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.
“What the Second Vatican Council said about Holy Communion is that the celebration of Mass [including this sacrament] is ‘the source and summit’ of the life of faith for a Catholic person,” says Father Christopher Smith, rector and Episcopal Vicar of Christ Cathedral.
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?
The answer is rooted in what it means to be Catholic, both as an individual and a member of a strong faith community.
“When we enter into Holy Communion, we are being united with the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus,” says Katie Dawson, director of parish faith formation of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange. “However, we should remember that we are also being united with all those who received the Eucharist.”
Holy Communion, says Father Smith, “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 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.”
So the upshot is this: In order to strengthen your Catholic faith as an individual, find a strong community. Christ Cathedral, for example, tries to exemplify what it means to be a strong community of faith rooted in a Eucharistic Communion.
Located in Garden Grove, Christ Cathedral is home to one of the most diverse Catholic communities anywhere, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange. Serving more than 1.2 million Catholics, the Diocese is the 10th largest and one of the fastest-growing in the nation.
Christ Cathedral Parish offers Mass in English, Spanish, Vietnamese and Mandarin, as well as more than 20 parish ministries that help those in need by connecting them with those with a desire to serve. Some include:
- Faith Formation – Welcomes new members and provides spiritual formation for each person’s needs
- Liturgical Service – Oversees the worship life of Christ Cathedral
- Outreach & Support – Provides help for the poor, marginalized and homeless with meals and a variety of emergency services
- Bereavement Ministry – Helps those who are grieving over the loss of a loved one.
- Ministry to the sick and homebound – Brings prayer and Holy Communion to those who can’t come to the Christ Cathedral Campus.
- The Diocese also oversees a number of groups and organizations that focus on the Gospel and are united in Christ. They include:
- Christ Cathedral Academy – The Dominican–affiliated elementary school opened in 2013 after transitioning from its 50 years as Saint Callistus Catholic School. It serves children from preschool through 8th grade.
- Orange Catholic Foundation – The nonprofit OCF raises funds for the Diocese and administers special events for that purpose.
- New Hope Crisis Center – The center operates a 24/7 telephone hotline, as well as live online counseling.
- Orange County Catholic Radio – Programming includes original content that airs on Immaculate Heart Radio, AM 930 and AM 100.
- Augustine Institute – Through a variety of academic and parish programs, the Augustine Institute serves the formation of Catholics for the New Evangelization.
- Magis Center – The center explores and shares the connection between reason and faith through new discoveries in physics and philosophy.
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.”