How To Prepare For The Eucharist
by Father John Matusiak
The Eucharist is not something that should be approached lightly or casually. When we receive the Eucharist, we are given a taste of "the life of the world to come," here and now. The Holy Fathers teach us that the frequent reception of the Body and Blood of Christ brings us into a joyful union with God. At the same time, the Eucharist can condemn us if we approach it with anything less than a sense of faith and hope in the Lord's love. Our preparation for the reception of the Eucharist should involve several elements which not only emphasize its importance in our spiritual lives, but its necessity in bringing about those changes which will restore the image of God within us.
Recognize the Need to Change
Jesus Christ offers us His Body and Blood "unto life everlasting." At the same time, He offers us "the forgiveness of our sins." Hence, our preparation for the reception of the Eucharist begins with our recognition of the need to repent, to change our lives, and to seek forgiveness for the sins and offenses we have committed against God and others. Spiritual growth is impossible without a desire to change our lives. Just as we cannot overcome a physical illness without first desiring to be healed, it is impossible to grow in our relationship with God without the healing of our spiritual afflictions. Before receiving Holy Communion, take the time to:
- reflect on your life and determine the areas in need of change and healing;
- examine your past thoughts and deeds, measuring them against the example set by Jesus Christ;
- ask God to forgive you, to guide you, and to reveal His will for your life; and
- make a firm commitment to change, with God's help, those areas of your life which are inconsistent with your calling as an Orthodox Christian.
The Sacrament of Confession
Our Lord promises to forgive us whenever we sincerely and genuinely desire to be forgiven. Approach the Sacrament of Confession without fear or embarrassment. It is an opportunity to be reunited with God and others and the means by which we might be relieved of our deepest fears, hurts, and burdens. Ask God's forgiveness. Seek and accept the advice and guidance offered by your Spiritual Father, your pastor, whose love for you and concern for your salvation is a tangible sign of Our Lord's loving presence.
Be at Peace with Others
On this point, Our Lord is clear. In Matthew 5:23 Christ tells us that if a wall has been built between us and someone else, we must make an attempt to be reconciled with the other person before we can offer our gift at the altar and be united to God and His People in the Eucharist. We must make an attempt to overcome those things that separate us from others, for these only serve to separate us from God: "If we say that we love God and hate our brothers, we are liars, for if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses [1 John 4.-20; Matthew 6:14]. Hence, before we can receive God's forgiveness, we must be willing to forgive others, as we pray in the Lord's Prayer: "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us."
Ask forgiveness of those against whom you have sinned. Forgive those who have sinned against you. Make every attempt to heal the hurts you have caused others and to be healed of the hurts others have caused you.
Pray and Meditate
Prayer is more than a means of communicating with God. The ultimate goal of prayer is to consciously experience the very presence of God in our lives at all times. Before receiving Holy Communion, thoughtfully pray at least the prayers contained in this booklet, which place us in God's presence and enable us to approach the Eucharist with the proper spiritual attitude. You will find other prayers in the many prayer books that are readily available. Spend some time in silence, striving to hear the voice of Our Lord and to discern His presence. Read and meditate on Scriptural passages. The Old Testament books of Proverbs and Psalms contain a great deal of wisdom, as do the New Testament epistles, especially those of Saint John. The writings of the Holy Fathers and the lives of the saints also provide deep inspiration and food for thought.
Participate in the Vigil Service on the Eve of the Liturgy
The Vigil Service—Vespers and Matins—prepares us liturgically for the celebration of the Eucharist. After attending the Vigil Service, refrain from boisterous entertainments and other things which hinder a prayerful, reflective mood. It is improper to receive the Eucharist the morning after a party which ran until the wee hours of the morning. If you must tend to a social obligation the night before the Liturgy, graciously curtail your activities at a reasonable hour to allow yourself time to prepare for the reception of the Eucharist.
When we fast, we refrain from unnecessary foods and entertainments which serve to complicate or control our lives. The general practice among all Orthodox Christians is to fast at least from the night before the reception of the Eucharist. Hence, you should refrain from eating, drinking, smoking, or any other activities or things which would distract you from reflecting on the meaning of the Eucharist and the changes you hope to accomplish in your life. [Some Orthodox Christians observe a custom by which they fast one, two, or three days.] Common sense, of course, should be employed, especially in the case of children, the elderly, those on medication, those on special medical diets, and so forth. When in doubt as to the meaning or extent of fasting as a preparation for the Eucharist, consult your Spiritual Father.
Participate in the Entire Divine Liturgy
If you were invited to a dinner at the White House, you would never think of arriving late. The Divine Liturgy, the Heavenly Banquet at which the host is none other than God imself, is an even more important event. Every part of the Liturgy prepares us for the reception of the Eucharist. The Liturgy of the Word, which centers around the reading of Scripture, challenges us to approach God and one another in the proper spirit. Saint Cyril of Jerusalem tells us that hearing the Word of God is, in fact, the first sacrament we receive during the Divine Liturgy. As we begin the Eucharistic Liturgy, we are reminded to "lay aside all earthly cares" in order to "receive the King of All." The reception of Holy Communion fulfills and completes all that precedes it. Be present at the beginning of the Divine Liturgy. In fact, arrive a little early and allow yourself time to settle in to your surroundings, to place yourself in God's presence, and to achieve a sense of internal peace and calm. Before the Liturgy, refrain from unnecessary conversation. [Coffee hour is the proper place for fellowship.] Reflect on the psalms being chanted during the Hours. During the Liturgy sing the hymns and focus your attention on their meaning in your own life. Worship with an awareness of those around you, accepting them as "fellow ministers" rather than distractions. Approach the chalice with a spirit, of humility, thanking Our Lord for making us worthy to receive His heavenly gifts. It is highly improper to approach the chalice if you willfully arrive late for the Divine Liturgy, especially after the Scripture readings. However; common sense should be used when you arrive late through no fault of your own [that is, if you had car trouble or if you encountered unexpected traffic delays].
If you are uncertain as to the proper preparation for the reception of the Eucharist, ask your pastor or Spiritual Father; who will be more than happy to answer your questions and offer guidance.