crime is committed by three classes of persons: First, by all
those who are in mortal sin and who go to Communion after having been
refused absolution; secondly, by all those who have willfully concealed
a mortal sin in confession; and finally, by all those who, though they
have confessed all their mortal sins, have nevertheless no true sorrow
for them or no firm purpose of amendment. To the latter class belong
all those that do not intend to keep the promises they made in
Confession; who are not willing to be reconciled to those who have
offended them; those who will not restore the property or good name of
their neighbor; those who are not fully determined to keep away from
taverns, grog-shops, and the like, that have proved occasions of sin to
them; and finally, all those that will not break off sinful and
Now, if we consider the actual state of the world, we cannot help fearing that there are many Christians who make bad Communions. The Catholic priest, therefore, is in duty bound to warn the faithful against this grievous crime. Even in the very first ages of Christianity, in those days of primitive fervor, St. Paul was compelled to warn the Christians of Corinth against this heinous crime, and the few energetic words he addressed to them on that occasion comprehend all that may be said on the subject.
"Whosoever," he says, "shall eat this bread or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the Body and Blood of the Lord." And again: "He that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment to himself." We will follow the Apostle, both in the choice of arguments and the order of presenting them. We will consider in the first place the heinousness of the crime which they commit who receive Communion sacrilegiously, and in the second place, the terrible chastisement that awaits them. St. Paul paints this crime in the most fearful colors: "Whosoever," he says, "shall eat this bread or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the Body and Blood of the Lord." By this he evidently asserts that whoever receives the Blessed Eucharist unworthily is, in a certain sense, guilty of the murder of Our Lord. This may, at first sight, appear extravagant. It may seem harsh to class the sacrilegious communicant with the enemies of Our Lord, with those wicked men who put Him to death; but a little reflection will show how closely he resembles them.
While our Blessed Lord was yet living on earth, He had many cruel enemies. There were, however, three that persecuted Him with special malice. They were Herod, Judas, and the Jewish priests and people. In Herod we see cruel violence towards an innocent and unoffending babe; in Judas we see base treachery and ingratitude to a friend and benefactor; and in the Jewish priests we behold outrage, insolence and contempt of the Anointed Messias, the true Son of God.
Now we shall find all these crimes united in a sacrilegious Communion. "Go," said Herod to the Wise Men; "go and search diligently after the Child, and when you have found Him, bring me word that I also may come and adore Him." These words seem full of faith and reverence, but under this outward show of reverence, Herod concealed a wicked and cruel design. He was determined to destroy the new-born King of the Jews, and when he found that he had been disappointed, in his fury he slew all the children of Bethlehem and the neighborhood thereof.
He did not, however, succeed in destroying the Divine Infant. St. Joseph, in obedience to the command of God, carried Him into Egypt. There he remained until the Angel of the Lord appeared again to St. Joseph and said: "Take the Child and His Mother, and return to thy country, for those that sought the life of the Child are dead." O Angel of God! What dost thou say? They are dead who sought the life of the Child? Ah! Would that it were true!
Are not those wicked Christians who outrage their Saviour in the true Bethlehem, the house of bread, that is to say, at the very foot of the Sacred Altar, are they not so many Herods? They present themselves at the table of the Lord in the attitude of adoration; they strike their breasts as if in sorrow for their sins; they fold their hands as if in deep devotion, and they open those lips defiled by sin; they receive the innocent Lamb of God and make Him a prisoner in a sinful and polluted heart. Mortal sin is so opposed to God that, if He could die, sin would destroy Him.
To receive Our Lord into a heart that is defiled by mortal sin is to bring Him into the power of His greatest enemy; it is to treat Him with even greater cruelty than Herod. Herod was an unbelieving Jew, but those who receive Him unworthily are Christians and Catholics. They know Whom they maltreat; Herod did not know Him. Our Lord does not work a miracle to deliver Himself out of their hands, as He did to free Himself from the hands of Herod; He does not send an Angel to inform the priest who, among the throng that presses to the altar, are in the state of mortal sin; and even if He were to do so, the priest is not at liberty to make use of this knowledge-----at least not unless the criminal should be a notorious sinner-----so tender is Jesus of the reputation of those very men who are heaping outrages upon Him. He does not desert the consecrated species the moment He is laid upon the tongue of the sacrilegious communicant. No, true to His Own Institution, He remains and enters unresistingly even the basest heart! Oh what must be His feelings at such a moment? When Jesus was struck by that infamous servant in the judgment hall, in presence of Annas, He said: "If I have spoken ill, give testimony of the evil; but if well, why strikest thou Me?" It is thus too that Jesus seems to address the unworthy communicant: He says, "What have I done, O Christian soul, that thou shouldst treat Me so cruelly? Was it not enough that I had to flee from the rage of tyrants when I was on earth? Wilt thou too lift up thy hand against Me? Ah! From them I fled, but from thee I cannot flee. Strike then, I will not avoid the blow. Strike! It shall fall upon My heart, for My love has bound My hands. I do not resist."
