Baptism is the Sacrament of our personal re-birth, our re-creation. It is our personal Pascha and our personal Pentecost, the initiation into the laos, the People of God, the “passage” from an old life to a new life; and finally, the manifestation of the Kingdom of God. Baptism is truly the beginning, the foundation, and the key. The whole life of the Church is rooted in this New Life which shone forth from the grave on the first day of the New Creation, the resurrection of Christ. It is this new life that is given in Baptism and is fulfilled in the Church.
The aim of this presentation is to reflect upon the Service of Christian Initiation, in order to gain a better understanding of what is happening. It is suggested that you obtain a copy of the Baptismal Service and follow it, while reflecting on the material presented here. Be aware that every prayer, reading and liturgical action reveals what God is doing for us at a deeper lever of our spirit. Allow the language of the ritual to speak to you and lead you to a greater appreciation of the gift of this sacrament and a deeper awareness of how it touches your life today.
The Enrollment of a Candidate
In the early Church, the person who desired to become a Christian was brought to the bishop of a local church by his sponsors, i.e. those members of the Christian community who could testify to the serious intentions of the candidate, to the genuine character of his conversion.
The bishop in the early Church was the priest, the pastor and the teacher of the local Christian community. Having been assured of the seriousness of the convert’s intentions, the bishop inscribed his name into the register of catechumens. Then he made three signs of the cross on the catechumen’s face and laid is hand upon the catechumen’s head and prayed over him. The hand of the bishop or priest becomes the hand of Christ Himself which protects, shelters and “covers with wings.”
This first rite, called the Enrollment of a Candidate, signify that Christ has taken possession of this person, and has inscribed him into His heavenly “Book of Life,” where the names of all those who are to be saved are found.
At the time of St. John Chrysostom, this “enrollment” took place at the very beginning of Great Lent. Today, for an adult it may be done at any time when the decision is made to seek Baptism and to enter the Church. For infants, it constitutes the beginning of the Baptismal Liturgy itself.
Once the prayer over the candidate is completed, the catechumen is “enrolled,” inscribed in the Book of Life, and will soon be “united to the flock of God’s inheritance.” At the same time he is also informed of the ultimate goal of Baptism: the restoration of true life, the life that humanity has lost in sin. This life is described as “giving praise, worshiping and glorifying His great and exalted Name.” The decisive event has begun.
The first part of the baptismal service takes place in the narthex (entrance of the church). This is to show that the one being received is not yet a member of the Church. To enter into the temple of God is to be with Christ, to become a member of His body.
Traditionally for adults, the Catechumenate is a time of intense instruction in the Christian Faith lasting anywhere from several months to several years. It would begin with a formal enrollment followed by a period of regular catechesis, and would end with final profession of Baptismal Vows, which usually took place on a Holy Friday at about 3:00 pm.
In the time of St. John Chrysostom, catechumens gathered for instruction on a daily basis. Every candidate underwent forty days of intense instruction and preparation in order to be ready for Baptism on Holy Saturday and to partake in the Divine Liturgy on Easter Sunday. Today, the preparation of adults is spread over a longer period of time, usually on a weekly basis.
The program of catechesis would normally focus of four important areas: 1) the Baptismal Creed, or Profession of Faith; 2) The Sacraments; 3) The Commandments of God; and 4) Prayer.
In the case of infants, the time of catechesis is postponed until later, on the condition that there is sufficient evidence that parents and sponsors will provide the child with the proper education in the faith as the child grows and matures.
To belong to God, one must be completely separated from Satan. The first act of the Christian life is a renunciation, a challenge. No one can be Christ’s until he has first faced Evil, and then become ready to fight it. The exorcisms mean this: to face Evil, to acknowledge its reality, to know its power, and to proclaim the power of God to destroy it. The exorcisms announce the forthcoming baptism as an act of victory.
By reading the prayers of exorcism, the priest asks God to “empower” to soon to be baptized Christian, to triumph over Satan and all his evil spirits. He also asks God to assign to him/her a guardian angel of light; that this angel be a life-long companion,
The Baptismal Vows
For adult catechumens, the Baptismal Vows took place before the Baptism itself, usually on Holy Friday, the day of Christ’s Victory over death and the dominion of Satan. They constituted the end and completion of the entire catechetical program of preparation. In today’s practice, the baptismal vows take place immediately after the exorcisms.
