Catholic Truth Society Postal Course #16: Holy Communion, by Father Herbert C Fincham

Holy CommunionJesus declares, “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6), and as the Head of the Mystical Body, His life is the life of the whole body, just as the vine and its branches all share the one life (John 15:1-7). This supernatural life of Christ flows into the souls of the redeemed through Christ’s sacred humanity, and for this reason, from our point of view, the human nature of Christ is almost as important as His Divine Nature. “It is the man Christ Jesus who gave Himself a redemption for all” (1st Timothy 2:5,6); and we are redeemed, “not with corruptible things as gold and silver, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb unspotted and undefiled” (1st Peter 1:18). It is for this reason that our Saviour has ordained that this supernatural life of our souls shall be nourished, as all life must be nourished, by bread which is none other than Himself: “He that eateth Me, the same shall live by Me.” (John 6:58) The Living Christ is to be the food of the living soul unto life everlasting. “Only the spirit gives life; the flesh is of no avail; the words I have been speaking to you are spirit, and life.” (John 6:64: Knox Version)

The Promise Of The Bread Of Life

For a long time the crowd had stood patiently listening to one of the longest recorded discourses of Our Lord, as He led them gradually to its climax, and announced one of those great mysteries which were to be the test and touchstone of the faith of His followers. By His miracles, and especially the feeding of the multitude in the desert on the previous day (John 6:1-14), He had proved to them that He was no common teacher but one sent by God, having power to teach and proving His authority by His works. If they had learnt this lesson then they would accept His word even for the mysteries of God; if not, then they were not worthy to be His disciples. Yet they still sought another sign like to the manna in the desert (6:30,31). Jesus has something better than bodily food and had already told them to seek it: “Labour not for the meat that perisheth, but for that which endureth unto life everlasting, which the Son of man will give you.” (6:27) He is this food: “I am the bread of life: he that cometh to Me shall not hunger.” (6:35) By His very coming and teaching He has brought life to the world, but more explicitly and in no ambiguous words He declared the mystery of what the food of this life is to be.

This Is No Metaphor

Clearly and directly He called upon them to accept His word as sufficient guarantee of its truth. Almost harsh in His insistence, even impatient of hesitation in His reiteration. He flung down the challenge: “The bread that I will give you, is My flesh for the life of the world.” (6:52) But they murmured: “How can this man give us his flesh to eat!” Christ is quick to reassure them that He meant what He said, by repeating in stronger and clearer terms this almost unbelievable mystery: “Amen, amen, I say unto you (a formula He always used when emphazising the truth): except you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, you shall not have life in you. He that eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood hath everlasting life: and I will raise him up in the last day. For My flesh is meat indeed: My blood is drink indeed. He that eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood, abideth in Me and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth Me, the same also shall live by Me.” (6:54-8)

But they were not for the most part ready. Much as they admired His doctrine and works, they had not disposed their minds and hearts by prayer and humility to receive that special gift of God that we call faith, and which the heavenly Father gives to all who sincerely seek it. “Therefore did I say to you, that no man can come to Me, unless it be given to him by My Father.” (6:66) Even the disciples left Him (6:67) and only the twelve remain. To these He turned: “Will you also go away?” But Simon Peter answered for all with faith: “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we have believed and have known that Thou art the Christ the Son of God.” (6:68-70)

The Believer Accepts The Word Of Christ

How different the character of Our Lord appears in this scene to the believer and unbeliever! To the believer, who with Peter humbly accepts the mystery as part of the words of eternal life, Christ appears as His true self, the uncompromising teacher of truth. There He stood deserted by all save the twelve, inviting them also to go if they would not believe, sacrificing all success and passing popularity rather than withdraw or belittle one iota of the truth He had come to reveal. Looking forward with the larger vision of His divine knowledge. He could forsee the immense importance of what He taught to future generations of His followers. Fearlessly He calls upon proud man to humble himself and believe the word of God, even though his little reason could not fully understand that word. If he would not, then it were better far to sacrifice the success of the moment for the sake of the greater good in the ages to come.

The Disbeliever Dishonours Christ

To the unbeliever, unless he close his eyes to the logic of his position, it is a very different character of Christ that presents itself. The only alternative to accepting Our Lord’s words as they stand is to maintain that He was speaking in metaphor. But is it conceivable that the all-merciful and all-loving God-made-man would deliberately antagonize and drive away His disciples and followers for the sake of a mere figure of speech? A word explaining that they had misunderstood Him could have saved them all, but instead of any such reassuring word, Jesus repeated in harder and stronger terms the unacceptable and, to them, scandalous suggestion that they must eat His Body and drink His Blood! Is this the noble character of God made man, to show such utter indifference to the salvation of souls as to antagonize them for the sake of a metaphor? Surely it is rather petty, foolish and pigheaded!

Faith’s Vision

But faith gives us the clearer vision. It was the nobility and sublimity of His doctrine that utterly outweighed the loss of followers. Better far boldly to proclaim the mystery, which was to be the inspiration of much that is most important and sublime in the spiritual growth of His Church, than to withdraw it for the sake of the success of the moment. The true believers, with Simon Peter, would wait in patience until He would explain to them how His words were to be fulfilled.