In the early ages of the Church, distorted accounts of the Eucharistic Sacrifice having reached the ears I of the heathens, they accused the Christians of the horrid custom of murdering, in their assemblies, an infant whom they adored as their God. This was a base calumny, but alas, the accusation is but too true of those wicked monsters who are guilty of an unworthy Communion!
Yes, the unworthy communicant is another Herod, but he is even worse; he is a second Judas. All men abhor Judas Iscariot; his very name is held in execration. No Christian would bear the name of Judas. The Church seems unwilling to pronounce it, even when belonging to another Apostle. In the canon of the Mass, when the names of the twelve Apostles occur, she designates the Apostle who was named Judas Thaddeus simply as Thaddeus, omitting the title which he shared in common with the apostate traitor.
Now, whence comes this deep, universal detestation of Judas? What crime has he committed, thus to make him an object of horror to all men? Ah, you know it already! Judas was a traitor! He was guilty of the blackest ingratitude, the basest treachery. He professed to be the friend of Jesus; he had received innumerable benefits from Him; he had been treated as an intimate friend, and he used the knowledge which this intimacy gave him to betray his Master into the hands of His enemies. He came into the garden where Our Lord was praying with His disciples; he gave Him a kiss, the usual salutation between Our Lord and His Apostles, and said: "Hail Rabbi!" Immediately, the armed multitude he had brought with him seized upon Our Lord, bound Him and carried Him captive to the palace of the High Priest.
How touching is the reproach which Christ then made to Judas: "Ah, Judas! Dost thou betray the Son of Man with a kiss?" Our Lord seems to feel the circumstances of His betrayal even more than the betrayal itself. If it had been anyone but Judas, who was one of the Apostles, one whom Jesus had chosen to be a priest and prince of His Church, one whom He had admitted to His most unreserved intimacy; or if it had been done in any other way; if the wretched man had thrown off the mask; if he had openly joined the Jews and Roman soldiers; if he had come out like the rest, sword in hand-----it would have been less bitter. But to come as a friend, to come as a cherished disciple, to come with a kiss-----Oh, this was too much! This was that deep and cruel pang that pierced our Saviour to the heart! It is of this that Our Lord complains by the mouth of the Psalmist: "If my enemy had reviled me, I would indeed have borne it; and if he that hated me had spoken grievous things against me, I would perhaps have hidden myself from him. But thou, a man of my own mind, my guide and my familiar! In the house of God we walked with consent."
But oh how much more justly may Jesus make the same complaint of the sacrilegious communicant? The Holy Eucharist is a pledge of love. In Holy Communion, God lovingly caresses the soul. When St. John reposed in Our Lord's bosom, he did not enjoy so much familiarity with Him as does the soul that receives Him in Holy Communion. We call it "Communion" because it is a union between the soul and God. How horrible then must it be to abuse this Holy Sacrament, to receive it with a traitorous heart! How painful must it be to Our Lord to receive a false caress, to be folded in a sinful embrace, to be brought into the loathsome prison of a sinful heart!
O loving Saviour, how great is the wrong that is done to Thy love! Well has the prophet predicted of Thee: "The wicked have fought against me without a cause. Instead of making me a return for my love, they have only repaid me with evil and hate. They spoke indeed peaceably to me, but they devised guile. Their words were smoother than oil, but they are cruel darts." From the tabernacle I hear Thy outraged heart complain: "Behold, all ye that pass by the way, come and see the wounds with which I have been wounded in the house of my friends; attend and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow!"
