Part II-C.Holy Communion
112. The august sacrifice of the altar is concluded with communion or the partaking of the
divine feast. But, as all know, the integrity of the sacrifice only requires that the
priest partake of the heavenly food. Although it is most desirable that the people should
also approach the holy table, this is not required for the integrity of the sacrifice.
113. We wish in this matter to repeat the remarks which Our predecessor Benedict XIV makes
with regard to the definitions of the Council of Trent: "First We must state that
none of the faithful can hold that private Masses, in which the priest alone receives holy
communion, are therefore unlawful and do not fulfill the idea of the true, perfect and
complete unbloody sacrifice instituted by Christ our Lord. For the faithful know quite
well, or at least can easily be taught, that the Council of Trent, supported by the
doctrine which the uninterrupted tradition of the Church has preserved, condemned the new
and false opinion of Luther as opposed to this tradition." "If anyone shall say that Masses in which
the priest only receives communion, are unlawful, and therefore should be abolished, let
him be anathema."
114. They, therefore, err from the path of truth who do not want to have Masses celebrated
unless the faithful communicate; and those are still more in error who, in holding that it
is altogether necessary for the faithful to receive holy communion as well as the priest,
put forward the captious argument that here there is question not of a sacrifice merely,
but of a sacrifice and a supper of brotherly union, and consider the general communion of
all present as the culminating point of the whole celebration.
115. Now it cannot be over-emphasized that the eucharistic sacrifice of its very nature is
the unbloody immolation of the divine Victim, which is made manifest in a mystical manner
by the separation of the sacred species and by their oblation to the eternal Father. Holy
communion pertains to the integrity of the Mass and to the partaking of the august
sacrament; but while it is obligatory for the priest who says the Mass, it is only
something earnestly recommended to the faithful.
116. The Church, as the teacher of truth, strives by every means in her power to safeguard
the integrity of the Catholic faith, and like a mother solicitous for the welfare of her
children, she exhorts them most earnestly to partake fervently and frequently of the
richest treasure of our religion.
117. She wishes in the first place that Christians--especially when they cannot easily
receive holy communion should do so at least by desire, so that with renewed faith,
reverence, humility and complete trust in the goodness of the divine Redeemer, they may be
united to Him in the spirit of the most ardent charity.
118. But the desire of Mother Church does not stop here. For since by feasting upon the
bread of angels we can by a "sacramental" communion, as we have already said,
also become partakers of the sacrifice, she repeats the invitation to all her children
individually, "Take and eat. . . Do this in memory of Me" so that "we may continually experience
within us the fruit of our redemption"
in a more efficacious manner. For this reason the Council of Trent, reechoing, as it were,
the invitation of Christ and His immaculate Spouse, has earnestly exhorted "the
faithful when they attend Mass to communicate not only by a spiritual communion but also
by a sacramental one, so that they may obtain more abundant fruit from this most holy
sacrifice." Moreover, our predecessor of
immortal memory, Benedict XIV, wishing to emphasize and throw fuller light upon the truth
that the faithful by receiving the Holy Eucharist become partakers of the divine sacrifice
itself, praises the devotion of those who, when attending Mass, not only elicit a desire
to receive holy communion but also want to be nourished by hosts consecrated during the
Mass, even though, as he himself states, they really and truly take part in the sacrifice
should they receive a host which has been duly consecrated at a previous Mass. He writes
as follows: "And although in addition to those to whom the celebrant gives a portion
of the Victim he himself has offered in the Mass, they also participate in the same
sacrifice to whom a priest distributes the Blessed Sacrament that has been reserved;
however, the Church has not for this reason ever forbidden, nor does she now forbid, a
celebrant to satisfy the piety and just request of those who, when present at Mass, want
to become partakers of the same sacrifice, because they likewise offer it after their own
manner, nay more, she approves of it and desires that it should not be omitted and would
reprehend those priests through whose fault and negligence this participation would be
denied to the faithful."
119. May God grant that all accept these invitations of the Church freely and with
spontaneity. May He grant that they participate even every day, if possible, in the divine
sacrifice, not only in a spiritual manner, but also by reception of the august sacrament,
receiving the body of Jesus Christ which has been offered for all to the eternal Father.
Arouse Venerable Brethren, in the hearts of those committed to your care, a great and
insatiable hunger for Jesus Christ. Under your guidance let the children and youth crowd
to the altar rails to offer themselves, their innocence and their works of zeal to the
divine Redeemer. Let husbands and wives approach the holy table so that nourished on this
food they may learn to make the children entrusted to them conformed to the mind and heart
of Jesus Christ.
120. Let the workers be invited to partake of this sustaining and never failing
nourishment that it may renew their strength and obtain for their labors an everlasting
recompense in heaven; in a word, invite all men of whatever class and compel them to come
in; since this is the bread of life which all
require. The Church of Jesus Christ needs no other bread than this to satisfy fully our
souls' wants and desires, and to unite us in the most intimate union with Jesus Christ, to
make us "one body," to get us to
live together as brothers who, breaking the same bread, sit down to the same heavenly
table, to partake of the elixir of immortality.
