A Pew study in 2019 reflected the sad reality that only 31 percent of Catholics believe the bread and wine at Mass actually become the body and blood of Jesus. In other words, 69 percent of Catholics do not believe in the Real Presence, which is the “source and summit of the Christian life (CCC 1324)”. Understanding the Eucharist and the judgment one can bring upon themselves when receiving it unworthily is essential because it’s the only sacrament that brings a judgment if it is received unworthily.
To receive any sacrament of the church in mortal sin is to commit a sacrilege, which, as the Baltimore Catechism points out, is “a great sin, because it is an abuse of a sacred thing.” However, receiving the Eucharist in an unworthily manner also brings about judgment, as explained in the Bible as well as contemplated by some of the great saints and fathers of the church.
“Whoever eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are ill and infirm, and a considerable number are dying.” (I Cor. 11:27-30)
Saint Paul did not pull any punches when he warned of the dangers of receiving the Eucharist when you are in a state of grave sin. Saint Paul did not treat the reception of the Eucharist as a “right” or an “obligation because everyone else is doing it”. He did not treat the Eucharist as bread and wine. He did not treat the Eucharist as a “routine” and “something I have do to.” He treated it as Jesus. He treated it as the Real Presence of the Son of God and warned against mistreating it. When you receive the Eucharist in an unworthy manner you are mistreating the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Just because one does not believe in the transubstantiation does not make it untrue. One’s unbelief does not make the truth a lie. It only brings forth judgment and danger upon the unbeliever.
Canon Law 916 addresses this by stating that a person “conscious of grave sin” should not “receive the body of the Lord without previous sacramental confession.” The Canon Law places an obligation on each individual to seriously take an examination of your conscious and your soul before receiving the Eucharist. Just because you are at Mass does not mean you must receive the Eucharist and just because you have always received it each week does not mean you have to receive it if you are in a state of grave sin.
As Catholics, we must get away from just going through the motions and making Jesus a routine. If the Eucharist is sacred enough for us to genuflect before a tabernacle, pray and kneel in its presence during Adoration and profess it as the source and summit of the Christian life then we must know and confess it is more than a routine. It is more than a right. It is more than an entitlement. It is Jesus Christ and it is the body, blood, soul and divinity of the Son of God, of God Incarnate, which we receive.
St. Francis de Sales writes in his Introduction to the Devout Life, that receiving the Eucharist gives eternal life and even brings about protection for the receiver. “Our Blessed Lord has instituted the most holy Sacrament of the Eucharist, wherein is His Flesh and His Blood, that whosoever eats thereof may have eternal life. Therefore he who frequently and devoutly feeds thereon, so strengthens the life and health of his soul that it can scarcely be poisoned by any evil passions. No one can be fed with the Bread of Life, and yet live upon dead affections.” ( Part II, Chapter 20)
St. Francis de Sales instructs all who want to be devout and faithful to go to Confession regularly prior to receiving the Eucharist to ensure you receive it in a worthy manner and, as a result, receive all the graces that it imparts.
There are also, according to Scripture, consequences during this life for receiving the Eucharist unworthily. St. Paul warns that there were those in Corinth receiving the Eucharist unworthily and therefore they were getting weak, becoming sick, and even dying. (I Cor. 27-30)
Because there is an overwhelming lack of preparation and treating the Eucharist as a routine and a check mark on our weekly checklist it has caused, at a minimum, spiritual weakness within our society, our homes, and our Church.
When the priest holds out the host and says “the body of Christ” and we respond “amen” then we are saying we agree that it is the body of Christ. Therefore, if we believe it is the body of Christ then we would make ourselves worthy to receive it. However, if we do not believe it is the Real Presence, just as 69 percent of those surveyed said, then we are lying when we say “amen” and receive it because we are proclaiming to believe something we do not believe. As a result, we are sinning by receiving it unworthily and are also sinning by saying “amen” and proclaiming to believe something that we do not. When we have that many Catholics receiving the Eucharist unworthily, therefore not receiving the graces imparted by the sacrament, then why are we shocked that the Church is having such a tumultuous time? “For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch.” (CCC 1324)