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The Spiritual Means, book by H. H. Pope Shenouda III

30- Preparation for Holy Communion

  

The most serious words said about preparing for partaking of the Holy

Communion were said by St Reweis:

“It is befitting for the person who partakes inside him the Body and Blood of the Lord to be pure inside, as the Virgin who carried the Lord’s Body inside her was pure.” What a serious phrase that is?! Who can be like that?! Therefore I will talk to you about the simplest way to spiritually prepare ourselves to partake of the Holy Communion:

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As much as we prepare ourselves for Communion, so would be our benefit from it..

Many partake in Communion.. thousands, even hundreds of thousands... But not all of them gain the same spiritual benefit!! Take for example the eleven Disciples who partook of Communion on Covenant Thursday from the Lord Himself...

Only one of them followed Christ to the Cross, that is St John the Beloved. He became worthy of the Lord talking to him and entrusting him with the Virgin Mary saying: “Behold your mother!(Jn 19:27). And this disciple took her to his home and hence received a great blessing..

And one of the Disciples who partook of Communion followed Christ till the courtyard of the high priest. He also, through zeal, cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant, defending Christ (Jn 18:25-27), before turning and denying Him three times!!

The remaining nine Disciples ran away during the time when their Teacher and Master was being arrested!! And they all partook of Communion together..

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Holy Communion reminds us of the parable of the sower (Mt 13).

The sower was the same sower and the seeds were the same seeds. But the result differed according to the nature of the ground: some fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them. Some fell on stony places but because they had no root, they withered away. And some fell among thorns and the thorns sprang up and choked them.. Even the ones that fell on good ground did not give fruits in equal amounts, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty (Mt 13:3-9)..

St-Takla.org Image: Priests at St. Takla Heemanot Church lifting their hearts to God during the Holy Mass صورة في موقع الأنبا تكلا: كهنة كنيسة أنبا تكلاهيمانوت يرفعون قلوبهم لله وقت القداس الإلهي

St-Takla.org Image: Priests at St. Takla Heemanot Church lifting their hearts to God during the Holy Mass

صورة في موقع الأنبا تكلا: كهنة كنيسة أنبا تكلاهيمانوت يرفعون قلوبهم لله وقت القداس الإلهي

The same also with Holy Communion. It depends on the condition of one’s heart and according to his spiritual readiness as to what his spiritual benefit may be.

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It is one of the spiritual means but its benefit differs from one person to another, according to his readiness for it..

Many partake of the Holy Communion very often, they may even receive it every day and in every Mass. But they do not benefit!! Perhaps because constantly partaking of it becomes a habit, rather than something very reverential and sacred. As a result, the holiness of this sacrament does not penetrate deep into their hearts. However, there are a few who are able to keep the reverence of the Sacrament and continue being prepared for it.. Therefore examine yourself and see: is partaking of the Holy Communion regularly enables you to be always prepared, or has it merely become a habit? It differs from one person to another...

Here we ask, what preparation is needed for partaking of the Holy Communion?

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1- Preparation by humility and contrition of the heart.

One of the best parts in the Holy Mass about this contrition is a prayer which the Priest recites inaudibly before starting the Mass and while he is covering the altar. It is called ‘The Prayer of Preparation’ : “Lord who knows the hearts of all, who is Holy, and who rests amidst the saints; Who alone is without sin, and who is mighty to forgive sins; You, O Lord, know my unworthiness, unto this, Your holy service; and I have no boldness that I should draw near and open my mouth before Your holy glory; but according to the multitude of Your tender mercies, pardon me a sinner, and grant unto me that I may find grace and mercy at this hour..”

 

If this is the contrition of the priest celebrating the Holy Mass, how much more contrite should the rest of the congregation be?!

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2- Repentance and inner purity are necessary for Holy Communion.

