Receiving Christ Worthily

Last week we presented what Scripture and the Catechism of the Catholic Church said about receiving Holy Communion. Now let’s unpack the Summary that the Compendium gave us.

Being Catholic

To receive Holy Communion, one first needs to “be fully incorporated into the Catholic Church.” That makes perfect sense, since “he who is united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him” (1 Corinthians 6:17). Being one in spirit means that we believe everything that Jesus Christ teaches us through his Body, the Church. To deny just one of Christ’s moral or doctrinal teachings means that we trust ourselves more than we trust Jesus. This doesn’t mean that we fully understand why these teachings are true, but that we accept them as being revealed to us in Christ through his Body, the Church.

This means that, to receive Holy Communion, we ought to believe in the real presence of the whole Jesus—body, blood, soul, and divinity—in the Eucharist. It also means that we believe and are living out in our lives all the other teachings, including our obligation to attend Mass every Sunday and Holy Day and that we respect the sacredness of human sexuality as reserved for marriage that is blessed by the Church and open to life.

When we are baptized we not only acknowledge our faith in Christ and in the Church’s teachings we also become part of God’s family, the Church. We thus become a child of God, Christ’s brother or sister, and temple of the Holy Spirit—becoming one spirit with Christ. With the Church we too need to be committed to the poor, as Pope Francis reminds us: “When we take and eat that Bread, we are associated into the life of Jesus, we enter into communion with Him, we commit to achieve communion among ourselves, to transform our life into a gift, especially to the poorest” (Angelus, June 7, 2015; also see CCC 1397).

Receiving Christ Worthily

As the Compendium continues: “To receive Holy Communion one must… be in the state of grace, that is, not conscious of being in mortal sin. Anyone who is conscious of having committed a grave sin must first receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before going to Communion.” Living in grace means living in union with Jesus Christ; a grave or mortal sin “kills” that relationship. This could be marital infidelity or just missing Holy Mass on Sundays or on Holy Days of obligation without due cause. Were that true for us, then one needs to receive sacramental absolution before going to Holy Communion. As we heard from St. Paul: “Whoever… eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord,” which would be an even more grievous sin, something like Judas’ betrayal.

The state of grace is the state of spiritual cleanliness, of being clothed with the Holy Spirit. Our physical state should reflect the interior beauty and cleanliness, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “Bodily demeanor (gestures, clothing) ought to convey the respect, solemnity, and joy of this moment when Christ becomes our guest” (CCC 1387).

We also must make a small sacrifice to unite ourselves to our Lord’s Sacrifice, which means to fast for at least one hour before receiving Communion: “To prepare for worthy reception of this sacrament, the faithful should observe the fast required in their Church” (CCC 1387). If it has been less than an hour since we last ate—even if just 55 minutes—then we make a spiritual communion and don’t go up to receive our Lord. This shows that we don’t take Holy Communion for granted.


Fr. John R. Waiss


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Who Should Receive Holy Communion?

As the Readings at Mass have turn toward the Eucharist, let’s turn our attention to a very important question:

Who Should Receive Holy Communion?

The more one learns about the Sacrament of Love, the Holy Eucharist, the more one wants to receive Holy Communion. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that Holy Communion increases one’s union with Jesus, forgives venial sins, preserves one from grave sins, and reinforces the unity of Christ’s Mystical Body, the Church (cf. CCC 1416).

Who wouldn’t want to increase her/his union with Christ and with the Church and other benefits of receiving Holy Communion? When should I NOT receive Holy Communion? What are the proper dispositions for obtaining these benefits?

What does Jesus say?

Jesus instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper when he took bread and said, “Take, eat; this is my body” (Matthew 26:26 and parallel). This doesn’t say anything explicit about who should not receive Holy Communion. Yet earlier he did give us the parable of the Great Wedding Feast (Matthew 22:1-14). In this parable, the great King—God—notices a man without the proper wedding garment; the man was not prepared—spiritually or physically—for the greatness of the celebration. The unprepared man was cast into the outer darkness, where men weep and gnash their teeth—i.e., Hell! This teaches us that only those who are prepared to benefit from receiving Holy Communion should do so.

