Summary: Before approaching communion, we are admonished to be in right relation with God and the Church; this is accomplished through Reconciliation.
Feast of the Purification/Presentation
February 2, 2009
St. Luke must have had a terrific sense of humor, history and irony. He also knew his Bible–especially the prophets like Malachi. The picture here in Malachi is apocalyptic. The Lord visits His temple and purifies the money offerings with fire and the wool offerings with caustic lye. For Malachi, the Lord is purifying the levitical priests, not everyone. Luke turns the prophecy on its head but at the same time brings out its inner meaning: when the baby Jesus visits the Temple in the arms of His mother, the prophet Simeon appears. But Simeon proclaims a purification, a salvation, of the whole world, even the despised Gentiles. And the pain and suffering of that purification will be visited on Jesus and Mary, the sinless ones.
In this light, let’s consider what the Holy Father tells us about the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. If we are to understand what Jesus does here to us in Eucharist, we must hear the call to pursue the path of penance. Our culture tries in many ways to eliminate any sense of sin in us. Even some Catholics promote a superficial approach that overlooks our need to be in the state of grace when we come to communion. When we lose our understanding of the seriousness and reality of sin, we will be superficial in our understanding of God’s love. Sin is so serious that its remission caused the death of God’s Son. When I sin, I cause damage inside me and all around me. That’s why mortal sin must always be confessed to a priest and absolved sacramentally. Sin is never a purely individual affair, “it always damages the [communion with the Church] that we have entered through Baptism.” For this reason, the Fathers emphasize that the process of conversion, which we first consummated in Baptism, must when we sin subsequent to Baptism be effected in confession and absolution, and then a return to the Eucharist and full communion with the Church.
As a result, the Synod on the Eucharist told the bishops that they have a duty to encourage frequent confession, and called on all priests to “dedicate themselves with generosity, commitment and competency to administering the sacrament of Reconciliation,” specifically reminding them that general absolution is given only in emergencies. We can thank our priests for the hours they devote to providing this essential pastoral ministry, and pray for more priests so that we are never deprived of the healing touch of Christ on our souls.