The Baptismal Vows consist of two parts or two rites: first, the Renunciation of Satan and all evil, which is immediately followed by a second rite, the oath of Adherence to Christ.
The Renunciation of Satan
The sponsor, together with the catechumen, face toward the West. The West is where the sun goes down and where the ancient Greek believed that the gates to Hades were located. It is thus a symbol of darkness and the “side” of Satan.
The exorcisms prayers have made us free to renounce Satan, to challenge and to reject him. Conversion to God begins with the renunciation of Satan and all his evil, a turning away from all darkness toward God, Who is Light. This very turning to the West is thus an act of freedom, the first act of a person liberated from enslavement to Satan.
Once can be sure that Satan will not forget this renunciation, this rejection, this challenge. War has been declared and the spiritual battle begins!
St. Cyril of Jerusalem writes that, “when you renounce Satan, you utterly break all covenants (ties) with him.”
The Oath of Adherence to Christ
Now, turning to the East signifies the conversion of man to Paradise, which was planted in the East, a turning to the Kingdom of God, a conversion to Christ Who is the light of the world.
Rebellion against God is now replaced with surrender, submission and peace. Now the profession of allegiance to Christ takes place.
It is a profession of personal attachment to Christ, of an enrollment in the ranks of those who serve Christ, an oath similar to the one taken by soldiers.
The Profession of Faith
Immediately after the Baptismal Vows are made, the sponsor and the catechumen confess their faith in Christ as their personal King and God. To accept Jesus and King and Lord means precisely the desire and the decision to follow Him, to make ones’ whole life a service to Him, to live according to His Will and His commandments.
The oath of Adherence to Christ is once again repeated after the Profession of Faith. This repetition emphasizes that it is an oath of unconditional commitment to Christ, a total belonging to someone who is to be obeyed and followed, no matter what happens.
Both the Adherence to Christ and the Profession of Faith is now confirmed and sealed with the bowing down in worship before the Most Holy Trinity: “I bow down before the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the Trinity one in essence and undivided.” “Bowing down” is a universal symbol of reverence, love and obedience.
Now the preparation has come to its end. Now everything is ready for the great act itself: that of death and resurrection in the “likeness” of Christ’s Death and Resurrection.
Entrance into the Church
The priest, child, godparents, parents and family enter the church and proceed to the baptismal font which is set in the nave, or in a separate Baptistry adjacent to the Church.
For Christians, the Sacrament of Baptism is our entry into the Church as members of the Body of Christ. It is the “new birth” by which we die to the world, and are raised with Christ to eternal life. It is through Baptism, that we are mystically born into spiritual life.
The Holy Mystery of Baptism serves as the gate that leads us into the Kingdom of God’s Grace, and grants us access to participate in the other Sacraments of the Church.
Christian initiation into the Church, the Body of Christ, is accomplished by three sacraments together: Baptism which is the beginning of new life; Chrismation which imparts the gift of the Holy Spirit; and the Eucharist which nourishes the disciple with Christ’s Body and Blood for his transformation in Christ.
In the early Church, most baptisms took place on Holy Saturday, during the Easter Vigil Service.
The Blessing of Water
Water is a natural symbol of life. Without water, life as we know it could not exist on earth. Where there is water, there is life. Where there is no water, there is desert. Modern science has discovered what the Bible has always taught in the book of Genesis, namely, that all life on earth came from water. In primeval times all life, including ours, was in the sea. Modern obstetrics has show that the human embryo is born from the amniotic fluid in the mother’s womb, and that this fluid has the same composition as sea-water. As human beings we are formed in water. Our life comes emerges from water.
Even though water is a source of life and brings life, water can also drown and destroy. Thus water is also a symbol of destruction and death. In the time of Noah, the wickedness of mankind had become so great, that never before had it been so filled with evil, pride and hatred. By means of water and the Flood, God drowned sin and destroyed all the human wickedness that had filled the earth. Only the ark of salvation was spared, a symbol of the future Church of Christ. On board were the righteous Noah, with his family, and all the creatures he had brought with him. In the book of Exodus, water was once again used to submerge sin and destroy evil. Pharaoh’s army was pursuing the people of God. Let by Moses, the Hebrews had just crossed the Red Sea which had been driven back by a strong wind sent by God. The wind turned, and the sea flowed back, covering Pharaoh’s army, drowning, destroying, and burying the forces of evil.