Even during the Last Supper, as Jesus handed Judas a morsel from the Eucharistic table and “Satan entered into” him (John 13:27). Judas then immediately left that little ‘church,’ “and it was night” (John 13:30). Our Lord also said of his betrayer: “It would have been better for that man if he had not been born” (Mark 14:21). If we were to betray Jesus by receiving him unworthily in Holy Communion like Judas did, would He say this of us?

This is why, after describing the Last Supper, St. Paul warns us: “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord…For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment [damnation] upon himself” (1 Corinthians 11:27,29).

What does the Catechism of the Catholic Church say?

The Catechism quotes the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, which teaches us to pray:

“O Son of God, bring me into communion today with your mystical supper. I shall not tell your enemies the secret, nor kiss you with Judas’ kiss. But like the good thief I cry, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom’” (in CCC 1386).

This reminds us how every Mass links us to the Last Supper and Christ’s passion and death on the Cross. We should try to imitate the good thief who acknowledged that he merited death for his “mortal” sins (Luke 23:41) and then be able to receive from Jesus Christ absolution with the promise of Paradise.

The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church then explains the necessary proper dispositions to benefit from receiving Holy Communion:

“To receive Holy Communion one must be fully incorporated into the Catholic Church and be in the state of grace, that is, not conscious of being in mortal sin. Anyone who is conscious of having committed a grave sin must first receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before going to Communion. Also important for those receiving Holy Communion are a spirit of recollection and prayer, observance of the fast prescribed by the Church, and an appropriate disposition of the body (gestures and dress) as a sign of respect for Christ” (CCCC 291).

Next week we will unpack this point of the Compendium a bit more.


Fr. John R. Waiss


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Feast of St. Mary of the Angels—August 2

Many ask about why the parish is called “St. Mary of the Angels” and not “Queen of the Angels” or “Our Lady of the Angels”?

The name   “St. Mary of the Angels” goes back to a little chapel on the outskirts of Assisi called Santa Maria degli Angeli—St. Mary of the Angels— rebuilt by St. Francis. According to local accounts, the church dates back to 364 when Pope Liberius erected this chapel for the Hermits of Josephat. In 516 the Benedictines took possession of the chapel but by the time of St. Francis it was in severe disrepair.

Before founding the Franciscan Order, St. Francis had a vision while praying in the chapel of San Damiano in Assisi. In the vision, the image of the crucified Christ came alive and said: “Francis, Francis, go and repair my house which, as you can see, is falling into ruins.” His initial thought was that Jesus was referring to the chapel of Santa Maria degli Angeli. So, to his father’s chagrin, he sold his horse and some other items and restored the church—our St. Mary of the Angels was also in disrepair and closed, only to be entrusted to priests of Opus Dei in 1991 and then restored with the help of many… there seems to be an interesting pattern here.

It was in the little chapel of St. Mary of the Angels that St. Francis discerned his vocation and began the Franciscan order. The Benedictines entrusted the chapel to St. Francis to build the mother house of his new foundation. This was where St. Francis received the first vocations to the Friars Minor and St. Clare to found the Poor Clares. And in St. Mary of the Angels is also where St. Francis died in 1226.

