Preparation for Holy Communion.
Having shown from the best authorities the dispositions of precept for weekly communion, we add that the dispositions of counsel are the holiest the communicant can bring to the holy table; but all good dispositions whatsoever whether for frequent, or weekly, or other communion, whether of precept or of counsel, all such good dispositions in the communicant are to be obtained from God by a fervent preparation, which will form the subject of the present section.
When we proved that for weekly communion exemption from mortal sin was sufficient, it was far from our desire that the communicant should rest content with that disposition. Our object was to promote the glory of God and devotion to the Blessed Sacrament by encouraging weekly communion, believing with St. Liguori that those who communicate weekly will never or rarely offend God by mortal sinand also believing that, to those who approach the holy table even once a week, the Holy Ghost himself will communicate greater grace than mere freedom from mortal sin. A fervent preparation will not fail to obtain from God holy dispositions, proportioned to the fervor of the preparation; and hence we implore of our readers seriously to meditate on the few reflections contained in this section. Jesus Christ, in the Holy Eucharist, will confer his graces upon the soul in proportion to its fervor in preparing to receive him. St. Bonaventure says, "I believe that a person receives more grace in one communion well made and with good preparation, than in many made without the same preparation."
Seed does not fructify save in a well prepared soil, nor does holy communion produce its fruits in the garden of the soul, except it be well prepared. The quantity of water we draw from a fountain is in proportion to the size and capacity of the vessel; now the Blessed Eucharist is an inexhaustible fountain of grace, and each communicant will drink in graces in proportion to the holy dispositions of the soul. Preparation then for holy communion is of the last importance. Preparation for holy communion is twofold remote and immediate. A few observations on each will be acceptable to the pious reader.
Remote preparation consists in innocence in life, which, if forfeited by the commission of mortal sin, must ordinarily be, recovered by a good confession before approaching the table of the Lord. God demands of each one before holy communion to examine, to search into his soul, to see how he stands in the sight of heaven. "Let each one prove himself," says St. Paul, "and so let him eat of this bread and drink of this chalice." 1 Cor. xi. 28. Let each one prove himself, and if his conscience upbraids him with mortal sin, let him recover the friendship of God by a good confession! otherwise he incurs the terrible guilt of sacrilege. The enormity of the guilt of sacrilege must strike terror into the heart of any Christian believing in the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. The sacrilegious communicant receives the God of all sanctity into a soul impure, corrupt, defiled, filled with unclean spirits. The food of life becomes the poison of death, nay everlasting death. St. Paul says (1 Cor. xi. 29), "Whosoever shall eat this bread or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment to himself, not discerning the body of the Lord." No words could describe more forcibly the sin of sacrilege. Sacrilege hardens the heart, steels the conscience, darkens the mind, and brings despair and the wrath of God upon the soul. Let one example out of many suffice. When did the fell spirit of hell possess Judas to commit the greatest crime ever perpetrated? After receiving unworthily the body and blood of Jesus Christ. After making the first sacrilegious communion, he gave Jesus the traitor's kiss, sold his Divine Lord and Master for thirty pieces of silver. What next? He hanged himself in despair, and went down straight into hell. Of this wretched man the Redeemer said: "It had been better for him had he never been born." O sin of sacrilege, may we hate and fear thee! St. Bonaventure says: "Unworthy communion subjects us to sin and temptation, disposes us to damnation, scandalizes our neighbor, darkens the spirit, calls down the wrath of God, abridges our temporal life, and deprives us of special graces." To the sacrilegious communicant the following awful threats of God's wrath are applied by the saints, "Pour forth thy indignation upon them, add iniquity upon their iniquity, and let them not come unto thy justice. Let them be blotted out of the book of life, and with the just let not their names be written." Ps. lxviii. 25. Enough, no doubt, to inspire us all with holy fear of unworthy communion, and to make us beseech God to avert this damning sin from the children of his holy Church. A serious remote preparation, including a good confession, will secure the soul against the dreadful evil of an unworthy communion.
