Preparing for Christmas Communion
by Rev. Albert F. Ernst, O.S.F.S.
Today’s gospel speaks about St. John the Baptist. He, as we all know had a very special vocation. It was his calling to prepare the way for the entrance of Christ into the lives of the people of his day. Of all creatures, God selected him to do this task, and he carried it out in a noble and exemplary manner. This we know because of the high compliment paid to him by our Lord. From the lips of Christ he received the greatest praise that man could receive. “Amen I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen a greater than John the Baptist. . .” (Matthew 11:11) A great man indeed.
And yet, in today's gospel, St. John the Baptist declares that he is not even worthy to loosen the strap of our Lord’s sandal or as we might express it, he is not even worthy to untie his shoe. Does this thought not remind us of the remark made by the centurion to our Lord? “I am not worthy that thou should enter under my roof, speak but the word and my servant shall be healed?”
Because of the simplicity and marvelous fitness of this expression, Holy Mother Church makes use of it in her prayer before the reception of Holy Communion: “Lord, I am not worthy that Thou should enter under my roof; speak but the word and my soul shall be healed.” Actually there is one small change, the word, “servant” becomes, “soul.”
During the Advent season we are preparing for the coming of the Christ Child at Christmas. This is a liturgical coming that commemorates His coming into the world on the first Christmas Day. I hope, however, that Christ will come to us at Christmas not only commemoratively but in Holy Communion as well. Advent, therefore, must in part be a period of preparation for our Christmas Communion. We too, like John the Baptist, must realize our unworthiness and make efforts to make ourselves more worthy. Our Lord Himself taught us this lesson. At the last supper before He instituted the Holy Eucharist and before He gave the apostles His own body and blood for the first time in Holy Communion, He washed their feet. This washing of feet symbolizes the need of cleansing before a person may dare to receive this great sacrament.
How shall we prepare for our Lord to come in our Christmas Communion? By doing these things.
First, we must realize what we are doing. It is God Himself who is coming to be intimately united to us and to be our spiritual nourishment. That is why He comes to us under the forms of bread and wine, which are the age-old basic elements of mans’ nourishment. We must, however, as St. Paul tells us, “discern” (recognize) the body and blood of Christ under these forms. When we pause to realize just who it is that we are receiving, then we shall “discern” the body and blood of Christ and our communions will not be a matter of routine.
Second, we must have peace and charity in our hearts. This point is very important. So important in fact, that our Lord Himself thought it wise to give us His viewpoint on it. And He does so by way of serious warning, telling us that when we come to the altar to make our gift, if we remember that we have anything against our brother (neighbor), we should leave the altar and first be reconciled with him. Our Lord intended these words for us, especially when we receive Him in Holy Communion, the sacrament of peace and reconciliation. We receive it unworthily if we approach the altar with bitterness, hatred, envy or bad feelings in our hearts toward anyone.
Third, we must examine our conscience in order to make sure that there is no mortal sin present. If there is, the remedy is at hand: repent and go to confession. We should make use of frequent confession as we make use of frequent showers or baths. The purpose is the same, a cleansing.
Fourth, prepare well for your Christmas Communion, and for every Holy Communion. The evening before you receive, make many ejaculations of love and retire a little earlier, so you may rise sooner in the morning. Should you awake in the night, raise your heart to God immediately and make some ardent aspirations (acts of love) by which your soul may be adorned for the reception of her Divine Spouse. God being awake while you were asleep, has prepared a thousand graces and favors for you, if on your part you are disposed to receive them. In the morning, rise up with great joy for the happiness you hope for in union with God. Then at Mass go with a great but humble confidence to receive this heavenly food which nourishes your soul for immortality. You must receive through love that which love alone caused to be given to you. You cannot consider our Savior in an action more full of love or more tender than this. After you have received Him, excite your heart to do homage to the King of your salvation. Converse with Him concerning your internal affairs. Consider that He has taken up His abode within you for your happiness. In short, make Him as welcome as you possibly can and conduct yourself in such a manner that it is obvious by your actions that God is with you.
The world today needs Christ badly. It needs the peace and reconciliation that only He can establish among men. We have at hand a powerful means of helping to bring about this happy result. Do not wait for others such as diplomats, statesmen and generals to end strife in the world. Begin now by preparing worthily to receive this great Sacrament of peace and reconciliation and you will do much more to bring about a true and lasting peace than those who try to make peace with hatred in their hearts.
This is an excellent way to prepare yourself for your Christmas Communion. There is only one better. Go next Sunday as well, for one seldom performs an action well which he only occasionally practices. They laid Him in a manger, in a stable, because there was no room for Him in the Inn.