Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
The Need to Repeat Well-Known Truths
The Indispensable Ten-Minute
Preparation for Communion
Saint of the Day, Friday, February 19, 1971
I will deal with a well-known subject that is especially useful for you. In every formation course, it is absolutely inevitable to repeat subjects from time to time, and sometimes they are obvious subjects. The obvious subject I will deal with today is how we organize our days during carnival.
The human mind is such that, from time to time, even the most evident truths grow old. They neither become debatable nor obnoxious but remain like a fabric fading in color and taking on the air of old that pleases no one. Painfully, this often happens precisely with the great fundamental truths that are basic and essential in our formation. Sometimes we know so much about them that we end up thinking they have lost their attractiveness and we end up not drawing their juice [vital essence]. It is an excellent and happy state of the spiritual life for an individual to find new sap, new breath whenever he thinks about great and already known classical topics.
When an individual is fed up with a subject, he thinks the issue has aged. But themes do not age because truths do not age. It is the person who has aged regarding the topic, not to say that he has become tainted with a kind of sabuguice regarding the topic. When faithful, one always finds new charm on the fundamental themes and draws fresh fruits considering them. That is not exactly the situation in which each one of us inside this room finds himself. Being kind, let us say that the topic I will deal with is rather faded and charmless for some.
I will not approach the subject, hoping to restore its charm. That depends on an action of grace, which hinges on a sense of the opportunities that God has and men do not. Sometimes we wish our talk would shine with [supernatural] grace, and it does not. But our good intention will make the person realize the grace we wanted for him at a more opportune moment. God is the dispenser of graces through Our Lady. It is He who knows the right time to dispense His exceptional favors.
Will there be such grace as I now recall tired topics? I do not know. But I always remember an evil author, Napoleon, who said a great truth: repetition is the best rhetorical figure. By repeating something over and over, it ends up sticking. At least I will have the merit of persevering in repetition by recalling matters already well known to you.
You know all the objectionable aspects of carnival. They are not just those affecting people who participate in carnivals balls and parades. That would be a grave thing, which, thank God, no member of the Group does. But during the carnival, a carnival atmosphere hovers over the city. An imponderable carnivalesque radiance permeates everything. This carnivalesque radiation can awaken in people that nostalgia I spoke about yesterday whereby many do not formally adhere to evil but keep in their souls a certain nostalgia, a semi-consent, longing for something they definitively renounced.
I showed you that this semi-nostalgia acts like a poison in the soul. Without realizing it, the person cools down in his love of God, zeal, resolution, and vocation precisely because of these radiations that penetrate his subconscious.
What is evil about the carnival? Is it “just” sexual immorality? I place “just” in quotes because the sin against purity easily infects man and produces the devastation we often mentioned. Carnival is not just about the sin of impurity. It is loaded with a taste for extravagance and folly. It is a continuous challenge to the virtue of wisdom. It gives rise to a kind of appetite for intemperance where one would want to have fun nonstop led by the illusion that only by plunging into an ocean of fun will one quench his thirst for fun and later return to a serious life. That is nonsense. It is more or less like a person who hesitates about taking cocaine, and someone says to him, “You know, that is a real good thing. Smoke a good dose of cocaine, and then you will wake up and never think about retaking cocaine.” The opposite happens; the person becomes enslaved to the addiction.
During the carnival, this double atmosphere of sensuality, love for madness, and, consequently, the love of pleasure—a stampede to intemperate pleasure dominates the whole city. To counteract the effects of that atmosphere, we need to focus on good and holy places and revise our entire program and doctrines. We need to gradually become aware of new horizons to replace the impressions of carnival with much more temperate and virtuous images resulting from seriously living the vocation. That is why this particular program is organized during the carnival.
Here is the devil’s great temptation on some, and sometimes on the best: “I don’t feel like joining the carnival. I am a fortress against the whole carnival atmosphere. Let those weaklings follow this course. But for me, a consolidated colossus who has been in the Group for a full year, 365 days—which makes me a formidable veteran—this is obviously unnecessary. So I am going to take the opportunity to sleep well, take a walk around the neighborhood and lead a quieter life these days. I will drop by to see what they are talking about to put in an appearance now and then.”
The result is that, at bedtime, a person who thinks like that sleeps too much and becomes soft. When going for a walk, he is intoxicated by that atmosphere. When he arrives at the lecture hall, he is not in the right frame of mind to take advantage of what is being said, so he thinks it’s not worth going back. That is only for beginners. He already knows so much that he’s not even amused. The result is that he comes less often, and when it ends, he is the one who least profited from the meetings.
We must make a firm, definite resolution to attend absolutely every event with all punctuality. Even if we have the illusion that we already know the subject, we will edify others by our attendance and assiduity. And during this time, we ask Our Lady to give us the very precious grace to find an ever-new flavor in the fundamental truths from which everything is deduced, from which everything starts, and that serve as the foundation for everything. So I strongly insist that you are exemplary in observing this coming program.
