In his book, Visits to the Blessed Sacrament and the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint Alphonsus Liguori tells the story of Sister Paula Maresca, a saintly nun who founded a convent in Naples. While in prayer, she had a vision of Jesus holding a golden vessel. In that vessel, Jesus kept every communion she had ever made.
Let us think about that for a minute. Imagine Jesus holding a golden vessel with every communion you have ever made. Because He is All-Knowing, we can believe that He does recall every time we have gone to Mass and received His precious Body and Blood. He remembers what we were wearing. He could tell us what was on our mind at the time and what was going on in our lives. Because He is All-Loving, we can trust that He cherishes all those communions we have made the way a lover cherishes letters from his beloved. Even if we were not in the best state of mind, heart or soul when we received, we can trust that He gave Himself fully to us nonetheless and that He looked forward to and relished every time we received the Blessed Sacrament of His Body and Blood.
Our goal in life, then, should be to live up to the great love that Jesus has for us, especially the love that He shows us in the Eucharist. If He gives Himself totally to us, we must strive to give ourselves totally to Him. If He looks forward to our receiving communion, then we must make sure that we meet Him in this Sacrament with the same anticipation and joy that He shows toward us. We should cherish receiving Jesus in communion just as He cherishes the moments when He gives Himself to us.
What can we do, then, to ensure that we are worthy to receive Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and that we can grow in anticipation and enthusiasm to partake of His Body and Blood?
The first step is to go to confession frequently. The Church requires us to go to confession at least once a year, usually during Lent in preparation to receive communion at Easter. However, most spiritual directors would agree that we should be going at least once a month. And, if we are aware that we have committed serious sins, then we should go to confession as soon as possible.
Why is the Sacrament of Confession so important? Because it is there that we experience the mercy of Our Lord. We present ourselves to Jesus in the person of the priest and bare our souls to Him. In so doing, we do not find judgment or condemnation but understanding and forgiveness. In the sacrament of mercy, we fall in love with God who is eager to welcome the sinner. Then we begin looking forward to experiencing His love in a more intimate way when He gives us His Body and Blood to us in the Eucharist.
Also, the Sacrament of Penance cleanses our soul so that it is a more dignified place to receive Jesus. If we were welcoming someone we loved into our home, the first thing we would do would be to tidy up. Because we are receiving the most important person of all in Holy Communion, we should show the same concern that our souls be clean for Him. That is what the Sacrament of Confession does for us. And, if we strive to confess our sins at least once a month, we can be sure that our heart will be a more fitting place to welcome our Savior.
The second thing we should be doing to ensure that we receive Jesus worthily is observe the one hour fast before communion. That is to say, we should be refraining from all food and drink, except for water, one hour before receiving communion. It is important to note that we calculate that time not one hour before Mass starts but before we receive communion. That is, if I am going to 10:00 am Mass, it is likely that I’ll receive communion around 10:30 am or so, so I will not have anything to eat or drink, including coffee, from 9:30 am on.
Why is this rule so important? Because, by fasting from food and water just before Mass, we are already focusing our minds on receiving Jesus in communion. Even though we may be rushing to get to church, we are orienting our hearts to reflect on Whom we will be receiving there. Fasting, even for that short amount of time, can stir up excitement and anticipation for partaking in communion which will make our reception of the Blessed Sacrament even more fruitful.
The third practice that will help us receive Jesus more worthily is Eucharistic adoration, that is, the devotion of sitting in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. Whenever we do so, we adore Jesus who is present in the tabernacle. We marvel at how much He loved us, not only to die on the cross for us but to give us His Body and Blood in the Eucharist. The more we pray before the Blessed Sacrament, the more we will grow in the desire to receive Him sacramentally in the Eucharist. And, the more we receive Him in the Eucharist, the more we will wish to praise Him in Eucharistic adoration. In so doing, we will experience much more joy and enthusiasm about the Blessed Sacrament.
Jesus cherishes the moments when we receive Him in the Eucharist. He literally died to make these moments possible. Shouldn’t we also be doing our part to make these moments as intimate and fruitful as possible by going to confession frequently, observing an hour of fast before receiving communion and adoring Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament whenever possible? Then we will make our hearts a worthy place for our Lord and Savior. And we will bring that love and joy into our world - especially to those who are unaware of the blessings that are awaiting them in the gift of the Body and Blood of Christ given for the salvation of all humanity.