Experiencing the Eucharist For the First Time

This is a post that I’ve been putting off for several weeks now. After blogging of my first experience with the sacrament of Reconcilation, it seemed only natural that I would share with you my first impressions with the sacrament of the Eucharist as well. Including Easter, four Sunday masses have passed as well as two weekday (experimental) masses, since my conversion to Catholicism, and this post has remained unwritten. A blank.

Why this hesitation to talk of the Eucharist (or as my Protestant self would’ve called it, the ‘Lord’s Supper’)? It’s not from the human fear of being judged for somehow doing it wrong (although that’s definitely crossed my mind.) I am still learning this new faith and the last thing I want to do, out of ignorance or poor wording, is to cause less reverence for the Host than Almighty God deserves.

It seems to me that the experience differs from person to person, and there’s a retiscence to speak of it; that the act of receiving Communion is entirely holy, wholly intimate, and intimately personal. Even the act of discussing the physical elements of the ritual seems to fail to encapsulate the mystery of the experience, like trying to explain the love of a parent for their child, or the love of a husband for his wife.

For those undergoing preparations for receiving the Eucharist for the first time, you can learn by observing masses leading up to Easter of the appropriate posture for the procession to the front of the church, and for the recessional. You can (and probably ought to) ask for clarification on how to accept the Precious Body from the priest, deacon or the Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, and how to likewise accept the Precious Blood. But attempting to adequately describe the physical sensation, or the mystical experience taking place is impossible. It’s a matter of faith.

What About the After-Effects of Communion?

I hope that every encounter with Christ in the Eucharist will be this way, and for everyone, but for me (so far), I’ve felt a profound sense of gratitude in being able to receive so precious a Gift, and humility that God would wish to give Himself to me through partaking of His Precious Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity. I’ve experienced an inner stillness and peace, like deep waters, in my soul that I know it’s okay to rest in, as well as what I can only describe as a strengthening to resist sin and a renewed desire to walk upright in the light of God.

For that brief moment, it feels like I am in Eden, standing hand in hand with my Lord. And the part of my soul that longs for mystery and beauty and majesty and peace yearns to be with Him through this sacrament. I’ve (almost) never felt closer to Christ than I have in the act of receiving Holy Eucharist. And like a child, I want to ask, “How soon can we go back?”


Experiencing the Sacrament of Reconciliation For the First Time

One of the questions I get asked by non-Catholic friends and family is, “Do you really believe that going to confession is necessary?”

The Sacrament of Reconciliation, more commonly known as ‘confession’ is one of those seemly uncomfortable experiences most would rank up there with their annual physical or maybe a root scaling treatment (and that is really uncomfortable). Even the media generally portrays going to confession as something to feel trepidation over, so, it was no surprise during my RCIA program this past year, I was told that feeling ‘a little nervous’ about it would be completely normal. So, why wasn’t I more nervous, I wondered.

In typical me fashion, I was more concerned with the etiquette of ‘doing it right’ than the act of baring my entire life and all of my failings — including the times I’m ashamed of — in the sacred confidence between a priest and a parishioner. Questions that worried me:

  • “Should I sit face to face or go behind a screen?”
    Answer: It’s whatever you’re most comfortable with.
  • “Should I leave the door open or closed?”
    Answer: Close it!
  • “How do you know if someone is in there already?”
    Answer: There’s a light that goes on, visible from the outside of the booth.
  • “How long are you supposed to take?”
    Answer: Depends on a number of factors really. If you attend confession frequently, it may not take as long as if you are doing a first-time confession, aka a ‘lifetime confession’.
  • “What sins should I mention first, and in what order of importance if case I run out of time?”
    Answer: Before you go, you need to do an ‘Examination of Conscience’. Google it. There are tons of websites that offer helpful questions for you to ponder. One site that I found helpful in my own fledgling attempts was the National Catholic Register’s Confession Guide for Adults.
  • “What kinds of penances will I be expected to make?”
    Answer: It depends on the severity of what it is — it could range from a prayer or series of prayers to making reparations with the injured parties involved. Your priest will discuss this with you.
  • “I’m supposed to have an act of contrition (a prayer) to read at the end — do I need to bring one with me, or will there be one already available?”
    Answer: there was a card provided at my church as an option if you didn’t bring one with you. Most missals (those books in the pews with the readings for mass) also have an act of contrition prayer printed inside or near the back cover.
  • “What if I forget to mention something important?”
    Answer: If you genuinely forgot, it’s covered for now, but mention it next time during confession.