St. Francis had another vision in 1216. After experiencing a strong carnal temptation one night, St. Francis jumped into a thorny bush outside his cell. As he landed in the bush it sprouted beautiful roses without thorns. Two angels then took him to the little chapel of Santa Maria degli Angeli, where he saw Christ and the Virgin Mary enveloped in light and sitting on thrones and surrounded by numerous angels (this vision is portrayed behind the high altar of our church). Jesus then asked St. Francis what reward he wanted for his heroic act, to which he answered: “An indulgence for anyone who enters into this chapel, repents and confesses his sins.” As Pope Benedict XVI described:

“Today we are contemplating St Francis of Assisi’s ardent love for the salvation of souls, which every priest must always foster. In fact today is the feast of the ‘Pardon of Assisi,’ which St Francis obtained from Pope Honorius III in the year 1216, after having a vision while he was praying in the little church of the Portiuncula. Jesus appeared to him in his glory, with the Virgin Mary on his right and surrounded by many Angels. They asked him to express a wish and Francis implored a ‘full and generous pardon’ for all those who would visit that church who ‘repented and confessed their sins.’ Having received papal approval, the Saint did not wait for any written document but hastened to Assisi and when he reached the Portiuncula announced the good news: ‘Friends, the Lord wants to have us all in Heaven!’ Since then, from noon on 1 August to midnight on the second, it has been possible to obtain, on the usual conditions, a Plenary Indulgence, also for the dead, on visiting a parish church or a Franciscan one” (Angelus Message, August 2, 2009)

Our church has a wonderful name and link to mercy. Let’s prepare for the Year   of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis, beginning December 8, encouraging many souls to take advantage of this full and generous pardon in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which we offer so abundantly here at St. Mary of the Angels.

Fr. John R. Waiss



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St. Stanislaus Kostka, S.J. (1550-1568)

The lateral stained glass window opposite to St. Francis Assisi receiving the stigmata depicts Virgin Mary entrusting the child Jesus to St. Stanislaus Kostka.

St. Stanislaus was born on October 28, 1550 in Rostkowo, Poland. He was the second of seven children: his father, Jan Kostka, was a local governor and senator for the Kingdom of Poland; his mother, Małgorzata (Margaret) Kryska, was sister to a Polish duke.

Early on God planted in the heart of Stanislaus spiritual desires for Christian service, yet his father had other plans. When Stanislaus was 14, his father sent him and his older brother Paul to Vienna to a new Jesuit college for the nobility, lodging them in the house of a Lutheran.

In Vienna Stanislaus applied himself to his studies and to his life of prayer, with daily Mass and Rosary. He also developed a deep devotion to St. Barbara, reading how she would grant, those who invoked her, the grace of receiving Holy Communion before they die. His older brother began calling him names, such as “the Jesuit.” Stanislaus transcended his brother’s meanness with kindness: “I will live in a way that I know pleases God, whether or not it pleases my brother.” When Paul tried to lure him into his worldly ways, Stanislaus didn’t succumb: “I was born for a higher end.”

In December 1565 (he was 15 years old) he became ill and thought he was going to die. He asked to receive Communion but his brother didn’t think his illness was that serious; moreover his Lutheran landlord wouldn’t permit a priest to come to the house. So Stanislaus invoke St. Barbara. She appeared to him with two angels who brought him Holy Communion. Shortly afterwards the Virgin Mary and Child appeared to him and allowed him to embrace the Child Jesus—this vision is portrayed in our stained glass window. Our Lady restored his health and encouraged him to become a Jesuit.

The superior wouldn’t allow him to join the Jesuits in Vienna without his parents’ consent. Knowing their opposition, Stanislaus consulted God, his confessor, and then decided to go to Dillingen. Paul pursued him but God’s designs protected Stanislaus, keeping Paul from catching him. In Dillingen the provincial, St. Peter Canisius, S.J., thought he was still too close to home, so he sent Stanislaus to Rome. It took him a month to travel the 600+ miles on foot, begging for food along the way. In Rome he knelt before St. Francis Borgia, the General of the Society of Jesus, to beg to become a novice and he was finally accepted. Soon a threatening letter from his father arrived, demanding his immediate return or suffer his disfavor, chains, and the dungeon. Weeping for his father’s blindness, Stanislaus remain firm. He observed all the rules of discipline carefully, treating everyone with respect, charity and humility.

