COME,AND YOU WILL SEE By Bishop Edward M. Rice
Dec. 23, 2022
The Church celebrates the Feast of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton on Jan. 4. Located in Springfield, we are blessed to have a parish in the diocese under her patronage. As we enter into the new year and a new semester of school—as we continue our Eucharistic Revival throughout the Church in the United States—let us turn to her as the patron of the Eucharist.
Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton was born and raised in the Anglican faith but converted to Catholicism after her husband died. For this decision, she was scorned by her family and friends but dedicated the remainder of her life to the service of the Church. She founded the first parochial school and the first woman’s religious congregation in America. What many people do not know is that she also had a great love for the Eucharist. From her writings we hear “O, Food of Heaven, how my soul longs for you with desire! Seed of Heaven, pledge of immortality and that eternity it pants for: Come, come, my Jesus, bury yourself within this heart. It shall do its best to preserve that warmth which will bring forth the fruits of eternity. Oh, amen. Our Jesus.”
While the imagery and wording may sound a little archaic to us, her points are well made. Does my soul long to receive Jesus? I was recently at a Mass where the priest, prior to the distribution of Holy Communion, explained that those not of the Catholic faith were welcome to come forward with their arms crossed for a blessing. That, in and of itself, is nothing new – it’s fairly common. But then he also said that for those Catholics that were not in a state of grace, who have examined their conscience and should not be receiving communion, then they, too, should come forward with arms crossed and receive a blessing. He said it in such a tender and thoughtful way that I hope no one took offense. But he makes a good point—we should not receive the Eucharist unworthily. If someone is aware of mortal sin, if someone has scrutinized his or her actions, examined their conscience, and concluded that they should not receive Communion, then they should come forward with their arms crossed to indicate a blessing (and take advantage of the sacrament of penance and reconciliation so as to get back to the Eucharist!).
Prior to the reception of Holy Communion, the priest offers one of two prayers, said quietly with his hands folded, just before the reception of Holy Communion. The prayer reminds the priest that he himself must be in a state of grace in order to receive Holy Communion and avoid condemnation by receiving the Eucharist unworthily. The first prayer includes the following words: “Free me by this, your most holy Body and Blood, from all my sins and from every evil; keep me always faithful to your commandments, and never let me be parted from you.” The second prayer, shorter, has the same theme: “May the receiving of your Body and Blood, Lord Jesus Christ, not bring me to judgment and condemnation, but through Your loving mercy be for me protection in mind and body and a healing remedy.” Only after reciting one of those prayers does the priest then cry out, “Behold the Lamb of God…” followed by the response of the people “Lord, I am not worthy… But only say the words and my soul shall be healed.”
It is significant that these prayers are offered just before the reception of Holy Communion. The Church wants the priest himself and then the entire congregation to ponder the significance of this moment. And if someone comes to the conclusion that they are not in a state of grace, that they should not receive unworthily.
Is this harsh? Well, is stopping a child from touching a hot stove harsh? Is stopping a child from walking into traffic harsh? Is stopping a child from running with a scissors or a knife harsh? In all these cases there is the possibility of physical harm. And how much more so would there be harm to the soul for one who receives the Eucharist unworthily.
In her little prayer, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton desired, (even!) panted for the Eucharist. In her little prayer, she invited the Eucharist to be buried in her heart. And although the wording and imagery might be a little old-fashioned, the point is well made – let us long for the Eucharist, let us desire the Eucharist, let us invite the Eucharist— Our very Lord—to take root in our hearts. But, most importantly, let us always receive the Eucharist worthily, with intentionality and thoughtfulness, and with a clear conscience.