We see the priest doing a number of things:

+ He and the deacons put on white vestments of service which are specially for celebrating the liturgy. They are a symbol of inner purity. It is like dressing the one who has been baptized in white clothes, symbolizing the clean and pure life which he received in the baptism, as he has put on Jesus Christ (Gal 3:27), and as the Lord says: “He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments..” (Rev 3:5). White also refers to the holy life in the eternal kingdom.. And it was said about the two angels of the Resurrection that each was “clothed in a long white robe” (Jn 20:12), (Mk 16:5) and (Mt 28:3)...

It is a symbol of the holiness and purity of the angels. And so should be those who are serving the altar and will partake of the Holy Communion.. The white robes become an example for the rest of the congregation..

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+ And as the priest wears white, he also washes his hands before celebrating Mass, and says: “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.”

He also says: “I wash my hands with purity and go around Your altar, O Lord..”

It is a lesson that the priest presents to the congregation before partaking in Holy Communion, to clean their souls by repentance till they become whiter than snow..

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+ Repentance is very necessary to partake in Holy Communion. We notice here that the Lord Jesus Christ, to Him is all glory, before He gave His Disciples to eat on Covenant Thursday, washed their feet first and said to them: “You are clean, but not all of you” (Jn 13:10). And He meant by this Judas who betrayed Him, therefore He did not give him the Body and the Blood.

+ Consider the frightful phrase said about this matter during the Holy Mass, before Holy Communion:

“The Holies are for the holy,” which means that the Holy Sacraments are for holy people only.

Therefore the Mass, during which the faithful partake in Holy Communion, is called the ‘Mass of the Holies’. This is distinguished from the ‘Mass of the Catechumens in earlier times during which they would hear the readings and the sermon then leave before the ‘Mass of the Holies’ starts, in which those who are holy partake in Holy Communion..

Then one needs holiness to be worthy of partaking in the Holy Sacraments. This reminds me of a beautiful phrase said by the Prophet Samuel to the family of Jesse the Bethlehemite when he wanted to sacrifice to the Lord, he said to them:

“Sanctify yourselves, and come with me to the sacrifice” (1 Sam 16:5).

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And so he “sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice”.. Would that you memorize these phrases and repeat them before Holy Communion. Phrases that are about the holiness of those who partake in Holy Sacraments.. And if we fail to reach this holiness in its positive spirituality, let us at least repent and confess before receiving them, with a firm will to leave sin and keep away from all the means that lead us to it. And when we confess our sins, our confession should not be mere words, but true regret and practical repentance. In so doing, our souls and our bodies become worthy of accepting these Holy Sacraments, so we receive them with pure hearts, worthy souls and spirits that are linked to God..

And what else?

 

3- To partake in Holy Communion, one has to be physically prepared for it. How?

We sanctify the body by cleanliness and fasting. We remember, as an example, how the people of Israel prepared themselves to receive God’s words in the Old Testament, I mean receiving the Ten Commandments: Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people and sanctify them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their clothes. And let them be ready for the third day” (Ex 19:10,11).. “Then Moses went down from the mountain to the people and sanctified the people, and they washed their clothes. And he said to the people, “Be ready for the third day; do not come near your wives” (Ex 19:14,15).

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Therefore sexual relations, pubescence, bleeding and the like, are things that prevent us from partaking in Communion.

The person who is partaking of Holy Communion should be pure, physically and spiritually.

We also prepare ourselves physically by fasting.

According to the rites of our church, we abstain from eating and drinking for a period of not less than nine hours, which brings us to a new day (Communion day) which we should start while fasting.

Fasting is not only physical work, but also spiritual work, as we have discussed this issue before here on st-takla.org in other sections. It is preparing for all the grace that we receive in each of the church Sacraments, except in cases such as serious illness. Currently, the Sacrament of Matrimony has been exempted, according to the Lord’s saying: “Can the friends of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast(Mk 2:19). But when the Sacrament of Marriage used to take place after the Matins, the couple used to fast also.. How more deserving is Communion.

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4- Another condition for partaking in Communion is Reconciliation.

