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What does it mean to “host” Jesus in the Eucharist?

The Holy Eucharist is the Church’s greatest treasure, and all of us have a blessed responsibility to treat it as such. Here are nine practical ways to help us in this essential duty.

(Image: Annie Theby/Unsplash.com)

It is a proverbial truth that if you really want to clean your house, plan a dinner party. The pressure of hosting your family or friends will force you to do what you otherwise might chronically avoid.

Playing the role of host inspires us to put our best foot forward. And the more important the guest, the more concerned we are about doing our best in hosting him or her.

In Genesis 18, we read that Abraham hosted three visitors, who mysteriously make manifest the triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Abraham may not understand exactly what is happening to him, but he knows enough to take his role as host seriously. The whole passage makes Abraham’s solicitude for his guests clear, as he begs them to stay and to allow him to feed them the finest meal he can prepare.

In Luke 10, there is the famous story of Martha and Mary, which has plenty to say about hosting. We are often preoccupied with contrasting the “active” approach of Martha with the “contemplative” approach of Mary, but it is even more important to note first that both of these saints were good hosts in their own ways. They both gave their devoted attention entirely over to their Guest, Jesus.

Moving right to a practical point for our lives, there are lots of ways we “host” Jesus: in other people, especially the poor, sick, and suffering; in His word, especially as we receive it when it is proclaimed in the Mass; and above all, in Holy Communion, when after offering the Body and Blood of Jesus once again to the Father, we receive Him into ourselves. It is this last kind of “hosting” that I would like to focus on for the rest of this article.

The Holy Eucharist is the Church’s greatest treasure, and all of us have a blessed responsibility to treat it as such. Yet all-too-often even Catholics fail to believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, and to treat Him with appropriate reverence.

So what can we do about that? How do we treat Jesus in the Eucharist with greater reverence? This question takes on special urgency during the current National Eucharistic Revival.

The following are a few steps we are all called to take. These points will be obvious to many readers, but perhaps thinking through these practical matters will help all of us to share our faith and practice of Eucharistic piety with others.

