Editor’s note: This is part 26 of a series, “The Kingdom of Grace.” Part 25 can be found here.
The primary cause of the growth of grace is the Eucharist, and receiving holy communion has many wonderful effects in us.
It comes as a surprise to many people to hear that the Eucharist is a cause, but realizing this simple truth helps us to receive the effects or fruits of holy communion. Just as food nourishes a child and causes the child to grow strong in the bodily life, so holy communion nourishes our souls and causes us to grow strong in the spiritual life – the life of grace. Besides causing growth, food also has many other effects on our bodily life. Food serves to recover us from sickness, preserve us from becoming sick in the future, and energize us when we have grown sluggish. Holy communion works similar effects in the spiritual life of grace in our souls.
It is rather impossible to sum up all the effects of receiving the Eucharist, but it is common for the Saints to realize the grandeur of receiving holy communion even once. For the Saints, each holy communion is a big deal. Down through the centuries, they have composed many prayers to prepare themselves well for the event, and their prayers show us what they expect from the sacrament. One preparatory prayer from Saint Basil of Caesarea is particularly rich and tells of many effects of holy communion. The central part of the prayer goes like this:
“Show compassion, therefore, O Lord, and do not accuse me, a sinner, but deal with me according to Thy mercy; and let these Holy Things be for me unto healing, and purification, and enlightenment, and preservation, and salvation, and unto sanctification of soul and body; unto the driving away of every phantasy and evil practice and activity of the devil working mentally in my members; unto confidence and love toward Thee, unto correction of life, unto steadfastness, unto an increase of virtue and perfection, unto fulfillment of the commandments, unto communion with the Holy Spirit, as a provision for life eternal, as an acceptable defense at Thy dread tribunal, not unto judgment or condemnation.”
Saint Basil expects a great deal from holy communion. His list of petitions is extensive and repays meditation. When we consider it with care, we have to ask: is there anything he does not expect from the sacrament of the altar?
Holy communion gives light. Saint Thomas Aquinas was known to lean his head against the tabernacle and beg God for enlightenment. Saint Basil hopes for light through the reception of holy communion.
Holy communion heals us in the sense of forgiving venial sins. It purifies us in the sense of diminishing the tendencies towards personal sin. It also preserves us from future sins. Many people testify to a noticeable difference in their lives when they come back to Church, confess their sins, and begin receiving holy communion regularly. If patterns of sin persist in our lives, the question is not why the sins persist if we are receiving holy communion. The question is where you and I would be if we were not receiving communion.
Holy communion drives aways demonic activity. Many people seek out the assistance of exorcists, but exorcists spend a great deal of time simply urging those who come to them to receive holy communion more frequently and devoutly. The enemy does indeed prowl about like a roaring lion, but the sight of the Eucharist terrifies the enemy much more.
Holy communion causes an increase of virtue. The key here is to ask for specific virtues to come to us through holy communion. Is it humility you seek? Greater patience and kindness toward others? Purity and chastity? Courage in the face of fears? Greater trust in God? When we are at Mass, we should pray for such good qualities to come to us through the sacrament. They will come. With the help of the sacrament, we will grow into them gradually.
Holy communion provides us what we need to go into next life. It has always been the sense of Christians that the one thing a person needs most on the brink of death is holy communion. One’s first holy communion is a great event in the spiritual life, but so is one’s last holy communion. Traditionally, the last holy communion is called viaticum or food for the journey. Normally, it is received after one’s final absolution and final anointing. The anointing prepares the soul to be separated from the body in a death like Christ’s, and viaticum prepares the soul for the journey to God and to stand before him in one’s particular judgment. How blessed are they who die in his friendship!
Among all the wonderful effects of holy communion, however, one stands out above them all. Holy communion sparks a renewal of charity in our hearts. Like nothing else, the sacrament animates, energizes, and vitalizes The Friends of God. In the words of Saint Basil, it produces “confidence and love toward Thee.” Each time you and I receive holy communion, we should expect a new propulsion of love for God to break forth from the depths of our souls, and we should be on the lookout for it. A new surge of love is sure to come up from our hearts after holy communion. It might not happen immediately. It might be later in the day or when things quiet down. It might not be so noticeable as a great earthquake or a roaring fire, but perhaps be more like a gentle breeze (1 Kgs. 19:5-18). Yet, it will happen. New love will come. Guaranteed.
When we receive holy communion, the friends of God receive a renewal of love in our hearts. Since love unites people, the whole Church in heaven and on earth becomes more united. The union amongst us wrought by holy communion might not be so observable to our senses. The Church on earth appears rather divided in many ways. In the supernatural order of things, however, the situation is quite different than what meets the eye. Those who belong to Christ, those who belong to him not only in show but in reality by living in a state of sanctifying grace, are in fact being united more and more to Christ and to one another through every holy communion. Thanks to the mighty sacrament of the altar, the mystical body of Christ grows together. Together we grow in The Grace To Be Jesus.
Father James Dominic Brent, O.P. is a Dominican Friar who lives and teaches at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, DC. Several of his homilies, spiritual conferences, interviews, and radio spots can be found on his personal Soundcloud site. He frequently lectures for the Thomistic Institute and appears on Aquinas 101.
Image: Francisco de Goya, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons