Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
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Communion as an act of faith
by Father Jan Larson
(From the April 30, 2009 edition of the Inland Register)
Faith is not always easy to define. Sometimes it is understood to be the ability to believe in something that we do not see. To “take it on faith” is a saying we have that describes this kind of faith.
Others may describe faith as one’s ability to recite a creed and to firmly believe every statement in that creed. Many, if not most, theologians would go even further in their definition. They would tend to define faith as the quality of our response to the many ways that God reveals the holy Presence to us. This would include our ability to believe without seeing, and to be able to affirm the statements found in written creeds and catechisms.
But God’s revelation is much broader. So to the degree that we are open to discovering God’s presence in every person and in every sector of creation, to that degree we might be said to have faith. To the degree that we close off God’s revelation, or to the degree that we have not yet discovered the many ways God is present to us, to that degree our faith is lacking or imperfect.
A few years ago our United States bishops published norms for the reception of Holy Communion under both kinds. In their document, the bishops included a section called “Communion as an act of faith.” Here they affirm that “Christ’s presence in the Eucharist challenges human understanding, logic, and ultimately reason. His presence cannot be known by the senses, but only through faith... The act of Communion, therefore, is also an act of faith. For when the minister says, ‘The Body of Christ’ or ‘The Blood of Christ,’ the communicant’s ‘Amen’ is a profession in the presence of the saving Christ, body and blood, soul and divinity, who now gives life to the believer.”
The bishops make another very important point. They say that the faith that allows us to experience the presence of Christ in the Eucharist is a faith that is continually deepened through that communion which takes place between the Lord and his faithful in the very act of the celebration of the Eucharist. In other words, if we define faith as fundamentally a response to God as he reveals his mysterious presence to us, then that response of ours is deepened every time we gather to celebrate the Eucharist and receive Communion.
This begins to explain why Catholic Christians insist on weekly celebration of the Eucharist. We don’t do it simply because there is a rule that we should do so. Rather, the rule is there because the value of the weekly celebration of the Eucharist is simply too important to bypass.
The Eucharist deepens not only the faith of individual Christians, but the faith of the Church as well. Indeed, it is the celebration of the Eucharist that constitutes the Church, that gives the Church its very identity, so that every time the Eucharist is celebrated, the Church of Christ becomes more manifest – many people gathered more intimately together under the head of the Church, who is Christ.
The bishops aptly quote a passage from the Didache, probably the very first Christian Eucharistic prayer: “As grain once scattered on the hillsides was in this broken bread made one, so from all lands your church be gathered into your kingdom by your Son.”
(Father Larson is a priest of and liturgical consultant for the Archdiocese of Seattle.)