Posted by: Thomas Richard | July 30, 2014

Can a Catholic Receive Grace in Vain?

Recently I’ve written two articles for on-line magazines, on the matter of receiving sacramental grace fruitfully. The importance of this matter continues to burn in my heart anyway – so here I go: I’ll try to say it again. For a sacrament to be fully fruitful – that is, effective – in the soul and life of a Christian, that sacrament must be valid, obviously, and also it must be received with “right disposition.” It must be received, in the interior of the soul, in the right way. Most Catholics are given only valid sacraments – so that is not the problem. But a question exists in the matter of how the valid sacraments are received, in the soul. Do most Catholics receive the sacraments – and Eucharist in particular – with the right interior disposition for the plentitude of grace given in the Eucharist, so that it may be fruitful and effective in their personal souls and lives? And what is this “right disposition,” and how does one come into it so as to have it?

First, let me establish the need for right disposition in the matter of sacramental grace. The Catechism has this:

Catechism 1131 The sacraments are efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us. The visible rites by which the sacraments are celebrated signify and make present the graces proper to each sacrament. They bear fruit in those who receive them with the required dispositions.

Note that sacraments do not bear fruit all by themselves, as potent as they are! “They bear fruit in those who receive them with the required dispositions.” So – what is, and how do we come into, “required dispositions”? The disposition that is needed is effected by the work of the Holy Spirit in the souls of human persons, and the cooperation of those persons with His work.

Catechism 1098 The assembly should prepare itself to encounter its Lord and to become “a people well disposed.” The preparation of hearts is the joint work of the Holy Spirit and the assembly, especially of its ministers. The grace of the Holy Spirit seeks to awaken faith, conversion of heart, and adherence to the Father’s will. These dispositions are the precondition both for the reception of other graces conferred in the celebration itself and the fruits of new life which the celebration is intended to produce afterward.

Note especially the last sentence. The required dispositions just listed (“faith, conversion of heart, and adherence to the Father’s will”) are the “precondition” for the graces conferred and the fruits of the new life that is the intended result of the sacramental grace conferred. It is worthwhile to look at this list of necessary dispositions:

  • an awakened faith in God, in Jesus His Son, in all He has given His Church
  • a heart awakened to conversion from this world, to the things of God
  • an awakened obedience to the Father’s will over my own will.

Is it possible for a Catholic to go forward to receive Eucharist without such an “awakened” and properly disposed soul? Is it possible for a Catholic to receive a holy sacrament such as Eucharist with little consciousness of believing that this Eucharist is what the Church teaches that it is: Jesus Christ Himself – Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity? Certainly it is possible.

Is it possible for the Catholic to have little to no conscious “awakened” intention of the radical personal conversion of heart that defines a believer – a disciple – a follower of Jesus Christ? Is it possible for such a Catholic to receive Eucharist having little to no “awakened” thought of changing his life today to become fully obedient to all the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ – such as for example her teachings on total sexual chastity and against contraception?  Is it possible for a Catholic to go forward for Eucharist with no “awakened” conscious intention even to know – not to mention to obey – more and more of the Father’s will for him or her in this life?

Is it possible for an adult Catholic to go forward for Eucharist without even knowing that there is such a thing as “right disposition” – as receiving Eucharist in the right way – and that it matters? Lacking right disposition, what exactly is happening in this Catholic’s soul, in receiving the sacrament of Holy Eucharist? What is not happening is “the fruit of new life.”

Coming into Right Disposition

The three elements of right interior disposition are simple enough: faith, conversion, obedience. They are simple – and they are elements of true discipleship, true whole-hearted following of Jesus as Lord and Savior. They are impossible without grace, and they are unattainable without the right disposition to receive them in grace! A true disciple wants to grow in faith, in conversion, and in obedience! A true disciple wants to be and to remain “awakened” to Him all day, every day, and certainly and especially in Holy Mass, and in the line to receive Him in the Eucharist.

Such discipleship is not only possible – it is the norm, it is “normal” (no matter how common or uncommon it might be) – and it is intended by our Lord. What a happy day it is, when a man or a woman is “awakened” to realize why he or she exists, and discovers life – life – in Jesus Christ. Catholics, let the infinite and potent grace of Holy Eucharist not be wasted in any of us! Let us open our hearts and minds in completeness, to the fullness of Him, in Holy Eucharist. Let us receive Him as He deserves, and as our own soul requires, that He may be fruitful in us – and through us, in the Church and in the whole world. Church, let us be Church – and only in Him, with Him in us, can we be His Church, and thus be His light in this darkening and starving world.
______________________________________
note: the related article Don’t Neglect the Word is now in the on-line magazine Catholic Exchange. A different article/title on the same subject is to be published in September or October in Homiletic & Pastoral Review on-line.


