"Blessed is the FRUIT of your womb!"
“Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and she exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!’” (Lk 1:41-42)
As a few of our parish children will receive their first Holy Communion this Sunday, it is good for us all to reflect on the meaning of receiving Holy Communion. In the brief excerpt above from the Visitation we are given an image of true Holy Communion. By the prompting of the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth exclaims, “Blessed is the fruit of your womb!” St. Bede the Venerable contrasts this declaration with the original sin of Eve. Satan told Eve that the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil would make her like God and that God was withholding that gift. In her pride Eve grabs the fruit and takes it for herself. Adam, then, joins her in the sin, and together they are expelled from paradise. Mary, on the other hand, receives God into her womb through Her “fiat”, when she hears the Word of God and believes that it will be fulfilled in her. Mary, indeed, became like God when she embraced His will and received Divinity into her womb. By His grace Christ remained in Mary throughout her earthly life, until, at the end of her earthly sojourn, she was Assumed into paradise. You see, God did want Adam and Eve to be like Him; however, they did not follow His will. Instead, they reached out and tried to take divinity for themselves.
Communion, properly received (that is, with a soul cleansed by confession and with a body showing due reverence) is the reception of God into our body and soul! Under the appearance of bread and wine God gives Himself to us so that we may become like Him. This is not mere symbolism; it is reality. Today, however, many people receive Communion in the spirit of Eve rather than the spirit of Mary. Communion is approached as though it is something we are entitled to and it is taken without proper preparation of the soul and body.
Most importantly, we cannot receive Communion if we have serious sin on our soul. Confession must be a regular part of our spiritual life; otherwise, we are just like Adam and Eve grasping at divinity instead of receiving Him. Our physical dispositions are also important. The Church still teaches that we must fast (except from water and necessary medicine) for at least an hour before receiving Communion. We should be physically hungry when we receive Communion to remind us of the spiritual hunger that we should have for Our Lord. The moment of receiving Communion from the priest should also be one of reverence. The custom of receiving Communion in the hand is permitted; however, this permission comes with the danger of potential carelessness and irreverence. Sometimes people grab the Host or accidentally drop the Host and there is also the danger of particles of Our Lord clinging to the hand only to be wiped away onto the floor or clothing. This is why the preferred way to receive Communion is directly on the tongue. Receiving Communion directly on the tongue is a physical way to show the reverence for Our Lord that should be in our hearts when we receive Him in Communion.
If, perhaps, you think this way of thinking is just my opinion, I will share a few words from Cardinal Robert Sarah, the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, from a talk he gave to the priests of the Archdiocese of Toronto this past summer:
“[Receiving communion on the tongue], far from being something obsolete and belonging to the past, is nothing less than a humble act of adoration, reverence, love and worship by each communicant at the most intimate moment of the Mass. I strongly recommend that we rediscover its appropriateness for the Church in our own times and form our people, particularly our children, in this practice so as to foster these dispositions. We cannot do enough to promote greater reverence towards Our Blessed Lord in the Sacrament of the Altar.” - Robert Cardinal Sarah, “The Priest as ‘Pater Liturgicus’”
I invite you to reflect over the Christmas season on the importance of receiving Our Lord properly disposed in body and soul. God desires to dwell in us. He wants us to share in His divinity, but we must receive Him following the model of Mary, not Eve.