instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Monday, April 28, 2008

How to receive Holy Communion

As a last post on the letter from St. Catherine of Siena to Ristoro Canigiani (here, then search for it), let me present her comparison of Passover and Holy Communion.

Exodus 12 contains the LORD's instructions to Moses and Aaron on how to observe the first Passover:
"Tell the whole community of Israel: On the tenth of this month every one of your families must procure for itself a lamb, one apiece for each household...

"You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, and then, with the whole assembly of Israel present, it shall be slaughtered during the evening twilight. They shall take some of its blood and apply it to the two doorposts and the lintel of every house in which they partake of the lamb. That same night they shall eat its roasted flesh with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. It shall not be eaten raw or boiled, but roasted whole, with its head and shanks and inner organs. None of it must be kept beyond the next morning; whatever is left over in the morning shall be burned up.

"This is how you are to eat it: with your loins girt, sandals on your feet and your staff in hand, you shall eat like those who are in flight. It is the Passover of the LORD."
Okay, we know all that (more or less), and we know that Jesus is the Lamb of God and that the Passover meal prefigures the Eucharist.

St. Catherine moves beyond the "what" of the Passover meal to find spiritual significance in the "how." We are to receive the Eucharist in the same manner as the Hebrews ate the Passover lamb:

"not... boiled, but roasted"not with "the water of self-love," but "straight from the fire of divine charity"
"with your loins girt""girt with the girdle of [a clean] conscience"
"sandals on your feet" (i.e., standing)"our heart and mind should be wholly faithful and turned toward God"
"your staff in hand""the staff of the most holy Cross"
"None of it must be kept beyond the next morning""eat it whole... we should contemplate not only the Humanity in this sacrament, but the body and soul of Christ crucified, wrought into unity with Deity, all God and all Man"
"take some of its blood and apply it to the two doorposts and the lintel of every house""We must take the Blood of this Lamb and put it upon our forehead--that is, confess it to every rational being, and never deny it, for pain or for death"

"Thus sweetly it befits us to receive this Lamb," St. Catherine concludes, "prepared in the fire of charity upon the wood of the Cross."

Scholars and theologians might discuss whether the LORD really directed the Hebrews to eat with their staffs in their hands in order to prefigure the cross on which His Son would die. St. Catherine's interest is the altogether practical end of getting Ristoro to receive Communion worthily, which she does in part by connecting an ordinary staff with the Cross.

The more we turn our minds to the mysteries of the Faith, the more such connections with the ordinary will suggest themselves, and then the more the ordinary will recall the mysteries of the Faith to our minds.