Finally, water is a symbol of cleansing and purification. We use water daily to wash and to cleanse ourselves. In the Old Testament, water was used in various purification rites. Priests were required to wash their hand and feet before approaching the altar for their service, or before entering the Temple.
All three symbols of water and important in understanding what happens in Baptism. At the same time, the water of baptism will become waters of life and rebirth, waters of death and destruction, and waters of cleansing and purification, regeneration and renewal.
As the priest prays over the baptismal font, he invokes the life-giving Holy Spirit to descent upon the baptismal waters and to sanctify them, to make them the “waters of redemption and sanctification”, where the catechumen will be spiritually reborn as a child of God, where the old person will die, crucified and buried with Christ, and a new person will emerge united to the resurrection of Christ, cleansed and purified of all sin.
The Baptismal Font
The baptismal font is the “DIVINE WOMB” in which the child will receive a second birth. The descent into the baptismal font symbolizes a return to the water of the womb in order to be re-created and born anew as a child of God. To emphasize this concept of being “born again” spiritually, fonts are often made in the shape of a womb.
Symbolically the baptismal font is also the TOMB of Christ. As the person is immersed into the baptismal waters, he will be immersed into the death of Christ on the cross, and buried together with Him in the tomb, in order to rise with Him in His resurrection to a new life with God.
Finally, the font is a BASIN for cleaning and purification, a laver of regeneration. The child will be immersed in order to be spiritual washed clean, purified and sanctified.
The Blessing of Olive Oil
Olive oil is a symbol of joy, gladness and peace. The first time the word “olive” is mentioned in the Bible is in the book of Genesis, just after the Flood in the time of Noah. If you remember the story, Noah had send out a dove from the ark, and it returned after seven days with an olive branch in its beak (Gen 8:6-12). This olive branch brought joy and gladness to Noah and to all the others on board, because was a sign that the Flood was over. The waters were subsiding and land would soon appear. It also brought peace to Noah and his family, because the olive branch announced God’s forgiveness and reconciliation with mankind after the Flood. Thus the olive tree and oil made from the fruit of this tree, become for us a symbol of joy, gladness and peace.
Olive oil is also a symbol of light. It was used as a natural source of fuel, to be burned in lamps and to provide light in homes. It was also used to fuel the eternal light that burned before the Holy Ark in the Temple.
Finally, olive oil is a symbol of healing and protection. In the ancient world, oil was used primarily as medicine. The Good Samaritan in the Gospel poured oil and wine on the wounds of the man whom he found lying by the road.
As the priest prays over the olive oil, he asks God to bless it and to empower it with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, so that it may bring joy, gladness, peace, light and God’s protection to those who are anointed with it.
Anointing with the “Oil of Gladness”
First, the water is anointed with the blessed oil, referred to as the “Oil of Gladness.” The anointing of the water confirms that the water has been sanctified by the action and descent of the Holy Spirit. It is now ready to bring peace with God, to illuminate those who are to baptized in it, and to bring about spiritual healing, peace and reconciliation with God.
Then, the Oil of Gladness is used by the priest to anoint the body of the child: the forehead, the breast, the ears, hands and feet. According to St. John Chrysostom, the catechumens are “anointed with oil from head to foot, as athletes of Christ preparing to enter the spiritual arena, or as soldiers receiving spiritual armour against the enemy’s weapons. This oil is also called the “Oil of Exorcism”, because through the invocation of God’s name and the prayer of the priest it is invested with power to repel the attacks of evil spirits.
The essential rite of Baptism consists in immersing the candidate in water three times (or pouring water over the head), while saying: “The servant of God [name], is baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
There are three important things happening during the baptism at the same time: 1) a death and resurrection; 2) a spiritual rebirth, and 3) a divine cleansing and purification for the forgiveness of sins.
Baptism is a death and a resurrection. As the person is immersed into water, he is immersed into the death of Jesus Christ upon the Cross. He is buried with Christ into His Tomb. This marks the death of the old person, who was a slave to sin and unfaithful to God. It marks the end of an old way of life. If the person is united with Christ in His death, then he is also united with Christ in His resurrection. The two cannot be separated. As the person emerges from the water, he also rises from the tomb with Christ in His resurrection. He rises to a new way of life, united to the life of Christ, grafted into the Body of Christ, the Church, to share in His victory over sin and death. The newly baptized person is no longer a slave to sin, but a slave to freedom. He is now free to live by God’s grace.