For my first experience with the sacrament of reconciliation, I chose to sit face-to-face with the priest and talk with him without the benefit of a screen for anonymity. I think it helped that since he led the RCIA program and we’d had the opportunity to talk together for the past several months, we’d established a rapport. I felt more comfortable talking to him than I might have to a stranger.

There was some stumbling as I started, but, it helped that I’d brought a list based on my ‘examination of conscience’ to help me stay on track. You don’t have to do this of course, but with my poor memory retention, I thought it’d be easier for me. If you do go with a hand-written list, make sure that you destroy it later! You don’t want someone finding that down the road, do you?

Things that I did not expect to encounter during Confession:

  • It was hot. That is a small booth and with two people sitting in there, it can get warm.
  • Kleenex. Smart.
  • Counseling. Huh.

I don’t know if this is common (since it was only my first time) but my priest, following my examination of conscience/confession, talked for a bit, summarizing what I’d said and offering some insights to, on a spiritual level, help me grow in my faith. Confession is NOT supposed to be used instead of getting professional counseling and I’m not recommending you use it as such either. It was helpful, though, in the space of a few minutes, to see my spiritual journey summarized from an outsider’s perspective, without my own biases and personal hang-ups in the way.

After being assigned penances, and giving an act of contrition, the priest will offer absolution for your sins before a dismissal.

Absolution. This is the whole point of the sacrament of reconciliation. God’s divine mercy, which allows you to have the courage to confess your sins, feel genuine sorrow for them and a desire not to do them anymore, and forgiveness of those sins. Since sin is what separates us from God, the act of reconciliation draws us back to God as He invites us home again with open arms.

As an evangelical Christian, before I began the process of conversion to Catholicism, I already believed in God’s divine mercy and that “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us of all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). I did, and still do believe, that because I had already confessed and asked forgiveness over the years for those sins, that God had already forgiven me, even before I participated in the sacrament.

Still, the act of a verbal confession is also Biblical and there’s something concrete about admitting to someone else, what you’ve only ever admitted to yourself. Also, it’s a requirement of the Church to have no mortal sins before partaking in the Eucharist, and that’s something that I long to do. For a third reason to do it, consider too how regular confession to the same priest may help them (for the long term) help you identify areas that you continue to struggle in sin, and how to better avoid it.

For me, leaving the booth, I felt a sense of freedom and joy that God had given me the grace necessary to get myself there that day, to wait my turn and not put it off, to be honest and completely open, to be forgiven and reconciled to God.

After you leave the booth, you’re not done yet. Whatever penances or reparations your priest requested, you should linger in the church and start them immediately. I found it helpful to ‘take a knee’ back in my pew and begin praying and reflecting upon our conversation, instead of rushing off to the next task of the day.

While I can’t promise that your first-time experience will be (or was) the same, I  hope that you can take away from it the same sense of God’s mercy on your life, and the gratitude for this precious gift that is so freely given to us, available if we only reach out and embrace it.

How To Pray the Rosary

The Rosary needs no introdution. Even amongst non-believers, a Rosary is one of the most iconic symbols of the Catholic faith around the globe. A standard-sized Rosary contains five decades of 10 beads each, intersperced with five larger or unique beads, for each of the mysteries that are being meditated upon.

