Every day, every Sunday, every Holy Day - whenever we as Catholics attend Mass and have an opportunity to receive Holy Communion, we should be aware of our spiritual condition and act accordingly. Yet some people wonder if they can or should attend Mass at all if they are aware of mortal sin. They have been quite literally taught that receiving Holy Communion is the highest form of "participation" and therefore they MUST do this.
Perhaps that wasn't what was truly being taught, but that is what they heard and the impression they continue to hold. Why attend Mass if one cannot go forward for Holy Communion? Few people remain in the pew in an average Catholic Church (I hear the Latino parishes tell a different story - most DON'T receive).
It is OWED to me. I have a RIGHT to it. Very quickly that owing and "right" become a "requirement" or the entire event is meaningless. We are a society of "I must receive something or it's not worth my time."
The problem is this: Grace is conferred in ways that are hidden. One can receive Holy Communion in a state of grace but not benefit at all if one is not really open to the Grace available. Grace is received according to the disposition of the recipient. Not my rules; those are God's own observations and the reality of the spiritual life. If we aren't open, we may receive Our Lord, but He will dissipate with no effect if we refuse to receive what He has to offer.
Today I attended Mass, the Feast of All Saints, and admit it was a temptation to not attend even though it is a Holy Day of Obligation. I "felt" unworthy. I "wondered" deep within if I should enter the presence of the Almighty if I could not receive Him. Scandalized by my own interior wanderings, the thought barely crossed my mind and I banished it back to Hell from whence it had come. I was not able to make it to Confession and knew I should not receive Our Lord. I also knew that it was even MORE important that I attend Mass, where I could make a Spiritual Communion while remaining in my pew, praying heartily for my own conversion to a life of holiness, to overcome my sin by leaning even more heavily upon God.
There have been several occasions in which I have had had to abstain from Holy Communion, whether because of mortal sin or simply my disposition at that moment. Always, I meditate on what it is like to be out of communion with the Church, to be separated from God. It is just as important to recognize what we may suffer eternally as it is to reflect upon and hope for eternal beatitude - both contain deep spiritual messages we need to ponder intensely.
Always, though, it seems that God reaches out to me, no matter what my state. It seems that whenever I abstain from Holy Communion, there is a friend in the pew in front or behind me, or even in my same pew. At some point, God shines through them, reminding me that although perhaps my sin has cut me off from Holy Communion, I am not abandoned. A friend passes by and where they would normally do so without a word or signal, on those days I abstain, even if they don't know that I am doing so, they reach out to squeeze my hand.
This evening was no exception. Tonight, I learned during the Sign of Peace that a few friends were seated behind me and one actually asked me quickly, "How have you been?" as we exchanged the Sign. Another couple friends, as they skirted past me to go forward, tapped me on the shoulder; a sign of encouragement.
Tonight, instead of a sense of dejection, of separation, I made my Spiritual Communion with a sense of profound joy. I have been claimed by Christ, and even though I separated myself through sin, I have truly repented of that sin and attended Mass to worship God with my Catholic family. As a Catholic, I am not exiled because I am weak. I am simply aware of my own impurity at the Wedding Feast of Our Lord.
It sends a signal to others that I truly BELIEVE that this is the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ. Even we who cannot receive due to sin, disposition, irregular canonical issues, or even being non-Catholic, reveal Truth. Today, with my body and soul I still gave Glory to God by refusing to partake, for I know that He is Truly Present and my reception would have profaned what is Most Holy.
There are times where I have stepped over others while going forward to receive and I always stop myself from wondering; are they not Catholic? Have they not been to Confession? Are they angry with me for tripping over their children while I tried to get to "my" pew?
The answers to the questions I suppress in my mind are not important. The strongest message I receive from those in the pew during Communion is this: they remain there because Jesus Christ is Truly and Substantially Present in the Holy Eucharist. Their place reveals more than the lines going forward. I see more reverence in those who abstain than in those who receive.
I do not mean to say that my own abstinence today is something to be glorified; it's not. I am a sinner and I COULD NOT receive, and for that, I am ashamed. I am sorry, Jesus, for my sin. I am sorry that I lacked the proper disposition to receive You.
That said, it is only that a lesson came home to me today; about the volumes spoken in silence and mystery, about the witness of Faith given by the weakest members of the Church on any given day, who testify not by going forward, but by taking the last place.
It is they who give me the courage and instill in me the virtue to honor Christ more perfectly, especially when I have sinned.