  • Prepare our minds and bodies well for Holy Mass. We ought to quiet our minds and pray before Mass begins, either in church, in the car, or both. We also prepare to receive Jesus by keeping the Eucharistic fast, which means we take nothing except water or medicine for one hour before receiving Holy Communion.
  • Make sure we are in a state of grace. This falls under the category of preparation, but is so important that it deserves separate treatment. If we have any mortal sins that have not been forgiven in the Sacrament of Penance, then we need to go to confession in order to prepare ourselves spiritually to receive the Body and Blood of Christ. Such an incredibly holy gift requires us to be as holy as we can be, and at a minimum that means being free from mortal sin.
  • Listen attentively to God’s word. The Liturgy of the Word is intrinsically linked with and prepares us for the Liturgy of the Eucharist. To know Christ in and through His word is to love Him better, and the more we love Him the better prepared we are to put all our faith and trust in Him when He becomes present in the Eucharist, and when we receive Him into ourselves.
  • Honor Christ in the tabernacle. Apparently, Mahatma Gandhi once said that if he believed as Catholics do in the Eucharist, he would fall prostrate before the tabernacle and have a hard time ever getting up! Our faith tells us that the Eucharist is truly the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Savior of the World. The least we can do before His awesome presence is to genuflect with real devotion in front of the tabernacle. As a side-note, the appropriate act of reverence before the altar, when there is no tabernacle behind it, is a profound bow (at the waist).
  • Offer our lives along with the Body and Blood of Jesus. The Mass is not only a Sacred Banquet, but it is the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ. In the Mass, the one saving Sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross is presented to the Father and to us once again in a unique, sacramental way. The Eucharist is the sacrament of Christ’s saving, self-sacrificing love, and so to receive the Eucharist means that we should be Eucharistic people. Our lives ought to be characterized by self-sacrificing love, and especially in the Mass we ought to offer all that we are to our heavenly Father. This is one of the most important ways we prepare to receive Christ in Holy Communion.
  • Approach and receive Holy Communion with reverence. As we process forward to receive Holy Communion, our minds and hearts should be focused on what we’re doing. We should set aside any distractions and remember the Beatitude, “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.” We do see God in Holy Communion, and so our hearts should be as completely set on Christ as possible! Then, whether we receive Jesus on the tongue or in the hand, we must do so with great awe and reverence and make sure that nothing of Christ is lost (e.g. we consume any crumb of the Sacred Host that may rest on the palms of our hands).
  • Speaking of the reception of Holy Communion. Without getting into a technical or historical discussion of the issue, receiving either on the tongue or in the hand is permitted in the Catholic Church. Receiving on the tongue is the “ordinary” way of receiving, but receiving in the hand is allowed and is probably the most common way today, at least in the United States. Unfortunately, sometimes people speak as if receiving in the hand is the more acceptable way to receive, and discourage receiving on the tongue. There is no warrant for such discouragement. And the bottom-line is that we need to treat Christ present in the Eucharist with great care and reverence, and to make sure that all of the sacred species (the “appearances” of bread and wine) are consumed and never dropped or spilled. Speaking personally, I have received Holy Communion both on the tongue and in the hand many times, and it is possible to be very reverent in both cases.
  • A little more about receiving Holy Communion! A few “dos” about receiving Holy Communion–do bow before receiving or kneel to receive, according to the practice of the parish and your own piety, if you receiving in the hand, do open one palm clearly enough that the priest or minister will know where to place the Sacred Host, and do say “Amen” clearly, in a way that affirms your faith in the tremendous Mystery of which you are partaking. And a few “don’ts”–don’t chew gum(!), don’t allow yourself to be distracted when in line for Holy Communion, don’t reach out to grab the Host from the minister, don’t walk away with the Host in your hand, but consume it right there after receiving, and don’t offer a response other than “Amen,” as this specific word has been chosen by the Church to signify our faith and commitment to Christ.
  • Spend some time giving thanks to God. You may have heard that the very word “Eucharist” means “thanksgiving,” and that is the attitude that should fill our hearts after receiving Holy Communion. God has just given us a Gift beyond comprehension, and we ought to thank Him profusely for all He has done for us. We do this by joining in any Communion song being sung during Holy Communion, but also by spending some time in silence offering God our heartfelt thanks for saving us, strengthening us, being with us, and drawing us closer to Himself.

There is a beautiful scene in the movie The Passion of the Christ, after Jesus is scourged at the pillar, when the Blessed Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene devoutly use towels to take up Christ’s Blood from the ground around the pillar. Their reverence for the Blood of Christ gives us a great image for our own treatment of the Holy Eucharist, what I have called in this article our “hosting” of Jesus present among us in the Sacrament of the Altar.


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About Fr. Charles Fox 86 Articles
Rev. Charles Fox is an assistant professor of theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Detroit. He holds an S.T.D. in dogmatic theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum), Rome. He is also chaplain and a board member of Saint Paul Street Evangelization, headquartered in Warren, MI.

7 Comments

  1. To the clergy who have been highly indoctrinated along partisan lines: to host Jesus also means remembering that it is Jesus who is coming to be received by those who want to receive him in faith and according to their conscience; it is not for the clergy to withhold Jesus by politicizing the Eucharist. It is not for the clergy to think and act along partisan points and wrap it with some canon law justification to stop some people from receiving Jesus simply because they have opposing views on some political issues. They are not owners who control but servants who steward Jesus in the Eucharist. They are not judges and executors as to the worthiness or unworthiness of those who host and receive Jesus in the Eucharist. It is the person in faith and using conscience in hosting and receiving Jesus.

