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Saint Catherine of Siena: how to receive the Eucharist more worthily
Holy Communion is a daily renewal of our covenant of love with the Lord. As we receive Communion each day, we receive the graces needed to deepen the commitment of our vocation.
How can we best experience all these wonderful effects of receiving Holy Communion in our lives?
St Catherine of Siena, a 14th-century mystic and Doctor of the Church, devotes several chapters in her book, The Dialogue, to the mystery of the Eucharist.
Catherine, who lived for many years solely on the Eucharist, encourages us to receive Holy Communion as frequently as possible, and guides us in ways of making it fruitful for our spiritual lives. She explains four qualities, or attitudes of heart, that help deepen our reception of the Eucharist: faith, love, desire and conversion.
Faith, one of the great gifts of baptism and the foundation of the spiritual life, is the most essential and necessary disposition for a fruitful Communion. A living faith believes in the Trinity's personal love for each of us. St Augustine's faith led him to say, "God cares for each of us as if he alone existed, and for all of us as if we were but one." Jesus loves us to the point of death and beyond, for he continues to give himself to us under the appearance of bread and wine.
Catherine urges us to a faith that believes Jesus is totally and truly present in the Blessed Sacrament. This Jesus wants to be intimately united with us so we can share in his divine life. We must believe. "And if we do not, for our faith is weak and tiny, what then?" asks Catherine. We should pray that each Holy Communion will increase our mustard-seed faith.
Faith leads to love, the second quality. We were created to love and to be loved. When we see how much we are loved by God, the only adequate response is to love in return. A lover wants to be with the beloved; Jesus wants to be with us, to be within us.
The best way we can express a free, self-giving love for God is through love of neighbour. The Eucharist is the self-giving love of the Saviour. Fruitful reception of Holy Communion deepens our love for God and neighbour.
The third disposition we need is desire. Catherine said our human actions are finite, but our desires can be infinite. We can, and should, desire God Himself, because He desires us.
If we do not expect much from Holy Communion, we won't receive much. Everyone receives the same amount, but some grow spiritually, while others do not. Catherine explains that this is due to each one's desire for God. We can desire, and receive as we are able, the fullness of God!
The deepest desires of our hearts are from the Holy Spirit. Catherine would have us stir up desires for virtue, the gifts of the Spirit, holiness, union with God.
Desire determines the spiritual fruitfulness of Holy Communion. Desire for God will direct all our actions toward giving Him honour and glory, not only at Mass, but also during each moment of the day.
The first three attitudes need the fourth: ongoing conversion from sin and its tendencies. As we advance in faith, love and desire, the Spirit reveals more clearly our shortcomings. We see how much more we need to change. Conversion is a process of growth, moving forward, step by step. We turn away from our old ways of living and begin thinking and acting like the Person we have received in Holy Communion.
Catherine usually expressed herself in simple images so everyone would understand her. She used the image of a candle in describing the dispositions necessary to receive Holy Communion. Its gentle, warm glow is an image rich with meaning for Catholics, because every tabernacle in the world is indicated by a burning candle.
Catherine points out that the wick must penetrate the core of the entire candle or it will not burn correctly or completely. It will stop where the wick stops, or become deformed if the wick is not straight. So, too, our faith must be straight, steady, consistent, permeating our entire lives. The wick of faith penetrates the candle so it can burn with the fire of love.
Sins are like water thrown on the flame. Instead of a rich warm glow, there is a hiss, smoke and death. The flame needs to be dried by the fire of true contrition and confession of sin. Conversion returns the warmth of faith, love and desire.
Catherine offers us a further way to remember the qualities needed for a fruitful Holy Communion. Conversion purifies us so we can see the Blessed Sacrament with the eyes of faith, receive it with the hands of love and taste it with the spiritual sense of holy desire.
People who love the Eucharist and attend Mass frequently realise that only the Holy Spirit can stir up our desire for Jesus. For those of us who do not experience this spiritual hunger, it is never too late to turn to the Spirit in prayer.
This article, here shortened, first appeared in 'Our Sunday Visitor,' a US Catholic weekly. Sr Mary Jeremiah is a member of the Dominican community at the Monastery of the Infant Jesus in Lufkin, Texas.
Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 14 No 8 (September 2001), p. 20
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