I like to read before I go to bed. Sometimes my little nightstand becomes a leaning tower with stacks of books piling up from my nightly reads. The book currently at the top of my stack is The Basic Book of the Eucharist by Fr. Lawrence G. Lovasik. This little book came to my attention while rummaging through my bookshelves trying to find something to read. I was only two minutes into my search when I saw Fr. Lovasik's book peeking out at me. So I plucked the book from its place and quickly leafed through it. It only took a few page turns to know that this was the book for me. Here was the real clincher:
In receiving holy Communion, do not be satisfied with merely performing what is necessary or obligatory. Strive so to dispose yourself as to be able to benefit by the rich graces frequent holy Communion offers.
Have you ever had one of those Holy Spirit moments, when you read something and all of a sudden the words seem to jump off the page and into your heart? That's exactly what happened to me when I read those words. Some would call this a "light-bulb moment" or an "epiphany" of sorts. But, for me, it was a wake-up call—a eucharistic wake-up call, to be exact. It got me to thinking about how many times I have been guilty of hastily approaching the table of the Lord in a perfunctory manner. And how many times have I made a less than perfect effort to prepare my heart and mind to participate in the eucharistic liturgy and to receive our Lord in Communion. This little revelation was all the work of the Holy Spirit, and I needed the kick in the pants.
So, how do we increase our fervor for Communion so Mass doesn't become routine and we can receive more spiritual fruit from a worthy reception? I knew right off the bat the first change my husband and I needed to make: Arrive earlier to Mass.
It’s just too easy to get into the habit of treating Sunday mornings like its "part of the weekend." For example, a typical Sunday morning in our house went something like this: Alarm goes off, I get the nudge, we slowly roll out of bed, start the coffee, put the bread by the toaster, chat for a while, sip coffee, then dash off to get dressed, all the while checking the time to make sure we could have breakfast without breaking the fast. By the time we were ready to head out the door, we're feeling super rushed. The rushed drive to church didn't help our dispositions, either. Then there's the brisk walk from parking lot to church, up the steps, into the church, a finger dip in the font, find a seat, kneel, and pray. Let me say this: Decompressing in the pew before Mass is not conducive to recollection. Even with folded hands and a pious face. Being harried and distracted is more likely to cause spiritual loss than gain. Trust me. Not good.
Blessed John Paul II agrees:
Unfortunately, when Sunday loses its fundamental meaning and becomes merely part of a "weekend," it can happen that people stay locked within a horizon so limited that they can no longer see "the heavens." Hence, though ready to celebrate, they are really incapable of doing so.
Take the time to recollect yourself before Mass. It does make a difference!
So, I guess the next question is, do we experience the Eucharist at Mass, or do we just go through the motions? Since we receive Communion weekly (if not daily), it's easy to see how our reception of the Eucharist can easily become routine, often leading to a nonchalant, take-it-or-leave-it attitude. How many of us have family members or close friends who have confided to us that they don't get anything out of Mass? I'm raising my hand. Over the years, I've had more than one person tell me that when it's time to receive Communion at Mass, he or she simply processes forward, makes a sign of reverence, receives, returns to the pew and prays, then leaves after the concluding rite. While these individuals continue to go to Mass, they get little out of it. I don't believe this is an isolated problem. I believe it is a huge problem in most parishes. And, if we are really honest with ourselves, we will admit that we are also guilty of falling into the same spiritual rut at one time or another.
Active participation at Mass (not happy-clappy singing at Mass, but an inner disposition), if approached with a heart reconciled with God and an openness to being transformed by him, has the power to transform our lives. But the more important question is: Do we allow ourselves to be transformed by him? We often forget that it's the full participation in the Eucharist at the table of the Lord that gives us a moment of "true communion."
Pope Francis exhorts us to live a eucharistic life:
The Eucharist is the sacrament of Communion, which brings us out from individualism to live together our journey in his footsteps, our faith in him. We ought, therefore, to ask ourselves before the Lord: How do I live the Eucharist? Do I live it anonymously or as a moment of true communion with the Lord, [and] also with many brothers and sisters who share this same table? How are our eucharistic celebrations? . . . Let us pray that participation in the Eucharist move us always to follow the Lord every day, to be instruments of communion, to share with him and with our neighbor who we are. Then our lives will be truly fruitful. Amen.
Those of us in the pews need to hear these truths from the pulpit on a regular basis. Let's pray for our shepherds. Let's encourage our priests and deacons to preach more on the Eucharist, not only on what it is but on what it does. We need to know how to foster dispositions that will help us to benefit from Communion.