Highlights From “What I, a Non-Catholic, Discovered While Praying the Rosary”*:

When you pray the Rosary, you are connecting with Christ. You are using a visual aid (the Rosary) to inspire reflection on the life and nature of Christ.

On Mondays and Saturdays, Catholics reflect on the life of Mary, and the events leading up to Christ’s birth and His early childhood (the Joyful Mysteries).

On Thursdays, they remember some of Christ’s miracles and His early ministry, leading up to the Last Supper, (the Luminous Mysteries).

On Tuesdays and Fridays, it’s a reflection on the events of Good Friday, beginning with the Garden when Jesus is betrayed, leading up to His crucifixion (the Sorrowful Mysteries).

And finally, on Wednesdays and Sundays, it’s a celebration of Christ’s resurrection and ascension, the events of the early Church, and a life of obedience to God, rewarded at the end of Mary’s life (the Glorious Mysteries).

You can also find one-decade rosaries available, called chaplets, like a miniature Rosary for your pocket. These have ten beads, plus the mystery, and when you finish praying all of the prayers through the beat set once, you can go back and do the other decades’ worth of prayers.

Obtaining your first (blessed) rosary usually isn’t difficult. Many Catholic churches will have a free area where donations are placed as a form of outreach — prayer cards, pamphlets, and yes, even rosaries. If you find yourself without the benefit of a Rosary on you, and you’d like to try anyway, ask yourself — “Have I got 10 fingers?” If you do, you can pray the Rosary.

Holding the Rosary in your hands, you’ll begin praying starting at the ‘tail’ — the end with the Crucifix and the four beads.

Step 1: Make the Sign of the Cross, by touching your hand to your head, then your heart, then your left shoulder, and finally your right shoulder. As you do this, say, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, amen.”

Step 2: Say the Apostles’ Creed:

I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, Who was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried; He descended into hell; on the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty; from there He will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.

Step 3: Say the “Our Father”:

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name; Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our tresspasses as we forgive those who tresspass against us, and lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil. Amen

Step 4: For each of the three beads on the tail end, say a “Hail Mary”:

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed are thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now, and at the hour of our death. Amen

Step 5: Finish the tail off with a “Glory Be”:

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

You’ve now come to the first large bead on the main circle of the Rosary. There are five similar beads in all, each representating a different mystery.

Step 6: For each mystery, you will say an “Our Father”, followed by 10 “Hail Marys” and the “Glory Be”.

Step 7: Pray the “Fatima Prayer”:

O my Jesus, forgive us our sins. Save us from the fires of hell. Lead all souls to heaven, especially those most in need of Thy mercy.”

Each prayer will guide you further along the circumference of the Rosary’s circle. During your prayers, be sure to reflect upon the mystery you are ruminating over. Repeat Steps #6 and #7 for all five decades, or, if you’re ambitious, try the full 20 decades all at once. When you’re finished with the final decade, you should return to your starting point.

There are a few final prayers to finish the Rosary.

Step 8: Pray the “Salve Regina” prayer:

Hail, holy Queen, Mother of Mercy! Our life, our sweetness, and our hope! To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve; to thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears. Turn, then, most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward us, and after this our exile show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb Jesus; O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.

Step 9: Pray the “Let Us Pray” prayer:

O God, whose only begotten Son, by His life, death, and resurrection has purchased for us the rewards of eternal life, grant, we beseech Thee, that meditating upon these mysteries in the most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we may imitate what they contain, and obtain what they promise: through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

Step 10: Pray the “Memorae” prayer:

Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help or sought your intercession, was left unaided. Inspired with this confidence; I fly to you, O Virgin of Virgins, my Mother; to you do I come, before you I stand, sinful and sorrowful, O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in your mercy hear and answer me. Amen.

Step 11: Conclude with the “Sign of the Cross”. (See Step #1 for a refresher if needed.)

*This has been slightly edited from the original.