On August 1st, 1568, sensing that he would soon die, Stanislaus wrote a letter to the Virgin Mary requesting to go to heaven on the 15th, the feast of her Assumption into heaven. Then on the 10th he became ill. On the 14th, he told the Jesuit medic that he would die the next day. The medic scoffed: “you’re not that sick!” Yet towards evening he got worse and received Holy Communion and the Sacrament of the Sick. Fellow novices accompanied him and heard him pray: “My heart is ready, O God, my heart is ready!” At 3:00 am his face lit up and he told those around him that Our Lady and her angels and saints had come to take him to heaven. Then he died. It was August 15. He was only 17 years old.

He was beatified in 1605 and canonized in 1726, and we celebrate his feast day on November 13. He is patron of Poland and many religious orders name him protector of their novices. St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish was established for Polish immigrants in 1867 and is still considered the mother church of the Polish parishes in Chicago.


Fr. John R. Waiss


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A New Church: Majestic, and Beautiful

After building the original church and school for St. Mary of the Angels, where Father Gordon would live most of his remaining years, he was asked to do a stint as pastor of St. Stanislaus Kostka in 1906, the mother parish for the Polish people in Chicago. But Father Gordon would return to St. Mary of the Angels three years later.

When he did return, the parish had grown to become one of the largest parishes in the Archdiocese of Chicago. The school, with the original church on the top floor, was design and built by Henry J. Schlacks, who became the first Director of the Course of Architecture at the University of Notre Dame. The church and school had become too small to hold the numbers of parishioners and school children. This original building gave the church seating for 1200, had 10 classrooms, a convent for 20 nuns, a priests’ residence for 3, a hall that could hold 1500, and a few meeting rooms. But this wasn’t enough for the growing parish of 1200 mostly large families.

So Fr. Gordon hired Henry Worthmann and J.G. Steinbach to design a new church in the Roman Renaissance style, similar in appearance to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The new church would seat 2000. The dome would rise 125 feet from floor to ceiling (St. Peter’s in Rome 394 feet), 230 feet in length (St. Peter’s 694 ft.), and 125 feet in width (St. Peter’s, 451 ft.). Twelve-foot tall angels would decorate the perimeter of the exterior (similar to the 140 statues of the apostles and other saints on the colonnade and exterior of St. Peter’s).

Work on the new church began September 28, 1911. While excavating the site, the workers unearthed three crucifixes. This was taken as a sign of God’s provident will for the church. Difficulties seemed to bog down the project, with shortages of money, building materials, labor strikes, and World War I., which caused numerous delays—it took three years before even the cornerstone could be laid! At the ceremony for the first stone, some 20,000 Polish people showed up, singing religious and patriotic songs.

In the meantime, to free up space in the school, Fr. Gordon built a new priests residence on Wood Street in 1912. In 1915, the Sisters of the Resurrection moved their novitiate—built in 1905 across the street from the present church—to Norwood Park and converted the old one into a Day Nursery for children of working mothers.

Before the church could be finished, Father Gordon was named regional superior of the Resurrectionists in the United States (from 1918 until 1924). Yet he would continue to live in the rectory and follow the construction of the church.

After years of hard work and much sacrifice the present church of St. Mary of the Angels was finally finished at the cost of $400,000 ($5 million in today’s currency). Archbishop George W. Mundelein dedicated the church on May 30, 1920, attended by the U.S. Ambassador to Poland and the Polish Envoy to the United States. The Archbishop (who would become cardinal in 1924) recognized the great generosity of the ordinary, rather poor, working-class parishioners for the many sacrifices they made in building this extraordinary edifice: “the people in this neighborhood were satisfied to contribute from their slender earnings in order that God’s house might rise gigantic, majestic and beautiful.”

The people felt the need to thank our Blessed Mother for her help in turning their dreams into reality, so—on that day of the solemn high Mass—they included a May procession in her honor.


Fr. John R. Waiss


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