The base treachery of Judas, however, was but the prelude to the many outrages that were heaped upon Our Lord by the Jewish priests and people. These too find a parallel in an unworthy Communion. When David had cut off a piece of the mantle of Saul, his royal enemy, his heart smote him because he had "lifted his hand against the anointed of the Lord." Indeed, this feeling was quite natural, for the greatness of an injury depends always on the dignity of the person offended.
Who would not feel more indignant at seeing a parent dishonored than at seeing a stranger? It is related in the life of St. Joseph Calasanctius, that in his old age he was summoned before court on some frivolous charge. He was rudely dragged from the altar; he was hurried' through the public streets bareheaded, under a burning sun, amid the shouts and jeers of the populace. Who could have looked upon the serene face of that hoary-headed old man as he was thus ignominiously dragged along without being moved to tears? How horrible a crime would it be in the eyes of the Catholic world to kill a bishop at the altar, or the Pope upon his throne! Justice would require that such a criminal should be punished with much greater severity than an ordinary murderer. How grievous, then, must have been the crime of those who persecuted Our Lord Himself. Let us read the simple words of Holy Scripture: "He was despised and the most abject of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with infirmity; He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; He was mute as a lamb before His shearers, and He opened not His mouth; He gave His cheek to the striker, and He was filled with reproaches; He was made a derision to the people and their song all the day long; He was cut off from the land of the living."
We feel the deep meaning of those words only when we ask, as did the Eunuch of St. Philip: "Of whom doth the prophet speak?" That face, bruised with blows and defiled with spittle, is the face of God-----that face which is the everlasting brightness of Heaven; those hands, transfixed with nails, are the hands of the Almighty, who in His wisdom laid the foundations of the universe; He who hangs between two malefactors on the accursed tree is the Immaculate Lamb of God, the Eternal Son of the Father.
"Ah!" you exclaim, "here human wickedness has reached its height!" Can there be a greater proof of God's patience than His forbearance at the perpetration of a crime like this? Yes, I will assert that almost every instance of unworthy Communion is even a stronger proof of God's patient endurance. In some respects, the dishonor which is shown Our Lord in an unworthy Communion is far greater than that which was shown Him at His death.
Then indeed He died a death of shame, but it was for the salvation of the world. He offered His soul because He willed it. He was satisfied because He saw the abundant fruit of His labors. But when He is received unworthily in Holy Communion, He is crucified anew, without any compensation and against His will. He is brought as a prisoner into the horrid and filthy dungeon of a sinful heart. He is chained there to passions which He loathes; He is forced to become, as it were, one with the sinner.
Can anything be conceived more horrible than this? Would it not be far better that the Sacred Host should be thrown upon a dunghill, that it should be devoured by an unclean beast than that it should be received into a heart defiled with mortal sin? Most certainly, for in that case Our Lord would suffer no real dishonor. He fills all things and is essentially everywhere. He cannot be sullied except in the heart of the sinner, where He is brought into contact with that which alone is hateful to Him-----sin.
It is related in the annals of the Society of Jesus that a young man who through shame had concealed a mortal sin in Confession had the rashness to receive Holy Communion, but on attempting to swallow the Host, he was seized with such excruciating pains that he was compelled to rush out of the church and to cast forth the Sacred Particle into the filth of the street. After this he felt instantly relieved. Our Lord gave him thereby to understand that the very filth of the street was more acceptable to Him than a heart that is defiled by sin.
Should any amongst us be still unmoved, still callous, grant, O Lord, that we may at least be touched by Thy chastisements! The impious Abiron placed his sacrilegious hand upon the censer, and immediately the earth opened and swallowed him up. The neglectful sons of the high priest Aaron filled their censers with unhallowed fire, and in an instant fire from Heaven killed them. Ophni and Phinees profaned the sacrifice offered to the Lord, and shortly after they fell under the sword of the enemy. Thus did God punish the disobedience of Israel. How then will He punish him who attacks His Own Divine Person, in whose name altars are erected and sacrifices offered? How will He punish him who is guilty of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ? It does not admit of a doubt that severer punishment awaits one who tramples upon the Son of God, profanes the Blood of the Covenant and insults the Spirit of Grace.
