The Recipient of The Eucharist
The two conditions of objective capacity (capacitas, aptitudo) and
subjective worthiness (dignitas) must be carefully distinguished. Only the
former is of dogmatic interest, while the latter is treated in moral
theology (see COMMUNION and COMMUNION OF THE SICK). The first requisite of
aptitude or capacity is that the recipient be a “human being”, since it was
for mankind only that Christ instituted this Eucharistic food of souls and
commanded its reception. This condition excludes not only irrational
animals, but angels also; for neither possess human souls, which alone can
be nourished by this food unto eternal life. The expression “Bread of
Angels” (Ps, lxxvii, 25) is a mere metaphor, which indicates that in the
Beatific Vision where He is not concealed under the sacramental veils, the
angels spiritually feast upon the God-man, this same prospect being held out
to those who shall gloriously rise on the Last Day. The second requisite,
the immediate deduction from the first, is that the recipient be still in
the “state of pilgrimage” to the next life (status viatoris), since it is
only in the present life that man can validly Communicate. Exaggerating the
Eucharist’s necessity as a means to salvation, Rosmini advanced the
untenable opinion that at the moment of death this heavenly food is supplied
in the next world to children who had just departed this life, and that
Christ could have given Himself in Holy Communion to the holy souls in
Limbo, in order to “render them apt for the vision of God”. This evidently
impossible view, together with other propositions of Rosmini, was condemned
by Leo XIII (14 Dec., 1887). In the fourth century the Synod of Hippo (393)
forbade the practice of giving Holy Communion to the dead as a gross abuse,
and assigned as a reason, that “corpses were no longer capable of eating”.
Later synods, as those of Auxerre (578) and the Trullan (692), took very
energetic measures to put a stop to a custom so difficult to eradicate. The
third requisite, finally, is baptism, without which no other sacrament can
be validly received; for in its very concept baptism is the “spiritual door”
to the means of grace contained in the Church. A Jew or Mohammedan might,
indeed, materially receive the Sacred Host, but there could be no question
in this case of a sacramental reception, even though by a perfect act of
contrition or of the pure love of God he had put himself in the state of
sanctifying grace. Hence in the Early Church the catechumens were strictly
excluded from the Eucharist.
Written by J. Pohle. Transcribed by Charles Sweeney, SJ.
The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume V. Published 1909.
New York: Robert Appleton Company.
Nihil Obstat, May 1, 1909. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur.
+John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York