Shrewsbury ... shall be a name 'as stirring to the heart as the glories we have lost'

Blessed John Henry Newman, 1852

Letters and Homilies

Pastoral letter ‘On Holy Communion’ to be read in all churches and chapels on Divine Mercy Sunday, 8th April 2018

My dear brothers and sisters,
On this Second Sunday of Easter, the Gospel tells of the encounter of the Apostle Thomas with the Risen Jesus which leads to his supreme profession of faith, “My Lord and my God!”   I want to recall today how we who have not seen and yet believe come to this encounter of faith with Jesus Christ now in His Risen Body.  It is an encounter which leads us in the Holy Eucharist to constantly renew Thomas’ profession of faith: “My Lord and my God!”  In this Year of the Eucharist, I have reflected with you on how Christ loved us to the end by entrusting to the Church the Sacrifice and Sacrament of the Eucharist.  Today, I want to recall how He invites us to the most intimate communion with Himself which we rightly call ‘Holy Communion’.   The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us: “To receive Holy Communion is to receive Christ himself”.
On this Sunday of Divine Mercy, we glimpse the mercy which led Our Lord to so entrust Himself to us and are moved to reflect on how we must be ready to receive Him and prepared in our own hearts “for so great and so holy a moment”.   We may face the danger today of seeing the reception of Holy Communion in terms of secular inclusiveness.  It would then become a token of our hospitality, rather than as the gift of the Holy Body and Blood of Christ which constitutes the most radical call to holiness and the means to becoming the saint we are each called to be.
At the end of his life, Saint John Vianney reflected, if only all his parishioners had accepted his call to frequent Holy Communion “they would all now be saints”.  Holy Communion offers such an immediate path to holiness, to complete union with Christ Himself that He Himself told us:  “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him”.   The Catechism reminds us that we will always find in Holy Communion our true nourishment which restores our strength; separates us from daily sin; breaks disordered attachment to creatures; and roots the whole of our lives in Christ;   and makes us so completely one with His Mystical Body the Church that we are truly “united heart and soul”.
We see why we can never approach Holy Communion casually, still less if we have not confessed and repented of any mortal sin or of a lifestyle in contradiction with our Christian calling.  The Apostle Paul urged the first Christians to examine themselves carefully before receiving Holy Communion because anyone who did so in an unworthy state would, he said, be “guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord”.   The Church calls us to frequent Holy Communion, prepared by the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation so that we might become holy, might become saints.  The Second Vatican Council urged us to “frequent” both these two Sacraments eagerly and devoutly as the path to holiness.
This Eastertide, I want to invite you to consider how we each prepare for this moment of Holy Communion in the days, hours and minutes before we approach the Altar.  Let us ask ourselves how we seek to receive Him with the deepest reverence and love, and how we spend the precious moments after receiving Holy Communion.  Saint Teresa of Avila wrote beautifully of this time when she reflected “we are as close to Him, as we can be … He will do miracles within us, and will give us what we ask, since having come to visit us, He is as it were in our very house.”  With the Apostle Thomas, may we not allow these moments to pass without many renewed acts of love, of adoration, of reparation, of thanksgiving, and of that Easter faith which cries out: “My Lord and my God!”

United with you in this Eucharistic faith and love,

+ Mark
Bishop of Shrewsbury