists, and martyrs, Saint Mary Magdalene, and all His penitents.

One more significant requirement remains. We are to "be in charity with all men." We can come with no feelings of resentment, animosity, or unforgiveness. It could hardly be otherwise if we have made self-examination and confessed our sins humbly, for we know we cannot be forgiven unless we forgive. We are to be in heaven, remember. That surely means in charity. Uncharitableness, lack of love for our neighbor, disqualifies us for admittance. By uncharitableness we simply shut heaven's gates against ourselves. Our self examination must include questions of social relationship and duty, because the partaking of the sacrament is a sharing together of the Body and Blood of Christ, where men of various race, color, and business, high and low, rich and poor, employer and employee, kneel together and are members one of another, bearing one another's burdens, ministering to Christ in the persons of our brothers and sisters. "I was anhungered and ye gave me meat, I was thirsty and ye gave me drink. I was a stranger and ye took me in: Naked and ye clothed me: I was sick and ye visited me: I was in prison and ye came unto me." Are we living our lives, conducting our business, investing our money, and using our income all as a trust from God to use for the brotherhood which this great sacrament constitutes and in which all men are included potentially? Are we party to any self-interested method of industry which imprisons men, women, or children in conditions unhealthy to body, mind, or spirit, hunger, thirst, and nakedness?

And the fellowship constituted by sharing together the Body and Blood of Christ extends beyond this world. It is a communion with our brethren departed and with all the saints. Our prayers should include them as surely theirs are offered for us. Charity, love of the brethren, means the realization of true brotherhood in every congregation, in the whole Church, and among all men everywhere as called to be sharers in this great fellowship, and in the veneration of the saints and devotion to the faithful departed.

Such are the elements of our spiritual preparation for communion.

There is also a preparation of the body of the Catholic. The undivided Church very early saw fit to require fasting as a preparation for communion as also for baptism. With baptism it is the fasting of discipline and sorrow. It may cover a long period and is not absolute, i.e., some food will be taken. The fast before communion is not so much for discipline as for reverence, and it is absolute. No food or drink is to pass the lips from the midnight before receiving, though there are exceptions for which a dispensation is allowed. The Blessed Sacrament normally is to be the first food of the day. Catholics therefore usually prefer to receive at an early Mass. An early communion, however, is not of obligation, though more desirable for many reasons. It is the fasting that the Catholic rule requires, not the early hour. The altar must be open for communion at any Mass.

There remains the question, how often should the Catholic receive communion? The only answer surely is, as often as he earnestly desires to feed upon Christ for the strengthening and refreshing of his soul. No Catholic who is in earnest to grow into the likeness of Christ and into more perfect union with the Father through Him, is ever satisfied with his present condition. His soul is athirst for the living God, he hungers and thirsts after righteousness. The healthy growth of the soul is a steady, natural growth. One who at present receives communion once a month and is drawn to receive more frequently should hardly expect lasting benefit by leaping from a monthly to a daily communion. Let him first increase to two communions a month, with the intention of receiving every Lord's Day as soon as he forms habits of response to other duties and privileges of the Christian life that are bound up with good communions. It would be inconsistent to make a weekly communion while wilfully neglecting daily morning and evening devotions. I do not mean we should not increase our communions until we are perfect in our daily prayers or in other respects. That is preposterous, but our present habit of regular communion should at least be drawing us to faithful daily prayer, the avoidance of occasions of temptation to sin, and growth into the likeness of Christ.

When we have established the habit of a weekly communion then we should look forward to two communions a week and three. Regularity in the spiritual life is of as much importance as in physical life. Every earnest Catholic will have a rule of life regarding his public and private devotions and include in it a rule of receiving communion. Having come to a point of three communions a week, it will be natural in addition to his Sunday communion to fix on the two station days, Wednesday and Friday, for the other two. Friends have fixed times of meeting as well as extraordinary times. When the great feast days of the year come around, and the saints' days occur, the devout Catholic will desire to go to our Lord in Holy Communion without omitting his regular communions. There will also be special anniversaries of his own and special occasions arising from special needs or special reasons for thanksgiving that will move him to go to communion at other times than his usual rule.

It is not beyond the hope and possibility of any communicant to receive with benefit and joy daily, and if other spiritual obligations are duly met, daily communion is to be desired.

We do not always feel the same eagerness to pray or to communicate, but our communions should not be left to the warmth of our feelings at the regular times we have decided upon; provided we have a right intention and are in a state of grace, we should present ourselves to our Lord at the altar. He has moved us by His Holy Spirit to make our rule. We have, as it were, a fixed appointment with Him. We should keep it, if possible, regardless of the warmth of our feelings. It is the will to be with our Lord, to grow into His likeness that matters, not the state of our feelings.

In sickness the Catholic should receive as often as he desires, with due consideration for the daily duties of his priest.

The reserved Sacrament makes it possible to communicate the sick frequently if they are not at too great a distance.

If any communicant is so placed that he cannot attend a celebration of the Eucharist at the usual hours of Mass on any day in the week, his priest will be only too glad to celebrate for him in the church at any convenient hour between midnight and noon, and if this is impossible and he can snatch five minutes to be in church, the priest will communicate him from the reserved sacrament. This, of course, should never be made a substitute for receiving at Mass when it is possible.

Whenever the devout Catholic receives communion, he will make special thanksgiving after the service, and in his night prayers at home, and until his next communion he will continue to feed on Christ, in his heart, daily, by faith with thanksgiving.

Project Canterbury