The Body and Blood of Christ
The Second Vatican Council document Lumen Gentium reminds us that "The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian Life. As Catholics, we believe that during the holy sacrifice of the Mass, ordinary bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We are bound to join in the celebration each Sunday and on Holy Days of Obligation as members of the worshiping assembly and to receive Holy Communion at least once during the Easter season.
Why would one attend Mass and not receive the Eucharist? If we are not in a state of grace, we should not approach the Altar to receive. Sin separates us from God and one another. When we sin, we must first experience the healing heart of Christ in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Then, washed clean by God's grace, we are once again free to participate in the Eucharistic Banquet.
After having been baptized into the faith, we enter into a period of preparation to receive the sacraments. During the course of our CCD program, youngsters prepare for the Sacraments of Reconciliation and First Eucharist in the 1st and 2nd grades. Baptized Catholics who have not yet made these sacraments can prepare for them either through our RCIC or RCIA program depending on age and maturity.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops offered the following guidelines on the reception of the Eucharist in November 1996:
As Catholics, we fully participate in the celebration of the Eucharist when we receive Holy Communion. We are encouraged to receive Communion devoutly and frequently. In order to be properly disposed to receive Communion, participants should not be conscious of grave sin and normally should have fasted for one hour. A person who is conscious of grave sin is not to receive the Body and Blood of the Lord without prior sacramental confession except for a grave reason where there is no opportunity for confession. In this case, the person is to be mindful of the obligation to make an act of perfect contrition, including the intention of confessing as soon as possible (canon 916). A frequent reception of the Sacrament of Penance is encouraged for all.
For our fellow Christians
We welcome our fellow Christians to this celebration of the Eucharist as our brothers and sisters. We pray that our common baptism and the action of the Holy Spirit in this Eucharist will draw us closer to one another and begin to dispel the sad divisions which separate us. We pray that these will lessen and finally disappear, in keeping with Christ's prayer for us "that they may all be one" (Jn 17:21).
Because Catholics believe that the celebration of the Eucharist is a sign of the reality of the oneness of faith, life, and worship, members of those churches with whom we are not yet fully united are ordinarily not admitted to Holy Communion. Eucharistic sharing in exceptional circumstances by other Christians requires permission according to the directives of the diocesan bishop and the provisions of canon law (canon 844 §4). Members of the Orthodox Churches, the Assyrian Church of the East, and the Polish National Catholic Church are urged to respect the discipline of their own Churches. According to Roman Catholic discipline, the Code of Canon Law does not object to the reception of Communion by Christians of these Churches (canon 844 §3).
For those not receiving Holy Communion
All who are not receiving Holy Communion are encouraged to express in their hearts a prayerful desire for unity with the Lord Jesus and with one another.
We also welcome to this celebration those who do not share our faith in Jesus Christ. While we cannot admit them to Holy Communion, we ask them to offer their prayers for the peace and the unity of the human family.