"Behold your king." St. John, 19:15.
Picture this scene: No-man's Land in World War One. A young soldier and a Catholic chaplain are lying side by side, fatally wounded. The boy knows his end is near. With all his effort he cries: "Father, give me absolution and Holy Communion."
With piercing pain the priest pronounces the words of pardon and takes from his inside pocket the pyx. But he is too feeble to crawl over or to reach the boy. He holds out the Host as far as he can, but it falls from his trembling fingers, falls on the shattered leg of the soldier, falls into a pool of fresh, young blood. The White Host is tinged a deep red. "Take it, son, and give yourself Holy Communion."
With faltering fingers the fallen hero places the Host on his quivering tongue. His eyes close for a moment. Then comes his last request: "Please tell my mother that I received Communion before I died."
What a Communion. What love and devotion. An ideal, perfect Communion, for in every Communion there should be two hosts, the Communion Host and the receiver's host, the sacrifice of Christ and the sacrfiice of the communicant.
To sacrifice for Christ we don't need bullets and bloodshed. There are braver battlefields. To make a complete Communion we must offer ourselves to Christ when He offers Himself to us.
Our sacrifice is to make ourselves as worthy as possible of receiving Him. When Jesus died for us on that cross He gave us the perfect example of how to prepare for Communion. His dispositions there should be our dispositions as we receive Him.
1. Prepare your soul; prepare your body. The soul comes first. To receive Holy Communion one must be in the state of grace, that is, free from mortal sin. A soul in mortal sin is dead. It is just as "impossible for a dead soul to receive the Food of life, as it is for a dead body to receive physical food.
2. Try to free yourself from venial sin as much as possible.
3. Just before receiving stir up your faith. Recall our Lord's words: "This is my body. . . this is my blood." Tell our Lord that you believe you are going to receive His true Body and Blood.
4. Be humble. Pray with St. Francis of Assisi: "O God, who art Thou, and who am I?" God is everything; you are nothing. That is why the priest repeats three times as he holds up the Host at Communion time: "O Lord, I am not worthy..."
5. Although you are in the state of grace, tell God again that you are truly sorry for ever having offended Him, because He is so good, so worthy of our love.
6. Tell our Lord that you love Him. You don't have to feel this love. You do have to will it and wish it. You want to love Him. You do love Him.
Where can we find a better help to express these dispositions than by looking upon Christ on the cross? When we see Him dying for our sins, we will want to be free from all sin. When we see His trust in His heavenly Father, we will spur our faith and trust. When we see His humility, we will realize that we are nothing and that God is everything. And oh, how love burns brightly in our hearts when we see love going to its limits there on the cross. Desire comes quickly on the heels of love. We want to be with, we want to be one with, Love Itself hanging there on that cruel tree.
7. We must also prepare the body for Communion, mainly by fasting according to the liturgical requirements in force, that is, by not taking a crumb to eat or a drop to drink for that period before Holy Communion, out of reverence for the Blessed Sacrament. The little sacrifice this demands will become easy, when we remember that the Body hanging there had neither food nor drink since the previous evening.
8. When we receive we must be clean and modest in our dress and behavior. Fold your hands and keep your eyes down as much as possible. Be quiet and recollected. Think. Pray. Love. It is the greatest moment in your life. Christ gives Himself to you. You give yourself to Christ.
We might mention a few exceptions to the fast before Communion. Even though not fasting, a Catholic in danger of death may receive Holy Communion. Those sick in bed for a month with no certain hope of recovery may with the consent of their confessor receive Holy Communion after taking medicine or liquid food. A special dispensation can be obtained through the bishop for those whose physical or stomach condition makes it gravely inconvenient to fast. In every case, ask your priest.
Yes, "Behold your king." Those words of Pilate fell on the deaf ears of those who hated Christ. Today they fall on the eager ears of those who love our Lord.
Behold Him dying for sin; do all you can to keep away from sin. Behold your King, humble and loving; be humble, be loving. Behold His body wracked with pain; make the sacrifice of preparing properly for Holy Communion.
Behold Him giving Himself to death out of love for you. Lovingly prepare for Him, lovingly receive Him. Like that dying soldier, give yourself to Christ as He gave Himself to you.
Behold your king, here on the cross, there on the altar, there in your heart. Adore Him, thank Him, beg His blessing, ask His pardon. Behold Him and love Him.
Adapted from Talks on the Sacraments
by Fr. Arthur Tonne,OFM (© 1947)