121. Now it is very fitting, as the liturgy otherwise lays down, that the people receive
holy communion after the priest has partaken of the divine repast upon the altar; and, as
we have written above, they should be commended who, when present at Mass, receive hosts
consecrated at the same Mass, so that it is actually verified, "that as many of us,
as, at this altar, shall partake of and receive the most holy body and blood of thy Son,
may be filled with every heavenly blessing and grace."
122. Still sometimes there may be a reason, and that not infrequently, why holy communion
should be distributed before or after Mass and even immediately after the priest receives
the sacred species--and even though hosts consecrated at a previous Mass should be used.
In these circumstances--as we have stated above-- the people duly take part in the
eucharistic sacrifice and not seldom they can in this way more conveniently receive holy
communion. Still, though the Church with the kind heart of a mother strives to meet the
spiritual needs of her children, they, for their part, should not readily neglect the
directions of the liturgy and, as often as there is no reasonable difficulty, should aim
that all their actions at the altar manifest more clearly the living unity of the Mystical
123. When the Mass, which is subject to special rules of the liturgy, is over, the person
who has received holy communion is not thereby freed from his duty of thanksgiving;
rather, it is most becoming that, when the Mass is finished, the person who has received
the Eucharist should recollect himself, and in intimate union with the divine Master hold
loving and fruitful converse with Him. Hence they have departed from the straight way of
truth, who, adhering to the letter rather than the sense, assert and teach that, when Mass
has ended, no such thanksgiving should be added, not only because the Mass is itself a
thanksgiving, but also because this pertains to a private and personal act of piety and
not to the good of the community.
124. But, on the contrary, the very nature of the sacrament demands that its reception
should produce rich fruits of Christian sanctity. Admittedly the congregation has been
officially dismissed, but each individual, since he is united with Christ, should not
interrupt the hymn of praise in his own soul, "always returning thanks for all in the
name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father."
The sacred liturgy of the Mass also exhorts us to do this when it bids us pray in these
words, "Grant, we beseech thee, that we may always continue to offer thanks. . . and may never cease from praising
thee." Wherefore, if there is no time
when we must not offer God thanks, and if we must never cease from praising Him, who would
dare to reprehend or find fault with the Church, because she advises her priests and faithful to converse with the divine
Redeemer for at least a short while after holy communion, and inserts in her liturgical
books, fitting prayers, enriched with indulgences, by which the sacred ministers may make
suitable preparation before Mass and holy communion or may return thanks afterwards? So
far is the sacred liturgy from restricting the interior devotion of individual Christians,
that it actually fosters and promotes it so that they may be rendered like to Jesus Christ
and through Him be brought to the heavenly Father; wherefore this same discipline of the
liturgy demands that whoever has partaken of the sacrifice of the altar should return
fitting thanks to God. For it is the good pleasure of the divine Redeemer to hearken to us
when we pray, to converse with us intimately and to offer us a refuge in His loving Heart.
125. Moreover, such personal colloquies are very necessary that we may all enjoy more
fully the supernatural treasures that are contained in the Eucharist and according to our
means, share them with others, so that Christ our Lord may exert the greatest possible
influence on the souls of all.
126. Why then, Venerable Brethren, should we not approve of those who, when they
receive holy communion, remain on in closest familiarity with their divine Redeemer even
after the congregation has been officially dismissed, and that not only for the
consolation of conversing with Him, but also to render Him due thanks and praise and
especially to ask help to defend their souls against anything that may lessen the efficacy
of the sacrament and to do everything in their power to cooperate with the action of
Christ who is so intimately present. We exhort them to do so in a special manner by
carrying out their resolutions, by exercising the Christian virtues, as also by applying
to their own necessities the riches they have received with royal Liberality. The author
of that golden book The Imitation of Christ certainly speaks in accordance with the letter
and the spirit of the liturgy, when he gives the following advice to the person who
approaches the altar, "Remain on in secret and take delight in your God; for He is
yours whom the whole world cannot take away from you."
127. Therefore, let us all enter into closest union with Christ and strive to lose
ourselves, as it were, in His most holy soul and so be united to Him that we may have a
share in those acts with which He adores the Blessed Trinity with a homage that is most
acceptable, and by which He offers to the eternal Father supreme praise and thanks which
find an harmonious echo throughout the heavens and the earth, according to the words of
the prophet, "All ye works of the Lord, bless the Lord." Finally, in union with these sentiments of
Christ, let us ask for heavenly aid at that moment in which it is supremely fitting to
pray for and obtain help in His name. For it
is especially in virtue of these sentiments that we offer and immolate ourselves as a
victim, saying, "make of us thy eternal offering."
128. The divine Redeemer is ever repeating His pressing invitation, "Abide in
Me." Now by the sacrament of the
Eucharist, Christ remains in us and we in Him, and just as Christ, remaining in us, lives
and works, so should we remain in Christ and live and work through Him.