By: Archdeacon Fr. Michael McKinnon
We know from the Holy Scriptures and the writings of the Early Church Fathers that from the Apostolic Age (33 AD – 110 AD), Christians have gathered regularly to celebrate the Holy Mystery of Christ’s Body & Blood. The Scriptures tell us that Christian converts would dedicate themselves to the teaching and fellowship of the Apostles as well as the Holy Eucharist. “So those who received his [Peter’s] word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls [to the Church]. And they [the newly Baptized] devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread [i.e., the Holy Eucharist] and the prayers” (Acts. 2:41-42). Jesus’ last act before His death was to institute the Holy Eucharist, “Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:26-28). We also know that He celebrated the Holy Eucharist with two of His disciples on the first Day of Resurrection (i.e., Easter Day) and that they came to know the Risen Christ through this sacred act, “When Jesus was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?”…Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread” (Luke 24:30-32, 35). It is clearly the Lord’s intention that the Celebration of the Holy Eucharist be identified with His death and resurrection. St. Paul emphasizes this mysterious connection in his 1st Letter to the Corinthians, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor. 11:26). John records Jesus’ earlier teaching identifying the Sacrament (yet to be instituted) with His very person and the resurrection on the last day, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (John 6:54-56). Thus, St. Ignatius of Antioch, writing in 107 AD on his way to suffer martyrdom, described the holy Eucharist as, “The medicine of immortality”. Those who hold the Catholic Faith of God’s holy Word know the great importance of receiving the Sacrament frequently. “It is good and beneficial to communicate every day, and to partake of the holy body and blood of Christ. For He distinctly says, ‘He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath eternal life.’ And who doubts that to share frequently in life, is the same thing as to have manifold life” – St. Basil, 379 AD. At HTAC, we offer the Holy Eucharist six days a week. However, it is most important to receive the Blessed Sacrament on Sunday, the Lord’s Day.
Worshipping God and receiving Holy Communion on the Lord’s Day should be our highest priority of the week. Why? It is the first day of the week. Thus, spending this time with the Lord (through the fellowship of the Church, the proclamation of the Word and by receiving Holy Communion) is an offering of the first fruits of our week to God. We do so in thanksgiving for His many mercies. As St. Justin Martyr wrote in 150 AD, “On the day which is called the Sun’s Day [the Lord’s Day] there is an assembly of all who live in the city, towns or the country; and the memoirs of the apostles and the writings of the prophets are read [the Readings], as much as time permits. When the reader has finished, the presider gives a discourse [Sermon], admonishing us and exhorting us to imitate these excellent examples. Then we all rise together and offer prayer [Prayers of the People]; bread is brought and wine and water; and the Presider offers up prayers and thanksgiving [in Greek meaning, “eucharist”] and the people assent with “Amen.” Then follows the distribution of the Eucharistic gifts and the partaking of them by all; and they are sent to the absent by the hands of the deacons…We hold our common assembly on the Sun’s Day because it is the first day on which God put to flight darkness and chaos and made the world; and on this day Jesus Christ our Saviour rose from the dead…He appeared to His Apostles and Disciples and taught them these things, which we have handed on to you” (Justin Martyr, 150 AD). Thus, to receive Holy Communion on the Lord’s Day is to honor the day of our Lord’s Resurrection. It is no ordinary thing we do when we receive the Blessed Sacrament. “For we do not receive these things as common bread or common drink; but as Jesus Christ our Savior being incarnate…took flesh and blood for our salvation, so also we have been taught that the food consecrated by the Word of prayer which comes from him, is the flesh and blood of that incarnate Jesus” (St. Justin Martyr, 150 AD).
I challenge you to try and make attending worship on the Lord’s Day, your highest priority of the week. For in receiving, you share in the life, death and resurrection of Christ in a special way. As my dad use to say, “First plan to attend Mass on Sunday, and then make the rest of your plans”. There is no substitute for receiving the Word of God and the Sacrament of His Body and Blood on the Lord’s Day. If due to unusual circumstances (e.g., illness, etc) one cannot make it on the Lord’s Day, then it is important to receive sometime during the week (if possible).
“The Body and Blood of Christ are Sacramentally united to the Bread and Wine, so that Christ is truly given to the faithful; and yet is not to be here considered with…worldly reason, but by faith, resting on the words of the Gospel…In the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, the Flesh [of Christ] is given together with the Bread, and the Blood [of Christ] together with the Wine. All that remains is, that we should with faith and humility admire this high and sacred mystery, which our tongue cannot sufficiently explain, nor our heart conceive” (John Cosin, Anglican Divine, 17th C.).