The greatest thing that the Catholic Church treasures is the Eucharist where Jesus himself is hidden under the appearances of bread and wine.
As the Catechism states, and as we also believe that “In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist ‘the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained’” (CCC 1374).
In addition with that, the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist does not cease immediately when we receive him at Communion time. The Catechism goes on to explain this, (CCC 1377) “The Eucharistic presence of Christ begins at the moment of the consecration and endures as long as the Eucharistic species subsist”.
What does that really mean when we receive him into our mouths? How long does the Real Presence of Jesus remain in our bodies?
There is this famous story from the life of Saint Philip Neri that helps answer that question. One day as Philip Neri was celebrating Mass, a man received Holy Communion and left the church early.
The man appeared to have no regard for the Presence of Christ within him and so Philip Neri decided to use this opportunity as a teaching moment. He went further to send two altar boys with lighted candles to follow the man outside of the church.
A the man walked for a while through the streets of Rome, the man turned around to see the altar boys still following him.
The man became confused, and returned to the church and asked Philip Neri why he sent the altar boys. Saint Philip Neri replied by saying, “We have to give proper respect to Our Lord, Whom you are carrying away with you. Since you do neglect to adore Him, so I sent two acolytes to take your place.” The man was shocked by the response and resolved to be more aware of God’s presence in the nearest future.
Generally, it is assumed that the Eucharistic species of bread remains for about 15 minutes after reception. This is based only on simple biology and it reflects the Catechism’s statement that the presence of Christ “endures as long as the Eucharistic species subsist.”
This is the reason why many saints have recommended that we offer15 minutes of prayer after receiving the Eucharist as a thanksgiving to God. This period of time would allow the soul to savor the presence of God and have a true “heart-to-heart” with Jesus.
In our World today, it is often difficult to remain long after Mass, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we can’t at least pray a brief prayer of thanksgiving.
The main point here is that we need to remember that the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist stays with us for several minutes and presents us within a special time when we can commune with our Lord and feel his love within us.
If for one day you forget, don’t be surprised when your parish priest sends altar servers to follow you to your car when you leave Mass immediately you receive Holy Communion.