Baptism is a spiritual rebirth. Early in His ministry, Jesus revealed that we must be “born again” in order to enter the kingdom of God. He said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). In baptism, a person is “born anew.” He is immersed into the baptismal waters as if into a divine womb. Here, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the image of God in renewed and restored. The person is re-created and then, emerges from the water as a new creation of God, born anew as a child of God, “born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13).
Baptism is a divine cleansing for the forgiveness of sins. In baptism a person is washed, purified, cleansed of all sin and sanctified. All sins, original and personal, are forgiven. “You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of God” (2 Cor 6:11).
White Garments – The Robe of Light
Before going into the baptismal water, the catechumens laid aside their old clothes as a sign that they were leaving behind their old way of life. After Baptism they were clothed in a new white garment, symbolic of the entirely new life that they have received.
In the early church the newly baptized wore their new white garments at all the services during Easter week, hence the name “Bright Week”. (Most baptisms were performed on Holy Saturday). The white garments expressed the purity of the soul that has been washed from sin. It also recalls the light of Christ body after His resurrection. Those who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ, who has risen from the dead. They are children of the Resurrection.
St. Gregory of Nyssa states that the white garment worn after baptism symbolizes the garment of light which was man’s before the Fall: “You have driven us out of paradise and called us back; You have taken away the fig leaves, that garment of misery, and clothed us once more with the robe of glory.”
St. Ambrose wrote: “These white garments are a sign of your new life of purity. How often we repent those words which David prayed in the psalm, “Lord, sprinkle me with hyssop and I shall be clean Wash me, and I shall become whiter than snow” (Psalm 50:7).
The Book of Revelation writes about the multitudes who are clothed in white robes from every nation standing before the throne of the Lamb (Rev 7:9-17).
The clothing in white garments is also at the same time a preparation for the next mystery – Holy Chrismation. In the Old Testament, those who were chosen to be priests, were first washed and cleansed in water, then robed in white linen and then consecrated as priests with the anointing of special chrism oil (see Exodus 30:22-33).
The Baptismal Candle
In the early Church, Baptism was also called “Holy Illumination” and the newly baptized Christian was referred to as “the bearer of light.” Writing to the Thessalonians St. Paul says, “… you are the sons of light and sons of the day; we do not belong to the night or to darkness…” (1 Thess 5:5).
“You are the light of the world,” Jesus said to his disciples. See Mt 5:14-16
After being robed in white, the newly baptized Christian is given a lighted candle, as a sign that the light of faith has been passed on from the Church to the person.
It is reminder that he has been called by Christ to be a bearer of light in the world, to shine with the light of faith and good deeds.
The candle is a constant reminder for the Christian to live and die by the light of Christ. In the early Church the baptismal candle was lit for major life events such as marriage. It was also lit in times of illness and approaching death. The candle is a symbol of the perseverance of the baptized until Christ’s return.
The word “chrism” comes from the Greek word chrisma, which means “unction, or anointing.”
Chrism, therefore, is an oil, which used to anoint and to consecrate (dedicate, set apart). It consists of olive oil mixed with precious balsams and perfumes. Actually, the recipe for chrism is given in the book of Exodus (Ex 30:22-25). It was with this special oil that Moses anointed and consecrated his brother Aaron and his sons to serve as priests. With chrism, David was anointed as King.
On Holy Thursday each year, a bishop will consecrate chrism, invoking the Holy Spirit to come down and empower it with His divine Presence. The holy chrism is then sent to all parishes, to be used by priests to confer the gift of the Holy Spirit upon this who have been baptized. This anointing with chrism and with the Holy Spirit is called the Mystery of Chrismation.
“Take care not to imagine that this chrism is anything ordinary. In the same way as the bread of the Eucharist, after the invocation of the Holy Spirit, is no more ordinary bread, but the body of Christ, so the holy chrism is no longer ordinary… after the epiclesis, but the charism (gift) of Christ, made efficacious of the Holy Spirit by the presence of His divinity.” – St. Cyril of Jerusalem
Anointing with Holy Chrism
Immediately after Baptism, the priest anoints the infant (or adult) with holy chrism on the forehead, eyes, nostrils, mouth, ears breast, hand and feet, while saying the words, “The seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
This becomes the moment of personal Pentecost. The same Spirit of God, Who descended upon the apostles in tongues of fire, now descends upon the one being anointed with holy chrism. He comes invisibly, yet with no less power and reality.
