The Sacraments

Jesus’ life, death and resurrection occurred at a particular time in human history. Yet, since Jesus is God, all that He did was done ‘in eternity’. This means the events of His life are both ‘outside time’ and yet present to all time. The grace of the one incarnation, life, passion, death and resurrection of Christ is available to people of all times and places. This grace is communicated to us through the Church’s liturgy and Sacraments. As St Leo the Great taught, “what was visible in our Saviour has passed over into His mysteries”. By our reverent and faith-filled participation in the Church’s Liturgy and reception of the Sacraments, we allow Jesus to nourish us with His own life and to draw us into an ever more loving communion with the Blessed Trinity and with all creatures.

For insights on how Christ is present to us in the Liturgy and the Sacraments, read the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraphs 1084 – 1134.

The Mass

Saint Padre Pio said that, “the world can more easily survive without the sun than it can without the Holy Mass”. To make sense of this, we need to understand that the Mass is not only the gathering of a community to worship God and the memorial of the Last Supper (though it is both of these) – it is the ‘making present’, in time and in sacramental form, the one sacrifice of Christ by which He redeemed the world. When we attend Mass, heaven and earth meet and we are present to the death and resurrection of Christ, with our Lady, the angels, the saints and all the Holy souls in purgatory.

As a minimum, the Church asks us to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy days of Obligation and to receive Holy Communion at least once a year, usually at Easter. But when we consider the immense grace that Jesus wishes to give to all of us at each Mass, we see that the Church’s recommendation to attend weekday Mass where possible and to receive the Eucharist more frequently, is an amazing opportunity for our spiritual growth.

The Eucharist

“The more of the Eucharist we receive, the more we will become like Jesus, so that on this earth we will have a foretaste of Heaven.”
Servant of God Carlo Acutis (1991 -2006)

The Eucharist, another name for which is Holy Communion, is the real presence of Jesus with us on earth – His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. As we receive Him in Holy Communion, Jesus strengthens the love and union between us and Himself, gives us grace to avoid serious sins in future, and reinforces our unity with other members of His Body. Jesus nourishes us with Himself so that we can become more like Him.

To receive Holy Communion in a manner pleasing to the Lord, we should first examine our conscience and be in ‘a state of grace’. This means to be free from mortal (serious) sin. If we have sinned seriously, we need to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation before receiving Holy Communion. Even if we have not sinned seriously, it is good to go to confession on a regular basis (at least once a month). In this way, we show our reverence for the Lord’s presence in the Eucharist by preparing our souls as best we can for this profound encounter with Him.

The actual real presence of Jesus remains in us for a good 15 minutes or so after receiving Holy Communion (until the host dissolves). This is why many of the saints emphasized the importance of spending at least 15 minutes in personal prayer following communion.

‘A Simple Prayer Book’ published by the Catholic Truth Society and available from the RC Basilica bookshop suggests prayers for before and after communion as well as a meditation you could follow during a time of prayer before Blessed Sacrament.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation

Jesus Christ gave the apostles the authority to forgive sins when He breathed the Holy Spirit upon them and said, “Whose sins you forgive they are forgiven; whose sins you retain, they are retained” (John 20:23). The successors of the Apostles – the bishops and priests in communion with them – continue to bring healing to people’s souls by hearing confessions and absolving sins in Jesus’ name.

On the cross, Jesus, the Eternal Son of God, experienced the entire pain and weight of all the sins of the world – those sins that had been committed, that were being committed and that would be committed in the future. From Adam and Eve to the last soul to be created, He experienced the pain and shame of those sins and, with perfect love, offered His life to the Father, that we might be freed from the eternal consequences of those sins.

Sin doesn’t only have consequences in the next life. And we would be silly to think that we can just live ‘as we want’ and simply say sorry before we die. For one thing, we don’t know when we will die or whether we will have the opportunity for confession. For another, living a life of sin is miserable! Living according to God’s Will is the only way to be truly happy. But, here and now, sin hurts us and traps us into patterns of behaviour that make us less able to say a full-hearted ‘yes’ to all that God asks of us. Jesus wants to free us from this so that we can live a full and joyful life in union with Him. Jesus rejoices when we turn back to Him, confess our sins and receive the grace He won for us on the cross. He invites us to the Sacrament of Reconciliation so He can wash away our sins and give us strength to ‘go and sin no more’. (Cf John 8:11)

The Sacrament of Reconciliation is one of the Sacraments of healing. As well as the forgiveness of our sins, through this Sacrament we also grow in self-knowledge, receive strength to resist future sins and are given Christ’s peace.