A mother gives of her life to support the life of her child. Shall not God support in his children the life he has given to them in Jesus Christ? It is impossible for a soul which avoids serious sin and often receives the Blessed Sacrament, not to make solid, even rapid progress in virtue and the spiritual life. It is the most efficacious remedy for our spiritual maladies. By the frequent reception of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament the way of perfection is shortened, made easier and is safer. Shortened, because we receive God Himself directly into our hearts. Easier, because God becomes our strength and the conqueror of our enemies. Safer, because we depend less on our own strength and more upon God.
There is no living without eating; and the food which we partake of must be of a similar nature as the life it supports. Therefore the divine life in the soul must languish and die without the divine food of the Blessed Sacrament. Without the Blessed Sacrament, God’s love and the evidence of His love towards us would have been incomplete. God instituted the Blessed Sacrament as the completion of His love, the necessary food for the divine life of our souls.
Commentary by the Rev. Paul Robichaud CSP:
During Servant of God Isaac Hecker’s priestly ministry (1849-1888) it was the general practice for the ordinary Catholics in America to receive communion only once or twice a year; usually at Christmas or Easter. The frequent or regular reception of communaion, which Hecker advocates in today’s reflection, was quite rare. In fact, weekly or daily communion for lay people was often considered presumptuous. There were several reasons why. It was expected that you went to confession each time you planned to receive communion so that you would be in a state of grace. Many 19th century Catholics were not certain whether they were in the state of grace (venial sin) or not (mortal sin). It seemed easier to refrain from communion as it was hard to get to the confessional every time you planned to attend Mass. The communion fast where you had to abstain from all food and drink after midnight, and the time schedule of early morning Masses, often made it difficult to get to communion. You might be able to keep the fast but not get to Mass, or get to Mass but not have kept the fast.
For the average Catholic in the 19th century, receiving communion was an event you had to plan for rather than a habit you regularly practiced. Sadly many priests did little to encourage people to receive communion with any frequency. Some priests like Father Hecker encouraged Catholics to receive communion with mixed results. About twenty years after Hecker’s death, the universal church under Pope Pius X began to encourage ordinary Catholics to receive the Eucharist regularly if not daily, presuming they were free from mortal sin. The movement slowly picked up steam and between 1926 and 1945 Catholics began to receive communion on a regular basis.
In today’s reflection Father Hecker is ahead of his time as an advocate for frequent communion. Many of the arguments he makes, were adopted forty years after his death by priests and bishops in America. At the heart of his reflection is a teaching that is quite contemporary. God feeds us with God’s very life, which is grace. God continues and completes his love for us through the grace of the Eucharist and it strengthens the gift of eternal life within us. If you want a spiritual life, begin with the Eucharist and let it renew and strengthen what we have received from the death and rising of Jesus. It was good advice when Hecker gave it and it is good advice now.
(For a discussion on the practice of 19th century communion, see James O’Toole, Habits of Devotion, Cornell University Press, 2004).
Paulist Father Paul Robichaud CSP is Historian of the Paulist Fathers and Postulator of the Cause of Father Hecker. His office is located at the Hecker Center in Washington, DC.