The Bethsamites cast a curious glance at the Ark of the Covenant, and immediately the ground was strewn with their dead bodies. Balthasar laid his profane hands upon the sacred vessels, and there suddenly appeared upon the opposite wall the fingers of a man's hand, tracing a few words, in which the sacrilegious monarch read his own sentence of death. Antiochus plundered the Temple of Jerusalem, and the avenging hand of God stretched him upon a bed of agonizing pain, where he died of a loathsome disease. Such were the chastisements of the Almighty in the Old Law.
What then will be the punishment of him who dishonors, not the Ark of the Covenant, but the Body of Jesus; who not merely raises to his polluted lips the holy vessels, but receives into his sinful heart the thrice Holy God Himself; who draws the Lord of Hosts from His sanctuary to place Him side by side with Satan in his heart; who becomes guilty of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ! What punishment is there for such a one? Listen once more to the words of St. Paul and tremble: "He who eats of this bread and drinks of this chalice unworthily, eats and drinks judgment to himself!" What an expression! Eats and drinks judgment to himself! His own condemnation! That is to say, his condemnation penetrates his innermost being. It incorporates itself with him; it flows in his veins; it becomes one flesh, one blood, one being with him.
O frightful punishment! He eats and drinks his own judgment! What kind of judgment does he eat and drink? A sentence of eternal damnation, a sentence of never-ending misfortune, a sentence sealed with the Blood of Christ Himself, a sentence which is often carried into execution even in this world! You see, continues St. Paul, your houses daily falling into ruin; you behold the daily ravages of war and pestilence; you see how unexpectedly death everywhere seizes upon its victims; you see how many among you are dragging along weak bodies, never enjoying an hour's health. (See 1 Cor. 11:30.)
Why, think you, do these troubles press upon you? Because many among you partake unworthily of the Body and Blood of Christ. The miserable end of King Lothaire and his vassals is but too evident an illustration of this. Lothaire, king of Loiraine, conceived a great dislike for his lawful queen. His eyes fell upon a beautiful young maid of honor of his court named Waldrada, and his heart followed his eyes. The Pope was informed of this scandal, and he commanded Lothaire to quit his paramour and to take back his lawful wife. He threatened to excommunicate the wicked king in case of refusal.
Lothaire made a thousand false promises; he even went to Rome in order to be absolved from the ban he had incurred. He requested the Pope to reconcile him solemnly during Mass, and he wished to receive Holy Communion from the hands of the Pope himself. The Pope took the most prudent measures to find out the sincerity of the king's intentions, but all to no purpose. He then celebrated Mass. The king, with many of the nobles of his court, was present. The time of Communion came, and the king, with his nobles, went to the altar-rail to receive. The Pope then turned to the monarch and, holding the Sacred Host in his hand, said in a loud and distinct voice: "O king, if you are sincerely resolved to quit Waldrada and to take back your lawful wife, then receive this Holy Sacrament unto life everlasting; but if you are not sincerely resolved, then do not dare to profane the sacred Body of Jesus Christ and eat your own damnation."
Lothaire turned pale and trembled, but he had already made a sacrilegious Confession, and now he sealed his doom by adding a sacrilegious Communion. The Pope turned then to the noblemen who were kneeling beside their king and said to them: "If you have taken no part in the crime of your king, then may the Body of Our Lord Jesus Christ be to you a pledge of eternal salvation." Some of the noblemen were terrified and left the altar-rail without receiving, but the greater part of them followed the example of their king. They had committed a fearful crime, and the punishment of God was swift and terrible. The king and his suite quitted Rome. They had no sooner arrived at the city of Lucca than they were attacked by a most malignant fever, in consequence of which they lost their speech; they were tormented by an inward fire, and their nails, hair and skin fell off, while on the other hand, the lives of those of the king's suite who had left the Communion-rail before receiving were spared, so that the vengeance of Heaven was quite evident.