    • This sort of deeply flawed and tacitly politicized reading (claiming to be non-partisan while blithely dismissing the real moral issues at hand) of Church morality and a truly Catholic understanding of conscience was refuted and condemned long ago by John Paul II in VS:

      In particular, note should be taken of the lack of harmony between the traditional response of the Church and certain theological positions, encountered even in Seminaries and in Faculties of Theology, with regard to questions of the greatest importance for the Church and for the life of faith of Christians, as well as for the life of society itself. In particular, the question is asked: do the commandments of God, which are written on the human heart and are part of the Covenant, really have the capacity to clarify the daily decisions of individuals and entire societies? Is it possible to obey God and thus love God and neighbour, without respecting these commandments in all circumstances? Also, an opinion is frequently heard which questions the intrinsic and unbreakable bond between faith and morality, as if membership in the Church and her internal unity were to be decided on the basis of faith alone, while in the sphere of morality a pluralism of opinions and of kinds of behaviour could be tolerated, these being left to the judgment of the individual subjective conscience or to the diversity of social and cultural contexts. (par 4)

      Certain currents of modern thought have gone so far as to exalt freedom to such an extent that it becomes an absolute, which would then be the source of values. This is the direction taken by doctrines which have lost the sense of the transcendent or which are explicitly atheist. The individual conscience is accorded the status of a supreme tribunal of moral judgment which hands down categorical and infallible decisions about good and evil. To the affirmation that one has a duty to follow one’s conscience is unduly added the affirmation that one’s moral judgment is true merely by the fact that it has its origin in the conscience. But in this way the inescapable claims of truth disappear, yielding their place to a criterion of sincerity, authenticity and “being at peace with oneself”, so much so that some have come to adopt a radically subjectivistic conception of moral judgment.

      As is immediately evident, the crisis of truth is not unconnected with this development. Once the idea of a universal truth about the good, knowable by human reason, is lost, inevitably the notion of conscience also changes. Conscience is no longer considered in its primordial reality as an act of a person’s intelligence, the function of which is to apply the universal knowledge of the good in a specific situation and thus to express a judgment about the right conduct to be chosen here and now. Instead, there is a tendency to grant to the individual conscience the prerogative of independently determining the criteria of good and evil and then acting accordingly. Such an outlook is quite congenial to an individualist ethic, wherein each individual is faced with his own truth, different from the truth of others. Taken to its extreme consequences, this individualism leads to a denial of the very idea of human nature. (par 32)

      Regarding conscience, the Catechism states:

      Conscience must be informed and moral judgment enlightened. A well-formed conscience is upright and truthful. It formulates its judgments according to reason, in conformity with the true good willed by the wisdom of the Creator. The education of conscience is indispensable for human beings who are subjected to negative influences and tempted by sin to prefer their own judgment and to reject authoritative teachings. (1783)

      Ignorance of Christ and his Gospel, bad example given by others, enslavement to one’s passions, assertion of a mistaken notion of autonomy of conscience, rejection of the Church’s authority and her teaching, lack of conversion and of charity: these can be at the source of errors of judgment in moral conduct. (1792)

      Your issue with certain clergy apparently clouds that your real problem seems to be with Church doctrine and discipline.

    • So Deacon, what you are saying is that it’s ok for “catholic” politicians to advocate as hard as possible for the most extreme abortion position, yet still blithely consider themselves worthy of receiving Communion?? Because of their own conscience of course. Because “being kind” in the present time seems to trump any other sort of consideration. Even murder is ok if you are being “kind”, it would appear. Some things are moral absolutes and your conscience has nothing to do with it. Pedophilia is ALWAYS wrong. As is rape, shooting a perfect stranger, or committing robbery. We have certainly read many a pedophile’s denial or defense of their actions.That their brain told them it was somehow OK at that moment in time does NOT make it right. If you see nothing wrong with late term abortion for the sake of mere convenience, and nothing wrong with the politicians who push that narrative as simply “women’s health care”, I would suggest you are very much in the wrong occupation. The church has ALWAYS held abortion to be wrong. What has changed is that our church hierarchy has become too weak or afraid of secular reaction to enforce the rules. Maybe the next Pope will make the attempt, instead of approvingly patting the heads of those giving scandal to the faithful..

    • You are forgetting that priests have a conscience, too.
      Do you say they should be forced to give Holy Communion to someone who publicly repudiates the Gospel and the Magisterium?
      Should they also be forced to give absolution to those who are impenitent?

  2. Re: Deacon Dom-
    “Some people…have opposing views on some political issues.” Advocating the increased killing of the unborn is “some political issue.”
    I thought killing the unborn was a moral issue. I would have thought that a deacon would have seen it as a moral issue also, and a very serious one.

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