What Mary’s First Communion Teaches Us About Reverencing the Eucharist

COMMENTARY: The Blessed Mother should be our model.

‘The Virgin of the Host’ by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, 1854
‘The Virgin of the Host’ by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, 1854 (photo: Public domain)

It sometimes takes a mystic to pierce through the familiar aspects of our Catholic faith and help us appreciate them anew.

That’s what St. John Paul II did for me and my Eucharistic devotion. 

I had long appreciated the gift of the Eucharist. Through my young-adult years, I frequented Holy Communion and regularly visited adoration chapels. When I started as a professor, I taught many classes on the mystery of the Mass. But in 2003, St. John Paul II wrote something that transformed they way I viewed — and personally experienced — Holy Communion. 

He once wrote about what it would have been like for the Blessed Virgin Mary to receive the Eucharist for the very first time.

Whoa — I had never thought about that before! 

We don’t know for sure when Mary’s first Communion would have taken place. Perhaps it was sometime after the Ascension or after Pentecost. But imagine being Mary in that moment: One of the apostles offers the Eucharistic sacrifice somewhere in Jerusalem or Galilee. Many of the original disciples are present. Mary is there, too, attending her first Mass. 

She had not been at the Last Supper. She would have heard from the apostles what Jesus commanded them that night: to take bread and wine, to offer his Body and Blood, and to “do this in memory of me.” Now she participates in these sacred mysteries of the Eucharist for the very first time. 

Imagine her watching the apostles take the bread and the wine and then hearing them say those words, “This is my body. … This is my blood.” Then imagine her receiving the Eucharist: the Body and Blood of her own Son dwelling inside her again!

Consider these two key insights from the contemplative mind of St. John Paul II. 

First, he ponders the profound connection between Mary carrying Jesus in her womb and a person receiving Communion. In a sense, we become like Mary every time we receive the Eucharist. 

“Mary lived her Eucharistic faith even before the institution of the Eucharist, by the very fact that she offered her virginal womb for the Incarnation of God’s Word,” the Holy Father wrote in Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 55 (original emphasis). For nine months, Mary had the Body and Blood of Jesus within her. At Mass, we receive the sacramental Body and Blood of Our Lord. John Paul II continues:

“At the Annunciation, Mary conceived the Son of God in the physical reality of his body and blood, thus anticipating within herself what to some degree happens sacramentally in every believer who receives, under the signs of bread and wine, the Lord’s body and blood” (55).

Second, St. John Paul II ponders how Mary would have felt when she first heard about the Eucharist. She was not present at the Last Supper and presumably would have learned about what happened there from the apostles:

“What must Mary have felt as she heard from the mouth of Peter, John, James and the other Apostles the words spoken at the Last Supper: ‘This is my body which is given for you’ (Luke 22:19)? The body given up for us and made present under sacramental signs was the same body which she had conceived in her womb!” (56).

John Paul then beautifully draws out the unique meaning Holy Communion would have had for the Blessed Virgin: “For Mary, receiving the Eucharist must have somehow meant welcoming once more into her womb that heart which had beat in unison with hers” (56). 

What a profound insight! Imagine Mary preparing herself to be reunited with her Son in this way. Imagine the loving attention she gave to Jesus in every Holy Communion. What a joy it must have been for her to have her Son dwelling within her again! 

As we approach the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, let’s enter into the mystery of Holy Communion like Mary did. Especially after the trials of the last 15 months, when churches closed for long periods of times and many people were not able to receive the Eucharist regularly, let us be more intentional and make every Holy Communion count. As our parishes continue to open up, let us open up our hearts even more to the Eucharist itself. 

Here are two practical things we can do:

First, let’s take the time after receiving Communion very seriously. It is the time for lovers. Love wants to be near the one it loves, and Jesus loves us so much he unites himself to us in Holy Communion. 

When we come back to our pews, this is not the time to look around and see who’s at Mass and what they’re wearing. This is not the time to be developing our “parking-lot exit strategy.” This is not the time to be thinking about those donuts after Mass. Our Lord Jesus Christ — Love himself — is dwelling within us in the most intimate way possible here on earth. 

We want to take time to rest with our beloved Jesus, to listen to him and let him speak to us. Our Bridegroom is so close to us in those moments. But are we close to him — in our thoughts, in our glances, in our desires? Let us pour out our hearts to him. Let us tell him we love him. Let us praise him and thank him. If we don’t take time — serious time — to give Jesus our hearts and tell him how much we love him after we receive Holy Communion, when will we ever give him the love he deserves? 

Second, let us not be rushed in our time with Jesus at the end of Mass. The tradition of making a thanksgiving after Communion is important. Lovers aren’t in a rush to leave each other. And neither should we be with Jesus. Let us be generous in our time with him. Our friends in the vestibule can wait. The donuts will still be there. The more we lovingly linger with our beloved, the more every Communion will bear fruit in our lives. 

Most of all, Mary should be our model. Let us pray that we may ardently welcome Jesus in every Holy Communion as Mary received her Son. I’m sure she was not in a rush to leave those precious moments with Jesus. May every Holy Communion cause our hearts to beat ever more in unison with Christ’s, just as Mary’s heart — her will — was beating perfectly with his.

This article is based on Edward Sri’s newly revised book and small-group study A Biblical Walk Through the Mass (Ascension Press). Editor’s Note: This is Part I of a three-part series on the Mass.

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