This Wednesday during Holy Week is traditionally known as “Spy Wednesday.” It is the day on which it is believed that Judas conspired with the chief priests in order to hand Jesus over to them. Judas was very effective in hiding his treachery from the other Apostles. They have no suspicions on the identity of the culprit, even when Jesus tells them plainly at the Last Supper that one of the Twelve would betray him. The traitor was known only to Jesus and Judas. Judas had likely been toying with the idea of handing Jesus over for quite some time. However, it appears that the last straw that solidified his decision was when Jesus approved of a woman who had poured out an entire jar of perfumed ointment upon his head. Judas could not stomach what he considered to be a waste of such an expensive ointment. He had clearly already despised Jesus in his heart.
One question that has been debated over the years is whether or not Judas received Holy Communion at the Last Supper. This is not entirely clear from any of the Gospel accounts. None of them explicitly mention if he did or did not receive. It would appear from the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) that he was present for the Institution of the Eucharist. Presumably he would have received Communion along with the other Apostles. However, one could conclude from the Gospel of John that Judas had left before the distribution of Communion. This is not something that is a defined doctrine of the Church. Therefore, presuming that Judas did receive Communion, I would like to consider a few reflections on the matter.
It is current Church discipline and teaching that those who are conscious of having committed mortal sin are to refrain from receiving Communion until they have received absolution in the Sacrament of Reconciliation or, in the case of manifest necessity, they have made an act of perfect contrition (sorrow for sin solely out of one’s love for God and not fear of punishment). This discipline is derived from the teaching of St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians 11:27 – “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.” Prior to saying this, St. Paul corrects the Corinthians on a practice in which they were engaged that ended up alienating the poor.
When they would gather together in their houses for the “breaking of the bread,” the celebration of the Eucharist, they would likewise have a meal that has come to be known as an “agape meal.” The problem with this practice is that the wealthier people would bring food for themselves while the poorer ones would go hungry. Thus, instead of the Eucharist standing as a sign of the unity of the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church, the agape meal that became associated with the Eucharist began to create factions among them. We derive the English word “heresies” from the Greek word for “factions.” So, the agape meal became divisive for the people in Corinth. St. Paul warns them that they must discern the body and judge themselves truly before receiving, otherwise they risk eating and drinking judgment upon themselves. Some of them were becoming sick as a result of having received communion unworthily. It is for this reason that the Church has at times given the corrective punishment of excommunication. Excommunication is not a condemnation nor is it a statement that an individual is going to Hell. It is not meant to alienate anyone but is a remedy for those who are in need of repentance.
It is current Church discipline and teaching that those who are conscious of having committed mortal sin are to refrain from receiving Communion until they have received absolution in the Sacrament of Reconciliation or, in the case of manifest necessity, they have made an act of perfect contrition (sorrow for sin solely out of one’s love for God and not fear of punishment).
If we assume that Judas received Holy Communion, he would have done so unworthily. His interior disposition reflected anything but a sharing of communion with Our Lord. Where Communion should have been a unifying principle between Our Lord, the Apostles, and Judas, it becomes a judgment upon Judas. It would make sense then that Judas first profaned the Body and Blood of the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament before he profaned the physical body of Our Lord in handing him over to suffering and death. He received the sacrament of charity and unity without having charity in his heart. As a result of his treachery, he ate and drank judgment upon himself. This ultimately cost him, not only his life since he hanged himself, but arguably his soul as well, since Jesus refers to him as the “son of perdition.”
This is a lesson for us to examine ourselves and examine our relationship with the Lord and with our neighbor before receiving Communion. If we are conscious of having sinned grievously against the Lord or against another and we’re in need of reconciling, then we should do so as soon as we are able. We recognize that we partake of the one loaf and the one cup: the one Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. We are supposed to be one in charity, united in this sacrament. We should be mindful, before receiving, that we do not harbor any sort of ill will or treachery in our hearts towards the Lord or towards our brothers and sisters in Christ. The Lord has given us an awesome gift and we show our gratitude by remaining united to him and to the Church in charity, in love.