Preparation for Mass and Holy Communion
From Father Hugh Barbour, O. Praem on catholic.com
First of all, we approach the Sacrament of Love with the right intention. This means we come thoughtfully, intending to be united to Our Lord, not out of routine, or because we want to be well-thought of by others, but to be fed by him so as to have renewed strength to live the Christian life. St. Thomas tells us that any of the wholesome effects of food and drink on the natural level are given to us under the sign of the holy sacrament on the supernatural level: delight, union, nourishment, growth, strength, and healing.
Secondly, we should examine our conscience to determine if there is any grave sin we may have committed for which we must be truly sorry and which we must confess before coming forward to receive. This is the minimal preparation, without which we should never come to Holy Communion. The sacrament of penance is essentially a preparation for celebrating and receiving the Eucharist. It removes the one obstacle that would block our receiving at all the grace of the holy banquet. St. Paul tells us that we should examine ourselves before receiving, so as not to be guilty of receiving the Body and Blood of the Lord unworthily, and so eating and drinking condemnation to ourselves.
The number of those who communicate at Holy Mass is much greater the number of those who go to confession regularly. This means many do not examine themselves before receiving. They need priests to give the apostolic warning. The liturgy of the Church invites us to the altar, but at the same time warns us. We hear, “Blessed are those who are called to the supper of the Lamb,” but we hear also, “Lord I am not worthy to receive you!” This is to give us pause to repent and remember. Go to confession regularly and you will usually be ready on this score.
Thirdly, we approach the divine mysteries after praying to receive the graces we intentionally seek. The whole Mass is a preparation for this, and there are many beautiful forms of prayers of preparation for Holy Communion in prayer books. When have I considered the prayers and readings of the holy Mass as a preparation for my union with the Lord? The preparation can be long or short according to our situation, but it should be as careful and as intense as we can make it. A good preparation is to have the habit of making in your own words frequent spiritual
communions, expressing your desire to be united to Jesus in the gifts of his body and blood and to receive an increase in love and union with him.
Fourthly, we should prepare by abstaining as much as we can in the hours before communion from food and drink; water and medicine excepted. The minimum is for one hour, but in the past the fast was from midnight on, or at least for three hours before communion. Our body should share in our spirit’s preparation as much as it can. Our Lord told us that we should seek not the bread that perishes, but rather the bread of eternal life.
Fifthly, preparation needs its complimentary act of thanksgiving after we receive. The Church does this in the prayer after communion at each Mass, and we should second this in our own hearts by pausing to thank the Lord before we leave the church. Again, this thanksgiving can be brief or prolonged, but it must be done every time we receive. If someone treats you to a meal, do you get up without a word of thanks? With a smile, perhaps, and a compliment on the meal, and the thought that someday soon you would like to return the favor? Likewise, we tell our good Savior and Friend that we are so happy that he is so generous to us, and we praise his kindness, as we look forward to the next opportunity to be united to him.