More than a few times I have heard Catholics and non-Catholics comment on the outward appearance of Catholics receiving Holy Communion. The common theme is that Catholics appear to be too casual and unmoved by the experience of receiving the Blessed Sacrament. This is probably true in some cases.
Catholics will often point out that, since we are receiving the greatest gift available to humanity, the Lord, God, Jesus Christ Himself, we should show a bit more enthusiasm and appreciation for what we are receiving. Too often we shuffle up the aisle like zombies, or like people waiting in line at the supermarket to buy a pack of gum. We need to appreciate what we have been freely given, and what it cost. The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life. It is how God chooses to feed us and give us spiritual life.
Non-Catholics will often conclude that the doctrine of the Real Presence must be false. After all, how could anyone approach and receive Jesus Christ Himself with a lack of enthusiasm? Some will say, “If I believed what you Catholics supposedly believe, I would be at church every time the doors were opened falling on my face before Jesus!” (Maybe they would, maybe they wouldn’t. This could also be a veiled way of using lukewarm Catholics as an excuse to reject the doctrine.) I recently heard a story about a non-Catholic man who was actively involved in a Catholic parish for many years because his wife was Catholic. When asked why he never became Catholic he replied that Sunday after Sunday he saw people go to communion with long faces. He didn’t see them being enthusiastic about what they were doing, so, he rejected the doctrine.
There are several reasons why people may seem unimpressed when receiving communion. One reason is that many Catholics don’t really understand the truth of what they are doing. American Catholics in particular have often been influenced by Protestant theologies that teach communion as merely symbolic. Hence, many poorly catechized Catholics simply don’t understand and appreciate the reality of the Sacrament.
Some Catholics approach Holy Communion with reverence, humility and contemplation. They may show little or no emotion externally, yet they are deeply moved and changed internally. Only God knows the heart of a person. As the Scripture says, “Man looks on the outward appearance, but God sees the heart.”
There are, of course, Catholics that have fallen into complacency and apathy. They are like the Jews in the desert grumbling over the miraculous manna that God provided for food. Initially, the manna was greeted with gratitude and enthusiasm. After a while, human nature crept in and stole the joy. As we see in John chapter 6, the Holy Eucharist is the flesh and blood of Christ who is the Bread of Life come down from Heaven. He is the fulfillment of what the miraculous manna foreshadowed. Unfortunately, like the Jews, Catholics can also succumb to human nature and complacency, even though the miracle is right before them. Yet, just like the manna, their complacency does not negate the truth of the miracle which is the Blessed Sacrament.
There are also many Catholics that have reached a place of peace and serenity in their faith and, like the disciple Jesus loved, will simply lay their heads on Jesus and be at rest. There is not necessarily any exuberant display of emotion observed when they receive communion. They are calm, but not unimpressed. There are charismatic Catholics as well. Yet, we must never confuse emotion with Spirit. Sometimes people mistakenly believe that the Holy Spirit is not at work unless someone is emotionally excited.
The bottom line is that truth cannot be determined by how people react to it emotionally, or by how many people believe it. Truth is true because it is true. There are indeed many Catholics that take for granted the gift they are offered. There are also many that appreciate the Holy Eucharist for what it is. To whom much is given, much will be required. We all need to examine our own hearts and not be deterred by our perceptions of others. Nor should we use any lack of emotional enthusiasm in others as an excuse for our own faithlessness. Jesus waits for us. The gift is there for all of us. If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.