Understanding the Liturgy: Preparation for Communion

Understanding the Liturgy: Preparation for Communion

To be ready for receiving the body and the blood of the Lord, one has to be clean, both in body and soul. To be clean in body, we wash and put on clean clothes. To be clean in spirit, one has to wash away his sins through the Sacra­ment of Repentance, and put on the clean gar­ments which he receives through the absolution. When the prodigal son returned to his father’s house, he had to confess and put on clean clothes before being admitted to the feast (Lk 15:21_23).

The figures of confession:

This washing away of sins through the Sacrament of confession is symbolically illustrated in the Lord’s washing of the disciples’ feet (Jn 13:4_10). The Lord started washing the dis­ciples’ feet, and when Peter’s turn comes he ob­jects out of reverence to the Lord. The Lord tells Peter “what I do thou knowest not now but thou shalt know hereafter.” Here the Lord ex­plains to Peter that the action has some mystical aspect that he will understand later (when he receives the Holy Spirit on Pentecost day). Peter nevertheless insists: “Thou shalt never wash my feet”. The Lord answers him: “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.”

Peter, realizing that this mystical washing of the feet is essential to his eternal life, now asks the Lord to wash not only his feet, but also his hands and head. But the Lord answers: “He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet”

The Lord’s action of washing the feet of His dis­ciples is symbolic of the washing away of sins through the Sacrament of Confession. The Lord emphasizes to us that it is not optional, since if He doesn’t “wash our feet,” we shall have no part with Him.

The Lord explains the relation of the Sacrament of Baptism to the Sacrament of Confession by saying that he that is washed (baptized) needs not to be re_baptized if he sins, for baptism is done only once, but only to “wash his feet” that is to say, wash away his every day sins through the Sacrament of Confession. Saint Cyril of Alexandria explains this washing the feet as healing the heel wounded by the serpent in his “Sermon on the Mystical Sup­per,”

I have placed enmity and cursing between the deceiver and the deceived, a wariness of head and heel (Gn 3:15). And now I arm the wounded heel against the serpent, that it no more limp away from the straight path.

Communion without confession:

The Bible has a lot to say about approaching the Sacrament of Communion without washing away our sins through confession. Saint Paul tells us, “Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily , shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine him­self … for he that eateth and drinketh unwor­thily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself not discerning the Lord’s body” (1Cor 11:27_29).

The Gospel according to St. John tells us of such a man that approached the mystical Supper with unrepented evil in his heart. Judas Is­cariot, was there sitting with the Lord and the rest of the disciples with his heart set on betray­ing his Lord. The Lord gives him a chance to repent when he says: “verily verily I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me.” And when John asks Him, who would betray Him, the Lord answers “He it is, to whom I shall give a sop, when I have dipped it.” Judas, totally unrepented, accepts the dipped sop, “and having received the sop he went immediately and it was night” (Jn 13:26_30). The words, “it was night,” are symbolic of the outer darkness that is prepared for him who is “not discerning the Lord’s body”.

In one of the Lord’s parables, the King has a wedding feast for his Son. The feast here sym­bolizes the Eucharistic feast, the table of the Lord. “And when the King came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment, And he saith unto him, ‘Friend, how camest thou hither not having a wedding garment?’ and he was speechless. Then said the King to the servants, bind him hand and feet, and take him away, and cast him into the outer darkness, there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Mat 22:11_13).

Before coming to partake of the holy Sacra­ment, We have to put on the wedding garment, the state of heavenly purity that we first ob­tained when we were baptized and the same we get when we confess and get the absolution.

Saint Paul in warning the Corinthians of the perils of approaching the mysteries unworthily, adds, “For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.” (1Cor 11:30_31).

Ancient writers of the Church emphasize the necessity of confession before communion,

If you approach with purity, you come unto salvation; but if you approach with a guilty conscience, you come unto punishment and retribution. [111]

On every Lord’s Day, after you have assembled, break the bread and give thanks, first confessing your sins, that your sacrifice may be pure. [112]

Institution of the Sacrament:

The Lord instituted this Sacrament of repen­tance when, after His resurrection, while speak­ing to His holy disciples “He breathed on them and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain they are retained.” (Jn 20:22,23).

In doing this, the Lord gave His disciples a spe­cial grace, and a commission, to accept confes­sion from the faithful. This was only granted to the disciples and they passed on the same to the bishops and the priests

Confession in the Old Testament:

In the Old Testament, people had to confess their sins and bring a sin offering to the priests. “And it shall be, when he shall be guilty in one of these things, that he shall confess that he hath sinned in that thing. And he shall bring his trespass offering unto the Lord for his sin which he hath sinned … and the priest shall make an atonement for him concerning his sin” (Lev 5:5,6). The priest would then take his sacrificial animal (a lamb or a goat).. “And he shall lay his hand upon the head of the sin offering, and slay it for a sin offering” (Lev 4:33). This sacrifice of sin was a figure of “the Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), who made Himself a sacrifice of sin on our behalf (Isa 43:10).

This ritual has a parallel in our Eucharistic rite. In the Offertory, when the priest has chosen the “Lamb” (the bread which will become the body of Christ), he then lays his hand on the chosen lamb and says inaudibly, “grant O Lord, that this, our sacrifice, be acceptable unto Thee, for my sins and the ignorances of Thy people”

In the New Testament, the Sacrament has re­placed its Old Testament figure. The sinner would come to the priest confessing his sins, and the priest shall make an atone­ment for him concerning his sin: (prays that God forgives him, via the absolution). Then, at the Eucharist, the priest lays his hands on the Lamb (the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world), and offers Him as our bloodless sacrifice of the New Testament, for which the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament were a mere figure.

Confession in the New Testament:

Saint John tells us “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9).

Saint James also exhorts us, “confess your sins, one to another.” He means one human being (the sinner), to another human being (the priest), and not only to God, a temptation that the devil often suggests to us, to our peril.

How to confess:

When we fall into sin, our conscience rebukes us. The first thing we should do is to raise our hearts to God acknowledging our sin and asking for God’s help in overcoming our weakness. This is the first step and is a temporary confes­sion that is complete only when we go to our father in confession. Before we sit to confess, we should prepare ourselves, recalling all the sins for which we have offered this initial repen­tance. We humbly acknowledge our sins in the presence of the priest, condemning ourselves rather than making excuses. after listening to the advise of our father in confession, we should bow our heads to receive the absolution. It is a good practice to memorize Psalm 51 (Have mercy upon me, O God …), and recite it inaudibly while you receive the absolution.

Fasting before communion:

This is an old tradition in the Church.

It was a part of this mystery that the disciples first did not receive the Body and the Blood of the Lord fasting. But now it is received through the entire Church by those who are fasting. For thus it was pleasing to the Holy Spirit, through the Apostles, that in honour of so great a Sacrament the Lord’s Body should enter into the mouth of a Christian before other foods, and on that account this practice is observed throughout the whole world. [113]