Like most good Catholic boys, I made my First Communion. I remember it being a generally big to-do, where I had to wear a nice suit, sit with other boys and girls very early on a Sunday morning, and we all marched up and took the Communion wafer into our trembling little hands, with an entire church full of adoring parents and relatives fawning over us the whole time.
Years later, my hands tremble still.
It’s true. I still tremble whenever I get into line to receive Communion. My heart is racing. My breath grows short. I’m acutely aware of everyone in church around me, from the little old lady reading along to every verse in the hymn that the choir is singing to the faithful Filipino men who stop to shake hands with their friends from pew to pew. By the time I get to the Eucharistic minister, I feel my heart is in my throat. My hands tremble, but when I receive the Body and Blood of Christ, it means something now.
Six-year-old me didn’t know the word Eucharist. He knew the word Communion, and it was a self-evident truth. This dry wafer he ate was something he took with everyone else in church (i.e., in communion with them). But he didn’t learn the word Eucharist until much later in life.
In Ancient Greek, eucharistia means “thanksgiving,” derived from the adjective eukháristos, or “thankful.” It ties in with the Gospel narrative surrounding the Last Supper (with my own bold and italicized emphasis below):
Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body” (Matthew 26:26).
As Jesus said to “Do this in memory of me,” the Church has obeyed and instituted the Eucharist as one of the key sacraments.
I’ve come to respect that side of our faith. In fact, there’s no part of the Mass that’s more holy or meaningful for me than the moment when I go up to receive Holy Communion. To look the pastor or minister in the eye, to acknowledge the Body of Christ with a humble “Amen,” and to walk back to the pews with the Real Presence inside of me, motivated to kneel and pray to God as soon as I sit down again. It is a real sense of transformation, one that I look forward to every week when it’s time for Mass.
Sure, I do like the general Scripture readings, and some priests give very good homilies on how to be better Christians. I even like a lot of church music. But nothing compares to that moment when the Communion wafer is offered, and I accept it into my hands.
But why the trembling hands? Is it anticipation? Or reverence? Is it a concern for how everyone else in the church sees me at the head of the line? Do I feel unworthy of taking this blessed sacrament?
I’d like to say it’s a question of recognizing God’s grace. To look up and see in that bread and wine the very nature of redemption. The sacrifice upon the cross, the challenge to sin and death, the transformation of the world by God’s intervention and the glory of the Resurrection. To know that all this, symbolized and yet (somehow) entirely real, is contained inside a dry wafer and a sip of wine. To see God’s love, God’s strength, God’s promise, and God’s generosity—all of it tied to a simple meal, a humble offering, like a grain of sand revealing an entire universe. With all that in mind, it’s hard not to feel gratitude—to feel eucharistia—when receiving that sacrament.
If there’s one thing that gives me hope in a weary, ever-changing world, it’s simple things like taking Communion. To know that sometimes the best thing isn’t about getting the most expensive toys or advertising on the biggest billboard or raising the most money for a cause. That, sometimes, all we can do is set aside some time to sit and greet one another, and to share in a quiet meal behind closed doors, whether it’s with family, friends, coworkers, total strangers, or God himself.
God is there wherever we go. But sometimes it’s nice to get a reminder, and some days, I can’t think of a better one than the Eucharist itself.