The remote preparation removes from the soul everything displeasing or offensive to God: the immediate preparation decorates the soul, so to speak, with the ornaments of grace meet to adorn it for the reception of the Lord of holiness, the Divine Guest. This immediate preparation consists in fervent acts of the soul, and ought to begin at least the evening before communion. The angelic St. Aloysius spent three days preparing for each communion, and thus by his fervor attained in a short time such eminent sanctity. It is not too much for us poor sinners to begin to prepare the evening before holy Communion. "It is a great work," says the Royal Prophet, "since it is not to prepare an abode for man, but for God himself" Para., xxix.. 1. On the eve of holy communion the pious soul enters into herself, meditates on the infinite sanctity of Jesus Christ, and on her own poverty and unworthiness. Some such thought as this never leaves the mind: "Tomorrow I am to receive into my poor soul the body and blood of Jesus Christ sanctity itself. May Jesus himself prepare me." God had promised a Redeemer, and during the long space of four thousand years the Virgin Mother was before the divine eye of the adorable Trinity, to fill to overflowing her pure soul with every grace and virtue that infinite power could bestow upon a creature. For what? That she may be worthy to bear in her womb the Son of God. Tomorrow I am to receive into my soul the same Son of God, Jesus born of Mary; I so unworthy sinner that I am! O Jesus, prepare me. How beautiful are the words of the Imitation of Christ (b. iv. c. 1): "Behold Noah, a just man, labored a hundred years in building the ark; and how shall I be able in the space of one hour to prepare myself to receive with reverence the Maker of the world?" "Moses, thy servant and special friend, made an ark of incorruptible wood, which he also covered with pure gold, that he might deposit therein the tables of the law: and shall I, a rotten creature, presume so easily to receive thee, the Maker of the law and the Giver of life? Solomon, the wisest of the kings of Israel, employed seven years in building a magnificent temple for the praise of thy name, and for eight days together celebrated the feast of the dedication thereof: he offered a thousand pacific victims.... And I, a wretch, the vilest of men, how shall I bring thee into my house, who can spend scarcely one half hour devoutly?" With the same Solomon the pious communicant may say: "If the heaven and the heaven of heavens do not contain thee, how much less this house which I have built." II. Para., vi. 18. Yes; if the heavens be not holy enough for God, if the angels and saints be not pure enough in his sight, how can I, a poor sinner, receive into my soul my soul so unworthy the same God of infinite purity and sanctity! These holy thoughts will inspire the pious soul to make, by the aid of God's grace, many fervent acts acts of sincere sorrow for having offended so good a God, acts of profound humility, acts of praise and thanksgiving, acts of love divine.
The devout communicant will do well to read some pious book, such as the lives of the saints, books treating of devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, the fourth book of the Imitation of Christ, which cannot be excelled; and whilst reading, will send up many fervent ejaculations to God to prepare the soul to receive worthily on the morrow the body and blood of Jesus Christ. The soul, absorbed in these holy thoughts, retires to rest; and we may say of her what the sacred Scriptures say of St. Stephen, the first martyr, she falls asleep in the Lord.
The Morning of Holy Communion.
Before the morning's dawn the soul watches, and with the Royal Prophet cries out: "O God my God, to thee do I watch at the break of day. For thee my soul hath thirsted." Ps. lxii. 2. As Jesus was the last thought at night, so he is the first thought in the morning. "Today I am to receive into my soul the body and blood of Jesus Christ. May Jesus prepare me."
The pious communicant rises early in the morning. No sloth, no negligence. Morning prayers are said with earnest fervor and piety. The exterior is in keeping with the interior. The dress neat, clean, but modest. On the way to the chapel, as the people yet call the church, if the distance be long, as often happens in the country, the time is turned to good account. No idle conversation the conversation is with God. The soul is calm, recollected, nay, joyous, preparing for the banquet. Jesus is now more intensely in the heart and thoughts, the time approaches nearer, multiplied aspirations ascend to heaven, bespeaking grace for the nuptials with the Lamb.