The person becomes an ‘anointed one’, a ‘christ’, in the likeness of Jesus the Christ (in Greek Christos), the Anointed One. He is sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit, Who comes to dwell with Christ, in the innermost shrine of the heart.
In his first letter, St. John says, “You have been anointed by the Holy One” (1 Jn 2:20), and the apostle Paul says, “He has put His seal upon us and given us His Spirit in our hearts” (2 Cor 1:22).
Sealed by the Spirit
Like Baptism, Chrismation is given only once, for it also imprints on the soul an indelible spiritual mark. The person is marked and sealed by the Holy Spirit as one who belongs to God, set apart for God, and consecrated to God.
With infinite love, God the Father looks down from heaven upon His new creation and pronounces the verdict, “This is my beloved son (daughter) in whom I am well pleased.”
Children and Royal Heirs of the Kingdom
Those who been baptized and chrismated, have become members of a holy nation, the People of God. They are God’s anointed ones, His chosen ones, His beloved sons and daughters, members of His Household and therefore, the royal heirs to His Kingdom.
“When we cry “Abba, Father,” it is the Spirit Himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided that we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him” (Rom 8:15-17).
“Listen, my beloved brethren. Has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the Kingdom which he has promised to those who love Him?” (James 2:5)
Members of the Royal Priesthood
Christ is our High Priest, that is, the intermediary between God the Father and us. He is God’s spokesman, but He is also our advocate before the Father. Though Him, the perfect sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving is offered to the Father. This is the wonderful role of priest.
As members of Christ’s Body, we also share in His Royal Priesthood. In his first letter, St. Peter writes:, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation” (1 Pet 2:9).
The Church therefore is a holy nation of priests. Baptized and Chrismated, every Christian is called to serve a priestly role in the world: to be a spokesman for God, to preach the Good News, to profess Christ publically as their King and God, to teach the faith and to serve others in love, to bring all things to God, to intercede for others in daily prayer, to worship God and to offer Him a perfect sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, by participating in the celebration of the Most Holy Eucharist. This is wonder role of the royal priesthood of the people.
In early times, the Mystery of Baptism and Chrismation took place not in the church, but in a separate ediface called the Baptisterion. Following the anointing with holy chrism, the newly baptized, wearing their white robes and carrying their candles were led by the clergy to the church for the celebration of the Eucharist. Here they would receive their first Holy Communion. This is the origin of the present procession of the priest accompanied by the sponsor/s holding the newly baptized infant, around the baptismal font just before the neophyte is given Holy Communion. The purpose of Baptism and Chrismation is expressed by this procession to the Eucharist. The door is now open to full and complete communion with God. During the procession, the faithful sing the Baptismal Hymn, “All you who have been baptized into Christ, you have put on Christ. Alleluia.”
THE MOST HOLY EUCHARIST
The new life in Christ, given in baptism, is renewed again and again in the Mystery of Holy Eucharist. In the Byzantine Tradition, every baptized and confirmed infant becomes a full member of the Church and is entitled to receive Holy Communion.
In the early Church, those who were baptized on Holy Saturday, participated in the Eucharist and received Holy Communion at the Easter Vigil and on the day of Holy Pascha.
As fully initiated members of the Church, baptized and chrismated infants are given Holy Communion immediately. There is no reason to delay their receiving of Holy Communion until a later date. St. John Chrysostom teaches,
“As a mother will not deny her children food until they understand what they eat, so too the Church will not deny the spiritual food of the Eucharist until a person understands.”
The full participation of infants in the Divine Liturgy is a sign of the wholeness of the Body of Christ. Christ gave the following command,
“Let the children come to me, and to not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (Luke 18:15-17).
There is much to be learned from these words. Sometimes people in church will become irritated when a baby cries noisily. When this happens, it is important to remind ourselves that every child is God’s creation, God’s child, God’s gift to the whole community. Their presence at Liturgy is sign of wholeness in the Body of Christ.
First Holy and Solemn Communion
From the day they are baptized and chrismated, children may continue to receive Holy Communion every Sunday and on all feast days, if they approach together with their parents, who act as their moral conscience.