Again, "He eats and drinks judgment to himself!" What kind of judgment does he eat and drink? A sentence involving darkness of the understanding and hardness of heart to a most frightful degree, possession of the devil, despair, an impenitent death and everlasting malediction. These punishments are in a particular manner indicated by the words of St. Paul: "He eateth and drinketh judgment to himself." Nothing makes any impression upon him; he is no longer edified at praiseworthy actions; he scoffs at those who practice virtue; all admonition is lost on him; he does not understand the heinousness of his sin. What is here said of an unworthy Communion he does not believe; he is perfectly indifferent to the affair of his salvation; his thoughts no longer rise above the narrow and impure circle of earthly interests; he is like a worm which day and night sucks in nourishment from the earth, its native element, groveling all the while in the mire; he cares little for spiritual things; eternal punishment has no terror for him. In such a condition, what is there that he would shrink from undertaking? We might indeed say to this wretch when he is leaving the sacred table what Jesus said to His betrayer: "What thou wilt do, do quickly; go now and accomplish thy criminal designs; let loose thy passions, for since thou hast dared to dishonor the Body of Christ, nothing will appear horrible or abominable to thee; nothing will be able henceforth to restrain thee. Unhappy wretch! hitherto thou hast been preserved from certain abominations by an innate feeling of horror; but now, go bravely forward, wallow in sin, for thy conscience has no longer a reproach for thee! Go on in the road to Sodom and Gomorrha! Give thyself up to the base desires of thy heart!"
No, nothing makes an impression upon such a heart. I here speak of what usually happens. Our Lord might indeed mournfully exclaim in his presence: "Verily, verily, one of you is about to betray Me!" It would affect him but little. Should he even hear from Jesus' own lips the terrible words, "Woe to him by whom the Son of Man will be betrayed," he would remain cold and unmoved. In vain would Jesus call such a sinner "friend" and give him the kiss of peace! In vain would He work miracles before him! His eyes would remain closed; or if they opened, it would be only to cast him into despair; to urge him, like Judas, to execute the sentence of his damnation; in a word, the spirit of darkness, Satan, has taken complete possession of him.
Is not Judas a most terrible example of this? He received unworthily; immediately the devil entered into him! St. Cyprian tells us of a certain young woman who, after an unworthy Communion, was instantly possessed by the devil. She became quite furious and in her rage bit her tongue to pieces and endeavored to kill herself. At last she died in horrible agony. Behold the judgment of God! But what is even worse than all, this sin dries up the fountain of hope in the breast and plunges the unhappy sinner into despair. Judas is also but too sad an illustration of this. After his sacrilege, "He went out and hanged himself."
The following example was witnessed by a priest of my acquaintance. He was called to the deathbed of a young man. No sooner had the dying youth perceived the Blessed Sacrament, than he exclaimed: "Behold Him Whom I received unworthily at my First Communion!" And turning his face towards the wall, he expired. Here, then, you see again a verification of the Divine Justice, which is the most terrible of all that could be inflicted in this life! I say in this life, for in the life to come, there is another scourge still more dreadful, namely, that remorse which will fill the soul of the sacrilegious communicant for all eternity. Here, however, description is baffled. Words are inadequate to express or describe it. The story of the wanderer mentioned in the "Spiritual Meadows" furnishes but a feeble illustration of it. There was a certain convent of most austere discipline presided over by an abbot of strict and holy life. One day a stranger came to this convent asking admission. He was received and lived there for nine years in the practice of the most rigorous penance. At the end of that time, he came to the abbot and told him that an infant whom he had slain when he followed the life of a highwayman had appeared to him and said in the most heartrending tone of voice: "Why didst thou kill me?" The abbot treated the poor man as if he were the victim of a diseased imagination and bade him go work in the garden. He did so, but the voice still rang in his ears: "Why didst thou kill me?" He went to the church to pray, but the voice followed him thither. At last, no longer able to endure his sufferings, he threw off the religious habit, went to the civil magistrate, confessed his crime and begged to be condemned to death. His request was granted and he was executed. Oh, if remorse can inflict so terrible a sting in this life, what will it be to hear the eternal cry of conscience in the caverns of Hell, the eternal malediction of Jesus Christ against those who have outraged Him in the Most Holy Sacrament!
Such then is the life and death of the sacrilegious communicant. Such is the vengeance of God. Having committed deicide, he must be punished as such. Yes, the Bread of Life becomes in his mouth the bread of malediction for body and soul, for time and eternity, unless he has recourse to the Mother of God, that by her powerful intercession she may prevail upon the heart of her Divine Son to forgive the crime with its punishment and obtain for the unworthy communicant courage to confess his sin and the gift of tears to weep over it, in order that thus, through the merits of the same Blood which condemned him, he may receive again by the sacramental absolution the grace of justification.