The pious communicant arrives at the Church long before the time of Mass, desiring to be away from the noise of the world, from family, from business, and to have some time to be alone with God, in the peace and calm of his sanctuary. The perpetual lamp before the tabernacle speaks of the Real Presence. Jesus is on the altar, the soul feels the awe of his presence "Reverence my sanctuary;" but hears the sweet voice of his love "Come to me, all you that labor and are burdened, and I will refresh you" (Matt., xi. 28); and sweeter still, "Arise, make haste, my love. my beautiful one, and come." Cant., ii. 10. The pious communicant replies, Thy servant heareth, O Lord." I. Kings., "My heart is ready and kneels down, adores God, and begins a more fervent preparation for holy Communion. The soul is now in the presence of the Lord, communing familiarly with him. Each look of love to the tabernacle is reflected back in a current of grace from the Sacred Heart of Jesus to the heart of the pious penitent. The mass begins, the adorable sacrifice is being offered up, the heavens open, Jesus again descends upon the altar, accompanied by, his angels, and the communicant asists at the "tremendous mystery" with all possible attention and devotion.
Immediately before receiving, the pious soul elicits fervent acts of the different virtues. She elicits an act of firm faith in the real presence of the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of Jesus Christ, the Eternal Son of God, who created her, redeemed her, and on the last day will judge her, and whom she is now about to receive. If St. Elizabeth cried out, "Whence is this unto me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" (Luke i. 43), the pious communicant can say, whence this favor to me, that my Lord himself should not only visit me, but feed my soul with his own flesh and blood? "I believe, Lord: help thou my unbelief " Mark, ix. 23.
This act of faith will inspire the soul to make acts of profound humility and contrition. Knowing the sanctity of God, and her own unworthiness, she cannot but exclaim with the centurion in the Gospel, "Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldst enter under my roof; say but the word, and my soul shall be healed." Matt., viii. 8. "If you had," says the Imitation of Christ, "the purity of an angel, and the sanctity of St. John the Baptist, you would not be worthy to receive this holy Sacrament." The consciousness of her unworthiness, and the desire to purify herself more and more, will remind the soul to elicit acts of perfect contrition for her sins. She will say with the humble publican, "Lord, be merciful to me a sinner." Luke xviii. 13. "Wash me yet more from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. Create a clean heart in me, O God, and renew a right spirit within my bowels." Ps. li. She also elicits acts of confidence and love. Jesus invites her. He knows her poverty. She cannot prepare for him a fit habitation. She begs of her Divine Lord to accept her poverty, and prepare for himself his own abode. "Those who are well stand not in need of a physician, but only those that are sick." Matt., ix. 12. Her last acts are acts of divine love. She loves Jesus for his own sake, for his own infinite goodness. She gives him herself without reserve. She desires to have, and offers him, the love of the holiest souls on earth. She ascends in spirit to heaven, she invites all the blessed to join her, she offers to her Lord the love of all the saints and blessed spirits in heaven, the love of Mary beyond all created love; and thus with the love of earth and heaven centred in her soul, and her soul centred in her God, she receives the body and blood of Jesus Christ, her Divine Guest.
The Imitation of Christ puts into the mouth of the communicant these holy words: "O Lord, my God, my Creator, and my Redeemer, I desire to receive thee this day with such affection, reverence, praise, and honor, with such gratitude, worthiness, and love, with such faith, hope, and purity, as thy most holy Mother, the glorious Virgin Mary, received thee, when she most humbly and devoutly answered the angel, who declared to her the mystery of the Incarnation: Behold the handmaid of the Lord. be it done unto me according to thy word." b. iv., c. xvii.
The Redeemer himself said to St. Matilda, "When you communicate, desire to have the greatest love which the saints have had for me, and in return for this I will accept your love in proportion to the fervor with which you wished for it."
Did every communicant prepare in this manner for the table of the Lord, our loving Saviour would not be offended by so many cold, careless, tepid, we will not say, sacrilegious communions; the Sacred Heart of Jesus would not be wounded by so many relapsing sinners sinners who frequent the sacraments, but receive without much fruit, as they receive without due preparation the bread of angels. Sin and crime would cease; fervor and piety would reign; and the sanctity of the primitive Christians, who had but one heart and one soul, would again bloom in the Church of God. Sacred Heart of Jesus, for thy greater glory, grant us all the grace receive at all times worthily and with full fruit thy sacred Body and Blood.
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