I grew up in a relatively large Catholic family who never missed Sunday Mass. I was sent to Catholic elementary and high schools, where school Masses were celebrated with regularity. I also had what I now believe to be a special grace of faith from the Lord, where I never questioned the existence of God or Church teaching (as I understood it to be at the time)—even though by young adulthood many of those around me were questioning both. I also was a faithful altar-server straight up until college, serving at many Masses during the school year. Considering the trajectory of my life, I had received Communion nearly one thousand times by the time I went away to college.
But in reality, the effects that receiving my Lord in communion had on me were minimal. I went to Mass faithfully, and I even went prayerfully, but I was not coming away changed by the encounter in any visible way. While I had a personal faith in God, I was lacking in a personal understanding of what it meant to give my life to him, to desire to live a new life in Christ, and ultimately, to have this change of life flow from personal repentance and conversion. Sherry Weddell points out that any of these four obstacles “can block the ultimate fruitfulness of valid sacraments,” and I was missing three out of four.
This stymied the flow of sacramental grace in my life. It would do the Lord a disservice to say that I had no spiritual benefit at all: I was going to Mass weekly, doing so in a spirit of faith, and offering sincere prayers during the liturgy. All the same, I can say with certainty that the spiritual effects of Communion for me were minimal. In terms of grace, I was collecting a dime each week at best, but the Lord had been offering me a dollar. And a central reason that I benefited so little was precisely because I had attended Mass in my parish so often.
Counterintuitive as that might sound, it’s true. This was because in my culturally Catholic parish, no one had ever modeled for me in my Catholic schooling or in my parish a discipled life flowing from the Eucharist, complete with active and visible spiritual fruit. Regularly observing and participating in a parish culture of churchgoing Catholics taught me to expect little transformation from receiving communion (either personally or in the community), and so I never did. Participation was the clear focus, not fruitfulness. Therefore, any catechesis on the Real Presence I received in a classroom setting was always obstructed by what my experience was teaching me—namely, that receiving the Lord in Communion was not meant to result in immediate spiritual fruit that could be visibly perceived in the community.