Holy Communion Is for Sinners Not for Saints

The Mass is one important aspect of Catholicism central to every Catholic both those who are far from the church, as well as those who are committed church goers. The Mass is the source and summit of the Catholic life. It brings people together; it is the language of love and unity which most Catholics understand wherever they go. The Mass is the most unifying spiritual reality in Catholicism. Every Catholic remembers with joy and nostalgia the day they received First Holy Communion. It is at Mass that most Catholics meet God and the community. The primary means through which most Catholics identify with Catholicism is the Mass in their respective parishes. Mass is indeed a symphony of creation for most Catholics because it is here that they find the unity between all creation and all humanity so visibly present in the rituals, the symbols of worship and the actions of the celebrants and the people.

At Mass, our differences melt away as all Catholics are unified in prayer, worship, and visible signs and expressions of love and community. The Mass is truly the most visible and real source of unity for Catholics. Catholics and most Christians believe that the Mass was given to Christianity and entire humanity as a symbol of love by the founder of Christianity, Jesus Christ. Most Catholics do not care how Jesus Christ is present in the elements. That argument is largely passé now because most Catholics believe intuitively that what they receive is the true body of Christ and that there is something divine and greater than the ordinary in the bread and wine which they receive at Mass. I think that the language of love and inclusion and the spiritual and symbolic gifts of the Mass can help renew Catholicism and bring healing in the Church.

This is why it is painful that this greatest gift of unity and love has become one of the instruments for exclusion and divisive debates in our churches and at the ongoing synod in Rome. Holy Communion is not a trophy which is given to those who have lived well or those who have run the race of life very well. Holy Communion is a remedy for sin; food for the journey of life. Before receiving communion all Catholics say this prayer: "Lord I am not worthy that you should enter my roof but only say the Word and my soul shall be healed." It is the prayer of all sinners before God. It is a prayer of the humble which affirms clearly that no Christian is righteous before God and that we are all in need of God's mercy. Even the words of consecration attributed to Jesus speak of 'the bloodshed for sinners' 'the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.' I have always wondered why we got ourselves into the business of determining who is worthy of receiving Jesus and those who are not. As Pope Francis said: "Who am I to judge?" Or as Jesus said: "He who is without sin should be the first to cast the stone on the sinner."

When we look at the historical context of Paul who wrote about 'receiving the body of Christ unworthily', and the context of Justin who justified the exclusion of people from communion if 'they do not believe what we believe' we might see the wide gap between their teaching on exclusion from communion and what we are practicing today. One is not saying that the communion line should be a drive-through, but I am calling for a deeper and broader understanding of what Holy Communion does in the life of people, what it symbolizes for the Church and God's people in the light of the intention of the Lord Jesus in instituting this Holy Meal. Jesus did not intend the Eucharist to be a food for saints and perfect people; otherwise he would not institute it for people here on earth where as St Augustine says, 'all things human is imperfect.' Jesus intended Holy Communion to be a food for the community and a remedy for sinners, a help for those on pilgrimage to God's house, and a healing for those bruised by sins, evils, wounds and the burdens of life.

The one who allowed the woman with the flow of blood to touch his garment, who allowed the public sinner to touch his body and wash his feet with her tears, will surely want the divorced and remarried, the prostitutes, the same-sex person who is looking for mercy, healing, grace and unconditional and unmerited divine love to come to his communion table. Jesus came to save sinners as St Paul said and if each of us looked into the depths of our souls we will only realize how far we are from the ideals of the Lord Jesus. None of us is indeed qualified to touch God or to receive Jesus in Holy Communion. But God accepts us out of love. In this light, none of us should judge anyone or be the dedicated guardians of other people's consciences or lay a heavy spiritual burden on their souls by excluding them from this food from heaven. Jesus did not exclude anyone from this meal neither should the Church if she wishes to follow the examples of Jesus.

I am convinced that we created human beings do not contaminate God by touching God in communion. When God comes in contact with me and when I come in contact with God it is not what is human and sinful in me which affect God's holiness. Quite to the contrary, it is God's holiness, grace and power which change what is sinful and human in a mysterious exchange governed by compassion and mercy. Indeed, God takes away our sin if we come to God with a sincere, contrite and open heart. This is what Christianity is about!