And so before the ‘Mass of the Holies’ starts and before the Prosphorine is removed (the large cloth covering the altar), the priest says the Reconciliation Prayer: “Grant that we become worthy, O Lord, to greet each other with a holy kiss of peace, so that without being driven into condemnation, we may share in Your imperishable heavenly gift”.. We notice here the phrase “that we may share.. without being driven into condemnation”.. Partaking in Communion then, without reconciliation, is being driven into condemnation.

The deacon then calls out; “Greet one another with a holy kiss..” This holy kiss means perfect love among the people. The word “holy” means pure, with no hypocrisy, as was Judas’ kiss, and for this reason people do not greet each other with a kiss during the Passion Week.

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Before partaking in Holy Communion, we must be reconciled to God and to people:

To God through repentance, according to the saying of the Apostle: “.. Be reconciled to God” (2Cor 5:20).. And to people, according to the Lord’s saying: “If you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother” (Mt 5:23,24). The phrase “something against you” means that you stand as being guilty. As for the one who hates you for no fault of your own, as Saul hated David, and as David said: “those who hate me without a cause are more than the hairs of my head,” (Ps 69:4).. In that case, you are not expected to leave your gift and reconcile to him. The Lord Jesus Christ Himself was hated without a cause (Jn 15:18, 24,25).. You also are not requested to go and reconcile with those who persecute you, envy you and offend you. But there is a rule:

If you were the offender, go and reconcile to whoever you offended. If you were the one offended, protect your heart from hatred.

Also, you are not requested to reconcile with those who cause you to stumble spiritually, morally or intellectually, for: “Evil company corrupts good habits” (1Cor 15:33), but the Bible also asks us to keep away from stumbling blocks, and not to have any dealings with those who may lead us to sin...

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As well, you are not requested to reconcile with those who spread heresies and lies, those about whom the Apostle said: “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds” (2 Jn: 10,11). And do not greet the one about whom the Bible says: “Put away from yourselves that wicked person” (1Cor 5:13).. And generally, your reconciliation with others should not be at the cost of your reconciliation with God..

We talked about preparation for Holy Communion. What else is left to say?

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The Bible explains the outcome for those who partake in Holy communion in an unworthy manner:

The Apostle says: “Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the Body and Blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself.. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s Body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged” (1Cor 11:27-31).. Serious and alerting words

... Therefore I would say before partaking of the Holy Communion:

“Lord, it is not for being worthy that I partake of Your Holy Communion but because of my need. Not for my worthiness but for my remedy.”

I do not have the holiness for which I partake of the Holy Communion, but I do so to obtain help to live a holy life, as I receive spiritual strength and a push forward.

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The one who partakes in Holy Communion feels the reverence of this sacrament and will be ashamed to commit sin because of the holiness of Communion. For example, if he partakes of the Holy Communion once a week, for the following few days he will remain away from sin due to the holiness of the Sacrament.. And during the few days before the following Communion, he will be watchful, preparing himself to partake of the Holy Communion the following week.. Hence, he trains himself to always be prepared and watchful.

Due to the importance of Holy Communion, the Church makes you feel that the Communion day is not an ordinary day in many ways:

Preparing for it by fasting, cleanliness of the body, confession and repentance, reconciliation to people, entering with contrition, praying before and after Communion. The church also prepares the person for Holy Communion by more than one absolution for the remission of sins: absolution during vespers, another during Matins, absolution of the servants and another absolution which is recited inaudibly at the end of Mass. The mind is also prepared spiritually by many readings from the Bible, the spiritual rites and all the spiritualities of the Holy Mass.

And after Communion, one is warned to be careful about walking barefoot, or spitting, so that he may honour the Holy Communion which he received.

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I remember that once, at the beginning of my monastic life, I wrote in my diary on the day of my Communion:

“This mouth that became holy by partaking in the Lord’s Body and Blood: one extra word would not come out of it and one extra morsel would not enter it.”


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