* * *
I must very insistently tell you one more thing. They have informed me that the edifying habit of doing at least ten minutes of thanksgiving [after communion] has been praised by none other than the Archbishop of São Paulo, Paulo Evaristo Arns. Someone asked him, “What do you think about the TFP people?” He answered, “they can teach us a lesson on two points: after communion, they do thanksgiving which many priests fail to do after Mass; and they have a devotion to Our Lady that many priests do not.”
I have now heard that this habit is changing, and some people are leaving five minutes after communion. We must analyze a little what this means.
On the one hand, the reason for doing ten minutes is founded on theology and, on the other hand, on human psychology. It is founded on theology in that communion is an extraordinary grace that man receives. Having received this grace, he must stay in prayer for at least ten minutes to give thanks for it and live with Our Lord during this time.
I asked one or another priest how long the Real Presence lasts in the communicant. I received very contradictory answers. Some say it may last up to ten minutes, which is evident because from the moment the action of digestive juices is exerted on the host, the Sacred Species deteriorate, and the Real Presence ceases. Others say that it is almost instantaneous. I have been unable to find out what it is, as it seems more a matter for doctors than priests. The concrete fact is that even if the Real Presence does not last ten minutes, it is the minimum that we must give to Our Lord in prayer to thank Him for the signal favor of coming into our soul.
You may ask, But, Dr. Plinio, why ten and not nine? Why ten and not eleven? Why eleven and not twelve? I answer: The number ten clearly has something arbitrary about it, and strictly speaking, it would not matter if it were nine or ten or eleven.
But here, the psychological reason comes in. Thanksgiving after communion requires concentration of mind. It demands attention. Communion is often arid. When communion is dry, one tends to end thanksgiving soon. The only way to prolong thanksgiving at all costs to the decent minimum is to set a number, say ten minutes, and never end before that except in an emergency. But that must be a very exceptional case indeed.
To have an idea of how reasonable this is, imagine that the Queen of England suddenly stopped in front of your house. A magnificent Rolls-Royce stops, an aide-de-camp descends, splendidly uniformed, rings the bell, and the maid answers the door. He says, “Is this where Mr. so-and-so lives?” Surprised, the maid says: “Yes.” “Ah, then open the doors because her Gracious Majesty Queen Elisabeth II has come to pay him a visit because she holds him in great esteem.”
He would be enchanted and immediately open all doors, not knowing what to do to thank such a kind queen who realized his value. Do you think it would make sense, after ten minutes, for him to tell the queen, “Look, do you want to know something? Your conversation is boring. Let’s get going!” Instead, he would do whatever he could to have the queen stay as long as she wanted and linger at his home for additional minutes. He would multiply his efforts in this sense and look at the clock: “Gee, the queen said she would stay ten minutes, but she stayed eleven and a half minutes! Undoubtedly, hat’s because I’m really nice.” As the queen leaves, he makes a big commentary about the visit. “Look, she came looking for me; she didn’t come looking for you. You don’t want to recognize who I am, but the Queen of England, back in London, has good observers who know how to discover values, and she came here to pay me this visit.”
What is a Queen of England compared to Our Lord Jesus Christ? She is dust, ash, nothing. In fact, she is a heretic. Now, as Our Lord Jesus Christ comes into our soul, He unites himself to us much more than a queen coming to our house. Coming to our house is an external thing that does not enter us. But Our Lord Jesus Christ does enter into us. He pays us a visit to the depths of our being, not just with His Real Presence but with the bond uniting Him with us and especially our soul in a mysterious, divine contact extremely fruitful in graces. It is an honor for which one does not know how to thank Him.
What sense does it make for us to hasten our thanksgiving and run away for no good reason? It makes no sense at all. Ten minutes is the least we should give, on the clock. It is well to check the watch when we receive communion because no one has a clock inside his head. Check the watch and, before leaving, check it again to make sure it’s been ten minutes because that’s how we handle things carefully.
Someone will say: [that may cause] scruples. I answer: no, that is not scrupulous but shows serious care and extreme meticulousness in matters of paramount importance. It is nothing but that. So I recommend that you maintain this habit with all my heart and soul.
Is that all? No. Also, maintain the habit of preparing for communion. If you were to receive the Queen of England, would you not put your house in order first? Obviously yes. Our soul is a house that needs to be put in order before receiving a visit from the King of Kings. We must have recollection such that all worries and things of the day disappear so we can focus and receive communion properly. As far as we are concerned, a properly received communion is a prayer.
Do we have so much psychological distance that we go from the church door to the communion table in perfect concentration? Therefore, it is necessary to schedule a specific time to prepare to receive communion. I am not saying that you should not receive communion if you could not prepare for a few minutes through no fault of your own. But I know of people who leave their offices to receive communion, two or three of them walking and talking together. They arrive at the communion table straight away. Why don’t they recollect or at least walk quietly? This is something indispensable to receive communion seriously.
You will tell me: We know that. I know you do; thanks be to God. But it is necessary to repeat and insist on it from time to time so we can fulfill the minimum conditions the Church requires for a person to receive communion properly. I close this Saint of the Day with these extremely vital recommendations.