The cincture has a practical purpose. It binds up all of the loose fabric on my alb so I can move freely. The cincture has a spiritual purpose. It is to exhort me, as Scripture teaches, to “gird the loins of your understanding; live soberly; set all your hope on the gift to be conferred on you when Jesus Christ appears” (1 Peter 1:13).
And, I was reminded by a parishioner recently, the cincture also has an ancient traditional purpose. There was an old Jewish tradition that, when the high priest of Israel would enter the Holy of Holies of the Temple, a rope would be tied around him. The religious leaders believed that, if the priest had not atoned properly for his sins, he would die in the presence of God’s glory. The rope then would be used to pull his dead body out of the Temple.
Now there’s a sobering thought to reflect on every day as I tie my cincture for Mass!
It is a good thing, though, to have a solemn and respectful spirit as we prepare for Mass. We as Catholics believe that the Eucharist is powerful medicine – “the medicine of immortality” as St. Ignatius teaches us. Yet just as powerful medicine can heal it also can be harmful or even deadly when it is given too freely or not as prescribed.
I write all of this as a reminder of the Eucharistic disciplines that our Church teaches us to observe. Many ignore them, many have never heard of them, but they do serve an important spiritual purpose.
Most fundamentally, the Church asks that you truly believe that our Lord is fully present in the Eucharist. Then, if you are not in a state of grace, that is, if you have a grave sin on your soul, that you abstain from Communion until you have been absolved in Confession. Next, the Church instructs us to fast from food and beverage (except for water and medicine) for one hour before you receive Communion. That’s not hard to do considering that we generally don’t begin the Communion procession until around 45 minutes after Sunday Mass has begun. So if you’re not having breakfast in the car on your way, you’re probably clear.
No, we don’t want to get bogged down with legalism and, no, none of us is worthy to receive such a gift and, yes, we always want to show mercy and never withhold charity when it comes to the Eucharist. But it’s also an act of love, toward our Lord and to others, to be serious (but not dour), mindful, and humbled as we receive the sacrament which we receive as a matter of life and death. It’s beautiful how the most solemn things bring us the deepest joy. Thanks.