Responses

  1. Dear Thomas,

    Thanks for encouraging us to be even more open to God’s Grace and true discipleship. How important it is for us to be “awakened” every day to the work of the Holy Spirit and cooperate more fully! May God enable us to hear deeply and do, by His Grace, what He enabled you to write:

    The three elements of right interior disposition are simple enough: faith, conversion, obedience. They are simple – and they are elements of true discipleship, true whole-hearted following of Jesus as Lord and Savior. They are impossible without grace, and they are unattainable without the right disposition to receive them in grace! A true disciple wants to grow in faith, in conversion, and in obedience! A true disciple wants to be and to remain “awakened” to Him all day, every day, and certainly and especially in Holy Mass, and in the line to receive Him in the Eucharist.

    Such discipleship is not only possible – it is the norm, it is “normal” (no matter how common or uncommon it might be) – and it is intended by our Lord. What a happy day it is, when a man or a woman is “awakened” to realize why he or she exists, and discovers life – life – in Jesus Christ.Catholics, let the infinite and potent grace of Holy Eucharist not be wasted in any of us! Let us open our hearts and minds in completeness, to the fullness of Him, in Holy Eucharist. Let us receive Him as He deserves, and as our own soul requires, that He may be fruitful in us – and through us, in the Church and in the whole world. Church, let us be Church – and only in Him, with Him in us, can we be His Church, and thus be His light in this darkening and starving world.

  2. Thomas,

    What a wonderful writing. I am presently working with our Pastor on this problem. I would say that 50% of the people attending mass come in with their mind on getting out of there. They are definitely not in the disposition to receive the Eucharist or even talk to Jesus. I am an usher at the 7:30 Mass and watch so many people leave the communion receiving line and go right to the exit. The problem is that so many are not educated properly on the faith and how to educate them is a dilemma as we just can not get people to attend anything. Half of them don’t even read the bulletin. In fact the ones that leave early don’t even get a bulletin. As you know at St. Peter’s what % of the congregation attend anything the Church provides unless it is a dinner or party. We are even thinking of putting an educational paper on the windshields of autos in the parking lot. There are many in my parish that are with me on this and if we come up with a solution I will let you know. A dress code is also on the agenda. After all the Bible says we should dress holy. The way you look on the outside reflects how you may feel on the inside.

    God Bless you Thomas
    Fran

    • Hello Fran – thank you for your comments. I am really happy to hear that you are working with your pastor on this very issue! That is wonderful news – that your pastor is concerned about this, and that you are able to work together with him on it. That is the way it should be – clergy and laity working together – co-laborers in the Lord’s vineyard. Wonderful!

      I agree completely – “The problem is that so many are not educated properly on the faith…” In my article on Catholic Exchange, Don’t Neglect the Word, I dwell more on that problem and a crucially important part of the solution to be found in the Word – in the words of the Word – in His holy Truth. Yes, we neglect catechesis, and particularly adult formation, and we are suffering for it. And unless somehow we change that neglect, we will suffer more.

      Blessings and grace to you, in your works of ministry in your parish.

      Thomas

  3. Once again, Thomas, an excellent article.

    The sad truth is that far too many people look upon the sacraments as some sort of “magic” that operates beyond their will. The will — or desire — for grace is so important that the Church decrees that a person may receive the full grace of baptism through genuine desire. It only stands to reason that the lack of that desire would prevent God’s gift from working in our lives.

    As I used to teach my students, grace is like a gift-wrapped package filled with love. But if we don’t open the package, and use the gift, it has no value — and could actually harm us if we make it unavailable.

    • Hello Carol – thank you for your comment. I agree that the sacraments can be so misunderstood as to look upon them superstitiously, like “magic.” I didn’t get into that in this article, but I did briefly in the related article on CE, Don’t Neglect the Word. And I did even more on the article yet to be published on Homiletics & Pastoral Review. Again, we need substantive and comprehensive adult formation! When will the Church awaken to something painfully clear?


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