Sunday, May 9, 2010


At the reception Saturday morning after we celebrated First Eucharist with our children, one young person came up to me with a question: “What was it that I got?” I said, “That was Jesus.” The reaction was priceless—taking a jump backward and eyes widening like the plate the cake was on, the reply was, “Really?? Wow…!”

Perhaps folks are thinking that this little encounter should have left me (and the Religious Ed. teachers) somewhat depressed—after all, wasn’t a realization of the reality of the Presence the main point of their classes for several months now?

But I think the reaction of this child was very like the sense many of the children had that day: “Wow!” And when was the last time we adults had the same kind of reaction, realizing what we were actually doing when receiving the Eucharist?

Young people’s engagement in the sacramental life of the Church is often very much deeper and more profound than we give them credit for, and often much more so than adults. I remember a First Reconciliation I was celebrating when the child went on for perhaps five minutes with sins; when I asked if that was all, the reply was, “Oh, no—I’m only up to when I was four”! During another First Reconciliation the child burst into tears and cried, “I’m so sorry!!” These children were capable of examination of conscience and repentance in ways that were truly amazing.

How much “understanding” is required to receive the Eucharist? Families with handicapped children have been challenged by priests on this score, and in some cases the priests have flatly refused the children. But the question can fairly be asked, “How much understanding (true understanding) do we as adults have, of what we receive?

“Transubstantiation” is a word that older adults may remember, and we may even remember the text-book description of what the word conveys. But do we understand it? For that matter, do we understand the idea of grace? We have had various descriptions of grace in the past, no doubt: the “gas pump” image, the idea of “uncreated Light,” or “God-life dwelling in me.” What do those images really mean? Do we understand the Trinity in any way beyond the famous illustration of St. Patrick with the 3-leaf clover?

I think my 3rd grade teacher, Sr. Emerita, was probably very wise, after all, in simply saying, “It’s a mystery.” This isn’t a cop-out but an admission that God is God, we are not, and if we think we can comprehend God and God’s ways, then what we’ve “understood” is not God at all but a figment of our imagination.

Trinity, Grace, Eucharist—these are God’s ways of dealing with us and sharing divine life with us—our job is less to understand and more simply to accept gratefully this incredible love.


  1. 'We have had various descriptions of grace in the past, no doubt: the “gas pump” image, the idea of “uncreated Light,” or “God-life dwelling in me.” What do those images really mean?'

    I never heard any of those! Am I missing out?

  2. The "gas pump"--Grace is a 'commodity' that you can load up on, like gas for your car. The more you have, the better off you are.

    The "uncreated Light"--it's actually from 13th and 14th century Orthodox theology: the presence of God in the soul is the uncreated Light of 1 John 1:5ff.

    The "God-life dwelling in me"--through the Sacraments (esp. of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist) we become temples of the Spirit and dwelling-places of Father/Son/Spirit. "Grace" is this Presence.

    Bottom line: all are analogies to describe a creature's being in relationship with the Creator in a meaningful, salvific way.

  3. I struggle with this subject. What does the Church/Catechism teach regarding this issue relative to being in a state of grace (or not) and receiving the Lord. Am I wrong to think that if a person receives knowingly being in a state of mortal sin, i.e., contracepting, adultry (or the near occassion of)etc., is in a greater state of being in lack of grace, (or of expanding that sin) than those not receiving at all, because of the knowledge that they are not in a state of grace. If a person is 100% fully aware that a person receiving is in a state of mortal sin and receives anyway, isn't that person (having that knowledge) drawn into that sin, or by having that knowledge being an accessory to that sin. I truly struggle with this. Are we, or are we not our brother's keeper? I really would like to know the Church's official position on this.

  4. To Anonymous:
    Here's what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says on the subject of receiving Communion when not in the state of grace:

    "To respond to this invitation we must prepare ourselves for so great and so holy a moment. St. Paul urges us to examine our conscience: 'Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself.'(1 Cor 11:27-29) Anyone conscious of a grave sin must receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to communion." (paragraph 1385)

    I've been told by a catechist before that receiving communion when you are aware of a grave sin is another sin. I didn't get the impression that it expands the particular sin in question, but rather that it's an additional grave sin - a sin against the Holy Spirit, a sin of blasphemy.

    Paragraph 1868 of the Catechism explains the "responsibility for the sins committed by others when we cooperate in them:

    - by participating directly and voluntarily in them;

    - by ordering, advising, praising, or approving them;

    - by not disclosing or not hindering them when we have an obligation to do so;

    - by protecting evil-doers."

    I think that this means that if you are aware of persons in mortal sin intending to take part in the Communion, you should warn them about it. If you talk to them and they still take communion, you are not responsible for their sin; but if you keep silent and don't try to prevent them, you are.

    Fr. David may correct me on any of this.

  5. You may be aware that someone has done something 'objectively gravely wrong,' but you do not have the capacity to say, "You are in a state of mortal sin." (See Matt. 7:1). You simply don't know all the facts, including whether or not the person you think is so sinful hasn't in fact (unknown to you) been to Reconciliation.
    I am concerned that those who are most eager to remind others of their faults are often not the ones who can do this gracefully, in any event...

  6. Thank you Karina, I appreciate the information.

    It is not a matter of being eager to remind others of their faults. It is simply wanting to know what our responsibilities toward one another are, and not for the sake of wanting to point fingers, because we all know, where the other three point. I don't deal with superficiality very well, so if I come across as not being very graceful; oh well, ce la vie.
    I'll make an effort to improve, with God's grace.