The following comes from an April 13 OC Catholic article by Larry Urish:
For many of us, Holy Communion – the Holy Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper, the most central of the seven sacraments – is a deeply personal experience. Offered at every Mass, it marks the moment when we receive Jesus into our hearts and it involves intense, personal and private prayer. When we receive Holy Communion, we’re intimately united with Christ; He literally becomes a part of us.
How, then, is something so intensely personal also so closely related to sharing, fellowship and community? And how is community essential to something so personal?
Holy Communion, says Father Christopher Smith, rector and Episcopal Vicar of Christ Cathedral, “is really an act of being in communion with all of our brothers and sisters in Christ. … So when you stop to think about it, there is Holy Communion, the sacrament, and holy communion, which occurs whenever we gather together in the name of Jesus.”
When we are part of the body of Christ, explains director of parish faith formation of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange Katie Dawson, it puts us into communion with each other in a unique way. “That should be expressed by loving a relationship within each community. So we should be coming together into communion.”
A faith community differs from a secular group in a number of important ways. With secular associations, notes Father Smith, the group dynamics are the same: relationships are built, roles are established, leaders come to the fore and so on.
“When we gather in the name of Christ, the fellowship in His name actually makes Jesus in our presence,” he says. That is to say, Christ is present where two or more are gathered in His name. The Eucharist is made by Christ through the priest and the consecration whether or not the community is present, although it’s always better to have the community present.
Dawson points out that relationships in the context of communion are given to us, rather than chosen. “So in a secular setting we gravitate to those with common backgrounds, interests and circumstances. We tend to hang out with people who are substantially like ourselves.
“But in the body of Christ,” she adds, “We hang out with all kinds of people. We are intended to care for people who are very different. The average parish community has a lot of economic, ethnic and age diversity in it.”
Regardless of the faith group you choose, Dawson reminds us, “We have a tendency to skip the source of our community [Jesus] and jump ahead to community-building itself. However, when we are truly incorporated in the source, a strong community is a natural result.”