The prayers and services of the Church demonstrate to us the need for regular, weekly Communion. Without it, we cannot expect to live our lives any differently than the rest of the world – we are simply too spiritually weak to do so.
If we have acquired a correct eagerness to receive Holy Communion, let us not fall into the trap of approaching it casually. Most people are quite faithful in this regard, observing the necessary prayers before Communion, and fasting from food, drink, marital relations, and smoking prior to receiving the Body and Blood of Christ. This kind of preparation allows us to be ready to receive the Lord under the roof of the spiritual house of our soul.
One area of the preparation for Holy Communion which is most often missed, however, is the preparation of the heart through silence and prayers then evening before. The early Church observed an all-night vigil, which was literally all night! Some parishes today observe the vigil as it has come down to us: a two to three hour service of psalms, prayers, and spiritual hymns. But in many parishes, only the service of Vespers remains as a means of proper preparation for the night before Liturgy, and for the Liturgy itself.
Vespers in fact the beginning of the process of approaching for Holy Communion. We cannot and should not approach the Holy Mysteries without it, unless we are sick. Saturday night is also the ideal time to go for Holy Confession, allowing that Holy Mystery to prepare us for the next. While some parishes with more than one priest can offer Confession on Sundays, it is simply impossible to have a full and proper Confession before the Liturgy in places where only one priest serves. Like anything, there are always exceptions for real emergencies.
Knowing all this, we may be tempted to reason our way out of frequent participation in Holy Communion, in the following manner: “Since I cannot make time to attend Vespers, and I cannot sacrifice a loud and wild Saturday night, I will simply resolve to receive Holy Confession and Communion only infrequently – perhaps a few times each year.” What madness! The certain next step in our thinking will be to say, “I know Communion is the main part of the Liturgy – since I cannot receive it, I will just stay home!” Brothers and Sisters in Christ, these are thoughts from the evil one, who wants us to feel either rebelliousness or guilt when confronted with the norms of the Christian life. He wants us to be paralyzed, and he does not care how this happens.
God’s peace is accessible to us. It is even offered in abbreviated forms, because of our weakness (Vespers and the Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom on most Sundays are both much abbreviated from earlier services).
If we say we want this peace, we must take the steps needed to set aside our Saturday evenings – or at least an hour of it – for the prayers with the Church which prepare us for Communion. We must decide that the eve of the day of the Resurrection – Sunday – must be spent in quiet activities that truly reflect the life of a Christian.
God doesn’t ask everything of us, but He does ask something: that we take part in the spiritual struggle against the tendencies so strongly reinforced in our age of hedonism, and prepare ourselves like Moses to ascend the Holy Mountain each week. The generations of the Old Testament awaited our day and our opportunity to do just this; many would have died for the spiritual opportunity we enjoy each week.
Let us fully recognize the gift that God has given us in Confession and Holy Communion, and let us prepare ourselves in a worthy and Christian way, not simply when guilt strikes us, or when it is a feast day, but each week, so we may be prepared to fight the good fight for the week ahead.