Why Are There ‘Rules’ for Receiving Holy Communion?

The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life. Through it we come to share and become a part of the body of Christ Himself – which makes it a foretaste of the eternal life we hope for. But for those who are not Catholic, many aspects of Holy Communion can be puzzling. The teachings of who can receive Communion and who should not, the practices of fasting before Communion, and bowing before receiving Communion can seem arbitrary and superfluous.

Even some Catholics may not understand why we have these ‘rules’ for receiving the Eucharist. Recently, a listener called in to The Patrick Madrid Show because her daughter, who was raised Catholic, asked her why we have all these rules for receiving Communion when it wasn’t like this at the time of the apostles. Patrick responded:

“That’s a good question. And I would say the answer is that the Church, in her wisdom, over time has recognized that there are certain things that would be good to do to enhance the experience of receiving Holy Communion.

Now, we do see some rules laid down even during the time of the apostles. You can see this with St. Paul, if you look at 1 Corinthians chapter 11. You can look at the latter half of the chapter and you’ll see that St. Paul has two very specific rules: to not receive Holy Communion if you are in the state of mortal sin, and the other is that if you do not recognize (or discern) the body then do not receive Holy Communion because you eat and drink damnation unto yourself.

The point is, these are really serious rules about when to and when not to receive Holy Communion. So there we see, even during the time of the apostles, there were rules surrounding the reception of Holy Eucharist. And then as time went on, in an organic sort of development, the Church recognized that there were other customs that are appropriate and necessary.

One of them was to prepare ourselves spiritually in Holy Communion, and one way to do that is to fast. And somebody might say, why? Well, look at Jesus. He went out into the desert before He began His public ministry and He fasted for 40 days.

I mean, I have a hard time getting through one day of fasting, and I don’t even know if what I do is fasting in the fullest sense of what Jesus did. But nonetheless, He who didn’t need to fast at all prepared Himself, steeled Himself by fasting before He began His public ministry. So, you and I can do a little bit of fasting before receiving our Lord under the appearance of bread and wine in Holy Communion.

It’s those kinds of customs that are designed to enhance, to make it better. It’s sort of  in the same way we have these ‘rules’ that the bride wears a white wedding gown, and she carries flowers, and there is beautiful organ music. Those are all customs that are designed to enhance the experience of getting married.

If you want to look at them as rules, I guess you could say that, but they’re not really rules for the sake of rules. They are customs that are designed to make things better, to heighten the experience and make it even more than it would otherwise be.

Maybe if she started to look at it from that perspective, she would start to recognize why the Church does these things.”

Listen to the full conversation below:

The Patrick Madrid Show airs weekdays from 9:00-noon Eastern/6:00 – 9:00 a.m. Pacific on Relevant Radio® and the Relevant Radio App.