At Wednesday's general audience, Pope Francis said our participation in the Holy Eucharist at Mass is not a merely spiritual communion, but a sacramental one, uniting us to Christ and his Church.
“The celebration of the Mass… is ordered to sacramental Communion. It is not a spiritual communion. No, [it is] a sacramental communion,” he said March 21.
“While it unites us to Christ, tearing us from our selfishness, Communion opens and unites us to all those who are one in Him. Here is the wonder of Communion: we become what we receive!”
Pope Francis continued his catechesis on the Mass by outlining and explaining the second part of the Communion Rite in light of the passage from the Gospel of John where Jesus says: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”
When we receive Holy Communion, we must let ourselves be changed, he said, because as St. Augustine said, “every time we approach the Eucharist, we are transformed into Jesus.”
“As bread and wine are converted into the Body and Blood of the Lord, so those who receive them with faith are transformed into a living Eucharist,” Francis continued, explaining the parts of the Mass.
After the Sign of Peace, the priest holds up the consecrated host and says: “Blessed are the guests at the Lord's Supper: here is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.”
These words are inspired by a passage from the Book of Revelation: “Blessed are those who have been called to the wedding feast of the Lamb,” he said.
“This invitation calls us to experience the intimate union with Christ, source of joy and holiness. It is an invitation that rejoices and at the same time leads to an examination of conscience illuminated by faith.”
“If on the one hand, in fact, we see the distance that separates us from the holiness of Christ, on the other we believe that his Blood is ‘shed for the remission of sins.’”
As an aside, Francis reminded Christians that they have already been pardoned through the grace bestowed at their baptism and are forgiven again every time they approach the Sacrament of Penance, because “Jesus forgives us always,” he said.
Repeating a favorite phrase, he emphasized that “Jesus does not tire of forgiving us, it is we who tire of asking for forgiveness.”
The Pope also quoted St. Ambrose, who, thinking of the salvific power of the blood of Christ, said: “I who always sin, must always have the remedy.”
With the same faith, Francis said, we also turn our gaze to the Lamb of God, praying to him with the words: “O Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”
This is the point in the Mass where we go up to receive the Eucharist, which is “a meeting with Jesus,” he said.
He also explained that though the entirety of Christ is present under each of the two species of the Eucharist, both Body and Blood, the Church believes that the “Eucharistic banquet is expressed with greater fullness if Holy Communion is made under the two species.”
He also noted Church teaching that the faithful may receive communion either “standing up with devotion, or kneeling,” as determined by the local bishops’ conference, and that the faithful receive “the sacrament in the mouth or, where it is allowed, on the hand, as preferred.”
After receiving the Eucharist, to help acknowledge the gift, the Pope recommended spending time in silent prayer, or the singing of a psalm or hymn of praise.
The Eucharistic Liturgy concludes with the prayer after communion, where the priest “turns to God to thank him for making us his guests and to ask that what has been received transforms our life.”
He noted the significance of the final prayer for the Mass of the day, Wednesday of the fifth week of Lent: “We ask the Lord that ‘participation in his sacrament should be for us the medicine of salvation, heal us from evil and confirm us in his friendship.’”