Preparation for Holy Communion

June 6, 2021 • 9 min

From The Bread of Life, St Thomas Aquinas on the Adorable Sacrament of the Altar, page 106

This Body of Jesus is a Body of the greatest purity. It is full of the living God, and hypostatically united to Him. For receiving it therefore we must with great care make ourselves ready by three things.

  1. By fulness of faith. When St. Paul says, ‘With a true heart,’ he means that our intellect must be without error. When he says, ‘In fulness of faith,’ he means that we must believe, without any doubt, those things which we cannot see, namely, that under the species of bread there is the whole Body of Jesus Christ, true man and true God. Because of the great merit of faith, St. Peter promises that they who believe in Christ, whom they do not see, shall rejoice with joy unspeakable.

  2. By cleanness of heart. It is fitting that a vessel which has to receive a most clean body should be clean itself. You will see how great that cleanness should be. Moses told the children of Israel to take one vessel for the manna, as much as to say that it should be clean with a great cleanness. St. Paul says that the vessel for the manna in the Holy of Holies was of pure gold. Thus the heart which has to hold the Bread of Heaven must be in its great cleanness like the very purest gold. Pope Alexander says, in words quoted before and fittingly repeated here, ‘Nothing in sacrifices can be greater than the Body and Blood of Christ; nor is there any oblation better than this. It excels all others, and with a pure conscience it must be offered, and with a pure mind received.’ Hugo says, ‘A pure conscience is that which has on it no just accusation as to the past, and no unjust delight as to the present, but a just will as to the future.’ Joseph of Arimathea wrapped the Body of Jesus in clean linen. Now that clean linen in which Jesus was wrapped is the pure conscience with which you must receive Him. Hence comes the custom of the Church that Mass should be said, not on silk, nor on any dyed cloth, but on pure linen.

    N. But, mark, in those three things by which the linen corporal is bleached to whiteness, there are seen three things which tend to our purification: a, it is washed; b, it is wrung; c, it is dried. If, then, any one wishes to be very clean in heart, so as to receive his Lord worthily, he must be: a, washed in the water of tears; b, wrung by works of penance; c, dried up as to all moisture of fleshly desires by the fire of the love of God.

  3. By devout prayer. St. Mary Magdalen and the other holy women brought aromatic spices while they sought for the Body of our Lord. So when we are going to draw near to the Body of our Lord we must pour forth devout prayers, that if perchance we should be too little prepared by fasting and confession, the want may be supplied by spiritual incense, that is, by the sacrifice of prayer. A great part of the people who were not sanctified ate the phase, and King Ezechias prayed for them. St. Augustin says, ‘Though any one should be tormented with venial sin, yet if he have the will to sin no more, let him make satisfaction by tears and prayers, and then, trusting to the mercy of God, approach the Holy Eucharist in safety and without fear.’

Secondly, the manner of our preparation is learnt from the Host of bread. As the grains of wheat gradually, by the skill of man, are made into bread, so the sinful soul is brought, by the grace of God, to that good state in which it lawfully receives the Body of our Lord.

  1. First, the grains of which the Host is made signify the state of the sinner for three reasons: a, they are hard; b, they are covered with bran; c, they are separate from one another. So the sinner is hard when he wills not to be converted from his iniquity to our sweet God. He is covered, as it were, with bran in being covered with the hideousness of sin. He is cut off from his neighbour by want of charity.

  2. Next, the grains are brought to that state in which they are in the Host by three steps: a, their hardness is crushed in the mill, and they are broken into very small bits; b, they are cleansed from the bran; c, the flour is mixed with water, baked by fire, and hardened into bread. So the sinners who would be worthy to receive our Lord must prepare themselves by the three things which are signified in this: a, by contrition of heart; b, by confession of the lips; c, by the love of their neighbour.

    1. We should have in our souls a spiritual mill of two grindstones by considering the mercy of God and His justice. This will soften the hardness of the heart. His mercy is the upper stone, which goes round now and does its work, but after this life will be at rest. His justice is the nether millstone, which now lies still and is at rest, but after this life will be raised and go round and work.

    2. As bran is winnowed from the grain, the impure from the pure, so by confession the soul is cleansed from the filthiness of sin. Judas Machabeus and his brethren going up to cleanse the holy places stand for those who confess their sins. Blessed is he who daily purifies his heart that it may receive God as its indweller. He who has God can want no good, for in himself he has the Maker of all good things.

    3. When the three men, representing God, stood before Abraham, he set before them a calf very tender and very good; but before this Sara mixed three measures of flour, and made cakes upon the hearth. Now this means that we, before we approach the Altar, should have true love for three classes of men, namely, those beneath us, our equals, and those above us. St. Augustin says, ‘He who receives the mystery of unity, and does not hold the bond of peace, receives the mystery, not for himself, but against himself.’ Again, the marriage-garment spoken of by our Lord is charity. Because of the things already noted about the bread, Israel at a certain time had to eat bread that was unleavened; and this was a sign and memorial to them. It signified, as has been said: a, contrition of heart ; b, confession of lips; c, love of our neighbour. By these things we should make ourselves ready to draw near worthily to the Body of our Lord.

The Voice of the Holy Ghost

[Omitted for brevity; see pages 111-115.]

Prayer

O Holy Ghost, give me a great reverence for the Blessed Sacrament, because of the Majesty of Jesus, God and man, who dwells in it.

Do Thou purify my heart and fill it with faith. Let it be as gold that is tried in the fire. Cleanse my conscience from dead works that I may love Thee, for Thou art my Sanctifier. Give me true sorrow for my sins. Give me strength to do works of penance, pleasing to Thee. Give me an ever-burning love for God. Let my prayers and my tears go up always in Thy sight.

Fill my soul with adoration of Thy mercy and Thy justice; with adoration also of the mercy and the justice of the Father and the Son, from whom Thou dost proceed. O Spirit of justice, O Spirit of love, cleanse me and strengthen me and enlighten me, and make me more and more Thy temple and a sanctuary of Thy love.

If I have Thee not, I have nothing, and the greatness of my poverty stares me in the face. If I have Thee, I desire and can desire nothing more, for Thou art God over all, blessed for ever.

As I go up to the holy Altar, fill my soul with love and fear before the splendour of the Heart of Jesus, hypostatically united to the Word. Jesus is God, as Thou art God; and Thou dost ever love Him with an uncreated love. O adorable Spirit, give me a great love for Jesus in the Sacrament of the King.

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