The Recipient Of The Eucharist

The Recipient of the Eucharist

The two conditions of objective capacity (capacitas, aptitudo) and subjective worthiness (dignitas) must be carefully distinguished. Only the former is of dogmatic interest, while the latter is treated in moral theology (see COMMUNION and COMMUNION OF THE SICK). The first requisite of aptitude or capacity is that the recipient be a “human being”, since it was for mankind only that Christ instituted this Eucharistic food of souls and commanded its reception. This condition excludes not only irrational animals, but angels also; for neither possess human souls, which alone can be nourished by this food unto eternal life. The expression “Bread of Angels” (Ps, lxxvii, 25) is a mere metaphor, which indicates that in the Beatific Vision where He is not concealed under the sacramental veils, the angels spiritually feast upon the God-man, this same prospect being held out to those who shall gloriously rise on the Last Day. The second requisite, the immediate deduction from the first, is that the recipient be still in the “state of pilgrimage” to the next life (status viatoris), since it is only in the present life that man can validly Communicate. Exaggerating the Eucharist’s necessity as a means to salvation, Rosmini advanced the untenable opinion that at the moment of death this heavenly food is supplied in the next world to children who had just departed this life, and that Christ could have given Himself in Holy Communion to the holy souls in Limbo, in order to “render them apt for the vision of God”. This evidently impossible view, together with other propositions of Rosmini, was condemned by Leo XIII (14 Dec., 1887). In the fourth century the Synod of Hippo (393) forbade the practice of giving Holy Communion to the dead as a gross abuse, and assigned as a reason, that “corpses were no longer capable of eating”. Later synods, as those of Auxerre (578) and the Trullan (692), took very energetic measures to put a stop to a custom so difficult to eradicate. The third requisite, finally, is baptism, without which no other sacrament can be validly received; for in its very concept baptism is the “spiritual door” to the means of grace contained in the Church. A Jew or Mohammedan might, indeed, materially receive the Sacred Host, but there could be no question in this case of a sacramental reception, even though by a perfect act of contrition or of the pure love of God he had put himself in the state of sanctifying grace. Hence in the Early Church the catechumens were strictly excluded from the Eucharist.

Written by J. Pohle. Transcribed by Charles Sweeney, SJ.

The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume V. Published 1909. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, May 1, 1909. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York