Today’s Gospel provides us with another installment from John’s sixth chapter — the Bread of Life discourse. In order to solemnize His claims, Jesus would often preface His statements by saying, “Amen, amen, I say to you.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that our Lord would use the phrase “Amen, amen” in order “to emphasize the trustworthiness of his teaching, His authority founded on God’s truth” (CCC , 1063). Similarly, we use the term “Amen” after we recite the Our Father at Mass during what is known as the “Great Amen” as well as when we receive holy Communion.
What does the term “Amen” mean, and what does our saying “Amen” mean when we respond to the statement “The Body of Christ” when we receive holy Communion? Again, the catechism reminds us: “In Hebrew, amen comes from the same root as the word ‘believe.’ This root expresses solidity, trustworthiness, faithfulness. And so we can understand why ‘Amen’ may express both God’s faithfulness towards us and our trust in Him” (CCC , 1062). And so, more than simply “I believe,” the word “Amen” means that I place my life forward for the truth of a particular claim. It is more than an idea that resides in the mind. It is also an act of the will expressing God’s trustworthiness and my desire to believe, trust and love Him.
When a communicant says, “Amen,” to the words “The Body of Christ” when he receives the Eucharist at Mass, he is saying “Amen” to several realities. First, he is saying “Amen” to the reality of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Next, he is saying “Amen” to the priesthood which confects this Eucharist and the authority of the bishop who ordained the priest and the Pope that holds them in full communion with the See of Peter. Finally, he is saying “Amen” to all that the Church proposes as being true and definitively taught as worthy of our belief. So, in order to make a genuine communion, a person receiving the Eucharist must be in full communion with the Church — that is, he accepts everything that the Church teaches. To believe in anything less makes that person’s “Amen” a disingenuous act. A true “Amen” links us to Jesus and nourishes us into everlasting life.
This is precisely the reason why Catholics don’t offer holy Communion to non-Catholics (with the exception of the Orthodox). The reasoning is really quite simple. If, for example, a Protestant or a Jew was to come up in the Communion line and the priest would say, “The Body of Christ,” the only response would be “Amen.” However, since neither Protestants nor Jews believe in the Eucharist in the same way that Catholics do, the priest would be asking the Protestant or Jew to violate their conscience in saying “Amen” to realities they do not accept.
Thus, the Church reminds us that the sacraments are not intended to engender unity. Rather, they are intended to express the unity that already exists among believers. Catholics are, therefore, not to receive communion in Protestant ecclesial communities because Catholics are not in communion with Protestants. That is why Jesus’ words in our Gospel are so chilling: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.”
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So, receiving holy Communion with a resounding “Amen” expresses the unity of believers in the Catholic Church under the headship of the Roman Pontiff and his collaborators, the bishops. May the “Amen” that we say at holy Communion be authentic — reflective of our unity of belief in all that our Lord has deemed necessary for our salvation and made known through His Bride, the Church.