Communion, or Eucharist, is the central focus of every Roman Catholic Mass and sacrament service. It is the representation of the Last Supper and it is when Catholics believe the host (unleavened bread) and wine are transmogrified into the body and blood of Jesus Christ. By taking Holy Communion, Catholics believe that they are taking Christ into their bodies for the purpose of spiritual strength and sustenance. Other Christian faiths incorporate Holy Communion into their services, but not necessarily in the same way.
The ceremony surrounding Holy Communion and transmogrification can only be performed by an ordained priest of the Catholic Church. While deacons, who are not ordained priests, can assist with preparations and lay people can distribute the host and wine, only the priest can perform the ceremony.
Qualifications for Participants
Unlike other Christian faiths, only church members who have been baptised into the Catholic Church and have taken the sacrament of First Holy Communion can receive Holy Communion at Mass. While any person of any age can be part of the First Holy Communion sacrament, it is typically performed when a child who has been baptised into the Catholic Church reaches about third grade and takes part in preparatory classes. A child cannot be confirmed as an adult member of the Catholic Church without receiving First Holy Communion.
Confession is a required preparation for receiving Holy Communion. Catholics believe that the body and blood of Christ should be received into a body that is free from sin. Confessing sins to a priest and receiving absolution is the focus of the sacrament of Confession. It is traditionally done weekly, mostly on Saturday. Church rules require anyone who has not been to confession since the last time they took Holy Communion to abstain from taking the body and blood until they have gone to confession.
Taking of the Eucharist
The procedure for taking Holy Communion consists of standing in front of the priest or attendant with your hands cupped, left over right, and raising them to about the level of your chin. The priest places the blessed host into your hand and says "The body of Christ" while making the sign of the cross with his hand over your bowed head. You place the host in your mouth, then make the sign of the cross while saying "Amen." To make the sign of the cross, you take the index and middle fingers of your right hand and touch your forehead, then the centre of your chest, then touch your left shoulder followed by your right shoulder. Some churches will also offer you the chance to sip from the cup, which you are not required to do. The sign of the cross, and the word "Amen" come after drinking as well. After you have finished, you fold your hands as in prayer and proceed back to your seat.
The period after receiving Holy Communion is for prayer, during which time you should kneel and refrain from talking. You are to remain kneeling until all have received the host and the priest and attendants have finished with all ritual and have cleared the altar, at which time you are to sit.
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