St. Francis de Sales recommends any person seeking to grow in the love of God receive Communion frequently. By "frequently," he means at least every second week, preferably every Sunday.
Frequent Communion, he says, will benefit you spiritually. "By adoring and eating beauty, purity and goodness itself in this divine sacrament, you will become wholly beautiful, wholly good and wholly pure."
Francis also recommends that the devout person attend daily Mass as often as possible. Like many spiritual masters of earlier times, however, he was wary about recommending daily Communion. This should only be done on the advice of one's spiritual director.
The practice of the late 20th and early 21st centuries is obviously much different than it was in Francis' time 400 years ago. Today, Mass attendance means receiving Communion. Almost all Catholics receive Communion at every Mass they attend, even if it is daily. That is my own personal practice as well.
Nevertheless, Francis and the authors he cites clearly have a deep reverence for the Blessed Sacrament.
Francis refers to the Mass as "the most holy, sacred and supremely sovereign sacrament and sacrifice of the Mass, centre of the Christian religion, heart of devotion and soul of piety, the ineffable mystery that comprises within itself the deepest depths of divine charity, the mystery in which God really gives himself and gloriously communicates his graces and favours to us."
This is an extremely exalted description of the Mass, the likes of which would not likely pass the lips of even the most devout Catholic today. Indeed, if one of our compatriots did label the Mass in such elevated language, we would likely question their sincerity and wonder if this were not some pious pretence put on to garner attention.
Ours is a horizontal, democratic age in which all are seen as equal. We tend to think of Jesus more as our brother than as His Majesty.
Nor is this something to be condemned. It is who we are. Much can be said in favour of the breaking down of hierarchies and the easy familiarity with which we interact. What has been lost, however, is a reverence and deep respect for that which is sacred.
Still, religion requires awe. Without awe and wonder in the face of the Almighty, Infinitely Good and Loving Lord, we are treating the Divine as commonplace, as that which is on the same level as us. That is most assuredly not the case. If God is our equal then he is not God.
There is no magic recipe for recapturing our sense of awe and reverence. But we can nurture it within ourselves. We can read and meditate on the saints and pray to Mary and the saints.
CNS PHOTO | PAUL HARING
Catholics today need to make a conscious effort to cultivate the virtue of Eucharistic reverence.
We can cultivate an awareness of the angels and the protection and guidance they provide. St. Francis recommends, "Become familiar with the angels and how they are often present though unseen in your life."
Listen attentively to the Word of God. "Always listen to it with attention and reverence; make good use of it; do not let it fall to earth but take it into your heart like a precious balm."
When you are to receive the Eucharist, follow Francis' advice and begin to prepare for it the previous evening "by many loving aspirations and transports." Receive the Lord in the Eucharist "like dew come down from heaven."
After receiving the Eucharist, welcome the Lord as much as you can. "Excite your heart to do homage to the king of salvation. Converse with him concerning your inmost concerns. Reflect that he is within you and has come there for your happiness."
Take the sacrament of Reconciliation seriously. In naming and confessing our sins, we humble ourselves before the Lord and strive to overcome our tendencies to see ourselves as God's equal.
With such preparation, we can approach the altar to receive the Lord with greater reverence. Our increased humility and awareness of God's total transcendence may nourish our spiritual health and help prevent our hearts from being poisoned by evil affections.
The stratified society of Francis' day perhaps helped to make reverence a common virtue. We don't need to return to a society of elites versus the unwashed masses. But today we do need to make a conscious effort to cultivate reverence for God's presence in the Holy Eucharist. Doing so would be a fine tune-up for our spiritual well-being.