The Promise Is Fulfilled

On the night before He died, as the other three Evangelists and Saint Paul tell us, Jesus, at the Last Supper, took bread and blessed and broke, saying, “This is My body, that is given (delivered) for you”; and in like manner the chalice of wine, saying, “This is My blood of the new testament, which shall be shed for many.” And that they might possess this great power and pass it on to their successors for the benefit of the whole Church in all ages, Jesus commanded them, “Do this for a commemoration of Me”; and Saint Paul tells us how the apostles ordained that this command should be fulfilled wherever the Church was established. There was certainly no apostle at Corinth when St. Paul wrote his epistle to correct the abuses there in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper (Matthew 26:26,28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:19-20; 1st Corinthians 11:23-29).

The Real Presence

Our Lord’s words at the Last Supper are as clear and explicit as in His discourse in Saint John’s Gospel, and can have no other meaning save that His Body and Blood are really and truly present under the appearance of bread and wine. The infinite power of God alone can work so marvellous a transformation, but it cannot be said to be beyond that power. That Saint Paul believed and tau^t this Real Presence is clear from his words after describing what Christ did at the Last Supper. He says: “Therefore whosoever shall eat this bread, or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord … For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment to himself, not discerning the body of the Lord.” (1st Corinthians 11:27-29) These words also imply what obviously follows from the fact that Christ, now risen from the dead, is living and, therefore, comes to us His whole living self (“He that eateth Me”). Thus He is present whole and entire. Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, both under the appearance of bread and of wine, otherwise we could not “be guilty of the body and blood” if we only eat or if we only drink.

Communion Of The Chalice Is Not Necessary

The little word “or” (which the reformers changed deliberately to “and” for this very reason) also shows that the people in Saint Paul’s days did sometimes receive Holy Communion under one kind and not always both. It is obvious that if you believe in the Real Presence of the Living Christ, Holy Communion under the appearance of the bread only, as given in the Catholic Church, must be all sufficing. Wexiannot do more than receive Christ and, as we have seen already (chapter 8), the reason for the two consecrations, of the bread and of the wine, is to show forth the shedding of Christ’s Blood in mystic form for the renewal of the sacrifice of Calvary in the sacrifice of the Holy Eucharist.

Transubstantiation

The only adequate explanation of the Real Presence in theological language is by transubstantiation. Not that this can explain the mystery, but it smoothes out the apparent contradictions and indicates where the explanation hes. Underlying the outward appearances of a thing there is its reality or substance. The appearances, or accidents, may all change in course of time and yet the thing retains its identity by the fact that the substance does not change. The infinite power of God could reverse this common and natural process of varying accidents and stable substance, by changing the substance while keeping the accidents stable. In this case the thing would still appear to our five senses the same, but would have changed its reality and become substantially something else, so that, even though what Christ held in His hands still looked like bread. He could truly and exactly say, “This is My Body.”

This substantial presence of Christ’s living self will not be bound by the same laws and limitations of time and space as is matter clothed in its accidents. Hence it is not absurd to say that the almighty power of God could make the substance of Christ’s Body present in its entirety in every host and every particle of the hosts in the whole world. But as the Living Christ cannot be divided, where His Body is truly and substantially present, there must the whole Living Christ, God and man, be present.

Conditions For Worthy Holy Communion

Before anyone dare to receive the All-holy in Communion, he must “prove himself” (1st Corinthians 11:28) lest he be unworthy, and, in the words of Saint Paul, becomes “guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.” The first and most important condition for worthiness is that our soul is free from mortal sin and so united to God in love and friendship. It would be a grave sacrilege to receive Holy Communion in a state of mortal sin, as it would also be to approach the Banquet of the Lord in disobedience to the laws of His Church.

The Communion Fast

For many centuries, because of such abuses as those described by Saint Paul in the Epistle to the Corinthians (11:18-22), and as an act of reverence to our Divine Lord, the Church has commanded that Holy Communion must be the first food or drink to pass our lips on the days when we receive the Blessed Sacrament. This law of fasting from midnight is a grave one and cannot be lightly dispensed, and is, moreover, broken by even small quantities of food or drink. In the case of danger of death from any cause, danger of desecration of the Sacred Host, or when a dispensation is granted for sickness or other reason. Holy Communion may be received not fasting. An Instruction issued on January 16th, 1953, now permits plain water at any time before Holy Communion. Dispensation is also granted for non-alcoholic drink, but not solid food, and for properly prescribed medicines, to the sick and for various grave causes such as the long distance from the nearest church, laborious work before going the Holy Communion, night work, nursing, etc. This dispensation may not be presumed without the approval of a confessor. This can be given once and for all as long as the grave cause persists.


MLA Citation

  • Father Herbert C Fincham. “How We Are Saved”. The Catholic Postal Course, 1951. CatholicSaints.Info. 12 April 2016. Web. 11 December 2016. <>