What does it mean to 'host' Jesus in the Eucharist? A practical guide for Communion
Jul 18, 2019
It is a proverbial truth that if you really want to clean your house, plan a dinner party. The pressure of hosting your family or friends will force you to do what you otherwise might chronically avoid.
Playing the role of host inspires us to put our best foot forward. And the more important the guest, the more concerned we are to do our best in hosting him or her.
Both the first reading and the Gospel for this Sunday’s Mass tell us something about what it means to host the most important Guest of all, the Lord God. We read in Genesis 18 that Abraham hosted three visitors, who mysteriously make manifest the triune God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Abraham might not understand exactly what is happening to him, but he knows enough to take his role as host seriously. The whole passage makes Abraham’s solicitude for his guests clear, as he begs them to stay and to allow him to feed them the finest meal he can prepare.
The Gospel presents us with the famous story of Martha and Mary. We are often preoccupied with contrasting the “active” approach of Martha with the “contemplative” approach of Mary, but it is even more important to note first that both of these saints were good hosts in their own ways. They both gave their devoted attention entirely over to their Guest, Jesus.
Moving right to a practical point for our lives, there are lots of ways we “host” Jesus: in other people, especially the poor, sick, and suffering; in His word, especially as we receive it when it is proclaimed in the Mass; and above all, in the Holy Eucharist, when we offer the Body and Blood of Jesus once again to the Father and receive Him into ourselves. It is this last kind of “hosting” that I would like to focus on for the rest of this article.
The Holy Eucharist is the Church’s greatest treasure, and all of us have a blessed responsibility to treat it as such. Yet all too often even Catholics fail to believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, and to treat Him with appropriate reverence.
So what can we do about that? How do we treat Jesus in the Eucharist with greater reverence?
Here are a few steps we are all called to take:
Prepare our minds and bodies well for Holy Mass. We ought to quiet our minds and pray before Mass begins, either in church, in the car, or both. We also prepare to receive Jesus by keeping the Eucharistic fast, which means that we can only take water or medicine for one hour before receiving Holy Communion.
Make sure we are in a state of grace. This falls under the category of preparation, but is so important that it deserves separate treatment. If we have any more serious sins — a.k.a. mortal sins — that have not been forgiven in the sacrament of penance, then we need to go to confession in order to prepare ourselves spiritually to receive the Body and Blood of Christ. Such an incredibly holy gift requires us to be as holy as we can be, and at a minimum that means being free from mortal sin.
Listen attentively to God’s word. The Liturgy of the Word prepares us for the Liturgy of the Eucharist. To know Christ in and through His word is to love Him better, and the more we love Him the better prepared we are to put all our faith and trust in Him when He becomes present in the Eucharist, and when we receive Him into ourselves.
Honor Christ in the tabernacle. Apparently, Mahatma Gandhi once said that if he believed as Catholics do in the Eucharist, he would fall prostrate before the tabernacle and have a hard time ever getting up! Our faith tells us that the Eucharist is truly the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Savior of the World. The least we can do before His awesome presence is to genuflect in front of the tabernacle. As a side note, the appropriate act of reverence before the altar, when there is no tabernacle behind it, is a profound bow (at the waist).
Offer our lives along with the Body and Blood of Jesus. The Mass is not only a Sacred Banquet, but it is the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ. In the Mass, the one saving Sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross is presented to the Father and to us once again in a unique, sacramental way. The Eucharist is the sacrament of Christ’s saving, self-sacrificing love, and so to receive the Eucharist means that we should be Eucharistic people. Our lives ought to be characterized by self-sacrificing love, and especially in the Mass we ought to offer all that we are to our heavenly Father. This is one of the most important ways we prepare to receive Christ in Holy Communion.
Approach and receive Holy Communion with reverence. As we process forward to receive Holy Communion, our minds and hearts should be focused on what we’re doing. We should set aside any distractions and remember the Beatitude, “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.” We do see God in Holy Communion, and so our hearts should be as completely set on Christ as possible! Then, whether we receive Jesus on the tongue or in the hand, we must do so with great awe and reverence and make sure that nothing of Christ is lost (e.g. we consume any crumb of the Sacred Host that may rest on the palms of our hands).
Speaking of the reception of Holy Communion. ... Without getting into a technical or historical discussion of the issue, receiving either on the tongue or in the hand is permitted in the Catholic Church. Receiving on the tongue is the “ordinary” way of receiving, but receiving in the hand is allowed and is probably the most common way today, at least in the United States. Unfortunately, sometimes people speak as if receiving in the hand is the more acceptable way to receive, and discourage receiving on the tongue. There is no warrant for such discouragement. And the bottom line is that we need to treat Christ present in the Eucharist with great care and reverence, and to make sure that all of the sacred species (the “appearances” of bread and wine) are consumed and never dropped or spilled. Speaking personally, I have received Holy Communion both on the tongue and in the hand many times, and it is possible to be very reverent in both cases.
A little more about receiving Holy Communion! I’m testing the patience of even my most devoted readers now, but this is very relevant to parish life, so here goes. A few “dos” about receiving Holy Communion — do bow before receiving, or kneel to receive, according to the practice of the parish and your own piety. If you receiving in the hand, do open one palm clearly enough that the priest or minister will know where to place the Sacred Host, and do say “Amen” clearly, in a way that affirms your faith in the tremendous Mystery of which you are partaking. And a few “don’ts” — don’t chew gum(!), don’t allow yourself to be distracted when in line for Holy Communion, don’t reach out to grab the Host from the minister, don’t walk away with the Host in your hand, but consume it right there after receiving, and don’t offer a response other than “Amen,” as this specific word has been chosen by the Church to signify our faith and commitment to Christ.
Spend some time giving thanks to God. You might have heard that the very word “Eucharist” means “thanksgiving,” and that is the attitude that should fill our hearts after receiving Holy Communion. God has just given us a Gift beyond comprehension, and we ought to thank Him profusely for all He has done for us. We do this by joining in any Communion song being sung during Holy Communion, but also by spending some time in silence offering God our heartfelt thanks for saving us, strengthening us, being with us, and drawing us closer to Himself.
There is a beautiful scene in the movie The Passion of the Christ, after Jesus is scourged at the pillar, when the Blessed Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene devoutly use towels to take up Christ’s Blood from the ground around the pillar. Their reverence for the Blood of Christ gives us a great image for our own treatment of the Holy Eucharist, what I have called in this article our “hosting” of Jesus present among us in the Sacrament of the Altar.
May we always be faithful and loving towards our Eucharistic Lord, and may He keep us always close to Him.
Fr. Charles Fox is a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit currently assigned to the theology faculty of Sacred Heart Major Seminary. He is also a weekend associate pastor at St. Therese of Lisieux Parish in Shelby Township and chaplain and a board member of St. Paul Evangelization Institute, headquartered in Warren.