Communion Discipline

This month is confirmation month in the parishes I serve. The last few sessions of preparation explore the implications of being a communicant member of the church. The sorts of questions asked are – how frequently should I make my communion? How do I prepare for Holy Communion? How do I receive Holy Communion and what do I do after Communion?

All these are vital questions for any communicant. I expect that for many readers they are questions that have not had the prayerful attention they deserve for quite some time. All these questions should be part of any review of a rule of life and form an essential element in the review of conscience before confession.

All would admit that contemporary life is complex, particularly for those at work and with school age families. The days of simple ‘rules’ dictating frequency of communion are long gone (unfortunately). It is important to have a ‘rule’ – we have to be religious, with ‘ligaments’ (ligio) that bind us to God. It is pointless having a rule that cannot be sustained. If the rule is too demanding and is immediately ‘broken,’ only guilt and a sense of failure ensue. This helps no one.

Weekly communion is, however, a manageable goal for most people, particularly in parishes where there are regular weekday celebrations. I judge that once a month is an absolute minimum; anything less than this has two negative effects – firstly, there is a patchy participation in the liturgical year; secondly, it is not possible to build a familiarity with the liturgy or the community; there are great benefits in both.

C.S. Lewis once wrote, ‘It is impossible to dance if one is thinking where to put one’s feet.’ The irregular communicant always stands a good chance of stumbling rather than dancing.

Careful preparation for Holy Communion is a matter of spiritual life and death. For Holy Communion on a Sunday or Festival, the preparation should begin the night before. Bishop Edward King praised the ploughboy who said his preparation was to ‘shine me boots and put them under me bed!’ Blessed Edward replied, ‘The angels delight to see them there!’ Preparation must begin the night before. What we are about in the morning should influence what we are about the night before (let the reader understand).

Ideally, reading the gospel for tomorrow should be a bedtime habit. Fasting before Communion is a discipline that awakens the heart and mind. It makes perfect sense to come to the Bread of Life hungry. The minimum rule of a one-hour fast is exactly that! Fasting permits the mystery of Holy Communion to penetrate even to the kitchen table (and so it should). In all this, individual medical circumstances (as well as age) should be borne in mind.

Let your own conscience decide. The unity of body, mind and soul in the act of Holy Communion is not imaginary; it is a saving reality. It is the act from which all other actions in our life are guided and judged.

As the Book of Common Prayer says, ‘we bring judgement on ourselves if we partake of that bread and of that cup unworthily.’ In them we receive the grace of God – let it not go as for nothing.