The Law of Communion – Pastor’s Reflection (February 11, 2018_
In recent essays I have pondered the moment of Holy Communion through the lens of the Communion Antiphon which accompanies it. Now we have come to the brink of Lent During the Forty Days we live differently and gain a whole new vantage point for contemplating the Eucharist.
While you and I receive it weekly or daily, catechumens prepare assiduously, with longing, to “taste and see that the Lord is good,” Ps. 34:8. The stunning fact of new communicants prompts us to grasp anew the preciousness of the Holy Things. Significantly, each day of the Lenten season brings a fresh antiphon and this points to the power of the Lenten observance to disclose so much of the Faith.
On Ash Wednesday the “imposition” of ashes takes pride of place in the minds of many. But hopefully this Wednesday, you will come to Mass, receive your ashes, and stay for communion. Ponder the relation of the two moments. As you accept the ashes on to your person you proclaim
yourself a penitent, in need of reform and renewal. When you receive the Eucharist you take into yourself the means for carrying out what you have pledged. Already you respond to Jesus who gave us the “impossible” law of love and then gave us the unimaginable wherewithal to live it.
On this first day of Lent, as you prepare and come forward to receive, you will hear the following text recited by the congregation, sung by the Cantor, or chanted by the choir.
He who shall meditate on the law of the Lord day and night
shall bring forth his fruit in due season. Ps. 77: 29-30
Here, the Liturgy pairs the reception of the Eucharist and the pondering of Sacred Truth. Seemingly, it says nothing about prayer, fasting, or almsgiving, themes we might have expected. Or does it?
I see two levels of connection here. First, if we seek in Lent a stronger communion with Jesus, we must meet him again in the Scriptures. A great prayerful and ascetical commitment for the season would be a meditative reading of one whole Gospel. You may find that texts very familiar to you leap off the page in whole new ways at this particular time in our history or your history. But what we say of Christ, applies equally to His sacraments. Entree to the limitless meaning of the Eucharist will also be through the Word of God. For instance, we cannot grasp the Lord’s intent in Holy Communion if we do not know the story of the Passover in Exodus, or even the perennially surprising Gospel of Holy Thursday, John 13’s Washing of the Feet. This too is telling us how Holy Communion serves us in the Christian walk toward God. Quite simply, when we receive communion the Lord is washing our feet, cleansing us, nourishing us, and refreshing us to keep walking.
But if I do not perceive the Eucharist apart from God’s Word, I also cannot find the Law of God expressed more clearly than in that same Eucharist. Put simply the Scriptures and the Eucharist each give the best explanation of the other. It all comes together in love. In this wondrous sacrament the Lord gives Himself to me without cost and without strings, in a way beyond either my expectations or my understanding. In this is the love.
The unilateral choice to befriend another is the law God makes visible in the free gift of creation, and the same Law Jesus fulfills for all of us on the Cross. He befriends us that we may have eternal life. When I receive Communion He fulfills this law for me so that even now I may have a life beyond the bounds set by nature. This Law will be fulfilled in me as the unilateral choice to love becomes the organizing principle of my life. So when I receive Communion in faith, and let it have its way in me, the Law of God set out in the many words of Scripture will also become legible in my own life.
Now, as you receive the Eucharist at the outset of Lent, you can see prayer, fasting, and almsgiving as the instruments of communion. By self-denial you uncover your desire for connection at all levels, by prayer you become more alert to this gift, and by your almsgiving you amplify its fruits.
When you and I fulfill the Law of Jesus we will not fail to fulfill ourselves.
Blessings to you in the planning of your Lent.