Having looked at the origins, a brief history, the necessary ritual elements, and the sacramental effects of the Eucharist, we now turn to the very clear and straight forward teaching on the minister and recipient of the Eucharist. We look to the Code of Canon Law for definitions of who the ministers and recipients are, always keeping in mind that canon law will give the lowest threshold in reference to who can be the recipient.
Beginning with the minister of the Eucharist the answer is quite simple and direct. Canon 900 §1 offers us the following: “The minister who is able to confect the sacrament of the Eucharist in the person of Christ is a validly ordained priest alone.” Only those men who have validly received the sacrament of Holy Orders onto the priesthood may validly offer the Eucharist if for only one plain reason: ordination to the priesthood conforms a man unto Christ’s priesthood such that he stands “in the person of Christ the Head” (or in the Latin “In persona Christi capitis”) to offer the one true sacrifice of Christ – His Body and Blood. It is these who have received a share in the ministerial priesthood of Christ for the good of the faithful who validly and lawfully offer the Eucharistic sacrifice for the salvation of the world.
When it comes to recipients, the Code of Canon Law is equally clear – minding that reception of the Eucharist is something the Church desires for people. In canon 912, it says plainly “Any baptized person not prohibited by law can and must be admitted to holy communion.” The canons that immediately follow clarify that these include children who must be first rightly formed in knowledge so as to receive it with faith, along with multiple other canons that refer to what is generally called a “right (or proper) disposition” to receive the sacrament, which includes faith in ALL that the Church has received and proposes for our belief as truth, that the person be in a “state of grace,” (that is, free from mortal sin and any canonical penalties that render them outside communion with the Church), and that they have rightly kept the fast for one hour before Holy Communion (consuming no food nor drink during that time frame; though water and medicine are permitted).
Given this simplicity and clarity on who the ministers and recipients of the Eucharist are, it is unfortunate that the offering of the Mass and the partaking in Holy Communion frequently becomes outwardly divisive. While some of these outward manifestations of division regarding Mass and the reception of Holy Communion will be directly treated in future columns, one foundational truth worthy of our prayerful reflection (including by we who are priests) is essentially a question of our faith in God over and above all human concerns. In particular reference to the Eucharist, we might ask ourselves: Do we recognize the Eucharist as a gift of God or as a right owed to us? For many of the divisions, tensions, and difficulties that exist over the Mass and Holy Communion are really issues of fallen human nature, where we human beings try to do our own will ahead of humbly accepting God and His will. The Eucharist is a gift of God – it is not ours to own, control, or merit. Our call is to humble ourselves (which the Virgin Mary aids us in doing by example and through her intercession) – unto accepting what Jesus Christ has done, is doing, and truly desires for us, with our task as responding with our “yes” to what He gives to us just as He gives it – that we might receive and live fully this infinite gift of Jesus’ love for us.
For further reading: In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 1337-1344 review the institution of the Eucharist; 1562-1568 (which are in the section on Holy Orders) speak of the priesthood; and 1366-1367 say more about the ministry of priests in the offering of the sacrifice. Finally, 1382-1390 give some details pertaining to the recipients.