Receiving Communion: An Examination of Conscience

There is more to the mystery of the blessed Eucharist than the human mind can grasp. This examination is not meant to be a burden to consciences, but an opportunity to reflect gratefully from time to time on various aspects of the gift of the Eucharist.

While processing to Communion, do I realize that I am journeying toward the “Jerusalem above” to feast with angels and saints, with deceased friends and loved ones, with the entire mystical Body of Christ?

Do I recognize those around me as the Body of Christ, and add my voice, however halting, to the processional song that expresses our “union in spirit” and “joy of heart”?

Do I bow humbly to the Eucharistic Lord, to the servant of the Lord ministering to me, to the altar on which the Lord’s dying and rising is made present?

Does my veneration of the Risen Lord, really present in sacramental sign, open my eyes to the “divine presence” which “we believe is everywhere”?

As I eat the “Bread of Life,” do I realize that my own body is a “temple of the Holy Spirit”?

As I drink the Precious Blood, do I realize that Christ’s love poured out for me in sacrifice calls me to pour out my life for others?

Does this sacred banquet strengthen my yearning for a world in which the poor have enough to eat?

Am I grateful that the Eucharist has the “salutary virtue” to “remit the sins I commit daily”?

Do I let the Eucharistic Lord still my inner voices ready to speak in judgment of others’ piety and prayer?

Am I ready to “go forth in peace, glorifying the Lord by my life”?

by Anthony Ruff, OSB

Allusions: Jerusalem above: Galatians 4:26; union in spirit: GIRM 86; divine presence: Rule of Benedict 19:1; bread of life: Roman canon; temple: 1 Corinthians 6:19; salutary virtue: Council of Trent Session 22; Go forth: Mass dismissal from Benedict XVI.



  1. Fr. Anthony,
    This is great. Would it be possible to publish this in our parish bulletin? Giving you credit of course.

  2. I appreciate Fr Ruff’s work here. That said, it’s not clear to me it would be quite as effective and spiritually useful as intended, because even I can readily see that some of the framing here may be seen more an invitation to argument (by dint of the selective nature of the framing) by people it seems to be aimed at rather than an invitation to an examen. (This would hardly be the first such to partake of the issue, nor would it be the last. When the frame for an examen is the Decalogue, what follows is formed by that frame.)

    A more general source material that might be fruitful to enlarge the frame for this might be, for example, the Mandatum that we tend to set aside in the context of the rite of Holy Communion:

    “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you….
    A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (ESV)

    And end with “Do you understand what I have done to you?” [An alternative approach is to word this from the perspective of the communicant (that is, “Do I understand what Jesus has done for me?”), but there’s a part of me, fwiw, that strongly prefers responding to God (and not putting my words in God’s mouth, but using God’s words in some honest way), rather than my own question; maybe it’s just how I roll, but the effect is quite different for me, and perhaps some others.]

    1. Well I wrote it very intentionally so as not to be an argument aimed at anyone, and to be as broad-based as possible resting on the consensus of Catholics (OK, except the singing during Communion 🙂 ) and our official documents.

      I thought some “liberals” would find this too “sacred” and “transcendent,” to be honest, though I didn’t mean to criticize liturgical styles less traditional than what I know in the abbey.

      I found it quite moving to write this and apply it first of all to myself. I’m very sorry it was taken otherwise.


      1. Yeah, the singing part (which really depends on what a parish is doing or not doing during the procession in that regard….), but as you are no doubt aware also there are a not inconsiderable number of American Catholic folks who seem to take any reference to the poor without a Scriptural frame necessarily as Luciferian Social Justice Warring, and who would see the absence of some reference of You Know What Text That Was Deliberately Taken Out of The Lectionary as a cherry-picking or whatever omission. I know that writing with prolepsis in mind is [insert negative gerundive verb of choice – there are so many – here], and that’s not quite where I was coming from; rather, suggesting a frame to collect these together might help make it more universal than it might in practice be taken.

        My apologies for saddening you with my comment.

        FWIW, my response to the Lord’s question: Help me to understand the way you want me to understand.

      2. The way others take something such as this up, of course, says as much, if not more, about them, as it does about the text. I find it first class and am not remotely surprised that it proved to be a moving exercise in the writing.

  3. Dear Fr. Ruff,

    I consider myself a liberal, and – though I deliberately read it three times and allowed the words to sink into my heart before responding – I was challenged, not turned off, by your post. As I have aged and experienced the loss of so many relatives and loved ones, my reflections on the communion of the saints’ doctrine do indeed turn my attention to the paschal meal celebrated eternally at the feast in the Jerusalem above as I gather at my weekly celebration in the parish.

    With regard to your last sentence, “Am I ready to “go forth in peace, glorifying the Lord by my life”?” I think it could be stronger and more concrete. I leave the table commissioned to be Christ for the world, to live out my baptismal commitment, to be Christ’s hands and feet as St. Theresa has said (I think it’s she!), to bring God’s compassion to the peripheries and to the poor, as Pope Francis continually urges. Peace!

  4. This might be the best thing I’ve ever seen on this blog. Many, many thanks.

    I’d also like to ask our bulletin editor to reproduce it, with your permission and acknowledging you as author. Ok?

  5. Fr. Anthony, may I have your permission to reproduce this in our parish bulletin acknowledging you as the author?

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