As reason and moral conscience develop in children, by the age of eight, they are ready to reflect upon their actions and behavior, and to identify what is good and what is wrong. With proper catechesis, at home and at church, they are prepared to make their first solemn confession in the mystery of Repentance.
Having made their first confession, they are now ready to approach Holy Communion on their own, foe the first time without their parents. This is the moment of their first Holy and Solemn Communion. From now on, they are responsible to examine their conscience on their own, to confess sins and to receive forgiveness when necessary, and to prepare with prayer and fasting to receive Holy Communion in a worthy manner.
What does “Eucharist” mean?
In Greek, the word charis means grace or gift, kindness, mercy and goodwill. The prefix eu denote something good. Eu-charis would literally mean “good gift,” or “good giving.” In the Eucharist, every good gift comes down to us from the Father. Through the precious Body and Blood of His beloved Son, God the Father pours out His infinite mercy, goodwill and loving kindness upon us. In Holy Communion with Christ, we receive grace upon grace.
At the same time, the Greek word eucharistos means “thank you,” and the word eucharistia means “thanksgiving.” When we celebrate the Eucharist, through Jesus Christ, we offer to God a perfect gift of worship, praise and thanksgiving.
The Heavenly Liturgy
In the book of Revelation, St. John describes his vision of heaven and the worship that takes place there unceasingly. He writes the following,
“At once I was in the Spirit, and lo, a throne stood in heaven, with One seated on the throne… the Lord God Almighty” (Rev 4:2, 8).
“And round the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures… each of them with six wings, full of eyes round and within, and day and night they never cease to sing, “Holy, holy, Holy…” (Rev 4:6-8).
“I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain…” (Rev 5:6).
“Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads and thousands of thousands saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing!” And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all therein, saying” To Him who sits upon the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honour and glory and might forever and ever!” (Rev 5:11-13).
“Then he showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb…” (Rev 22:1).
This is the unceasing Liturgy of heaven. All living creatures give glory and honour to the Father, Him who is seated on the throne. Standing by the throne is the Lamb, Christ crucified and risen. He is the one true High Priest of the heavenly sanctuary, the one who continually offers and is offered, who receives and is given. Finally, the Holy Spirit is river of life, which proceeds from the Father, flowing from His throne through His Son.
Whenever we gather to celebrate the Eucharist as Christ commanded, we leave this world to join this unceasing Liturgy of heaven. For this reason, our Church refers to the celebration of the Eucharist as the Holy and Divine Liturgy, or the Service of God.
Christ’s Passover becomes present to us
When we celebrate the Eucharist, the Divine Liturgy, we commemorate Christ’s Passover and it truly becomes present to us: the Sacrifice Christ offered once for all on the cross (Heb 7:25-27), His glorious Resurrection on the third day, His Ascension and sitting at the right hand of the Father in glory.
The sacrifice of Christ on the cross and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one and the same, one single sacrifice. The Lamb offered is one and the same; the High Priest who offers the sacrifice to the Father is also one and the same.
In the Eucharist Christ comes to us risen and glorified, in His body, blood soul and divinity. His presence is real, yet veiled by the appearance of bread and wine. In Holy Communion, we receive the whole person of Christ, Who gives us the very body He gave up for us on the cross, the very blood which he “poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt 26:28).
As people of the Resurrection, we gather every week on the Lord’s Day, the first day of the week, the day of Jesus’ resurrection, to celebrate the Eucharist. From Sunday to Sunday, we proclaim the victory of His Paschal Mystery, His death and resurrection, until He returns in glory at the end of this age.
The Church obliges us, the faithful, to take part in the Divine Liturgy on Sundays and feast days. We must see this, however, not as an imposed obligation, but as an act of love, an expression of our faithfulness, loyalty and love for God. The Church also invites and strongly encourages us to receive Holy Communion every Sunday, on feast days, or more often still, even daily.
Every Holy Communion is a great and holy moment, which requires preparation on our part. We prepare in a worthy manner first by acknowledging our unworthiness to receive, by examining our conscience, confessing our sins, spending time in prayer and making an effort to fast.
As bodily nourishment restores our physical strength, so the Eucharist strengthens our love for God and others, which tends to be weakened in daily life. By uniting Himself with us in Holy Communion, Jesus revives our love and devotion. He enables us over time to break free from our disordered attachments and to root ourselves in Him.