Regulating communion

Regulating communion

Bishops sometimes wrestle with the dilemma of publicly refusing communion to high-profile non-Catholics or Catholics who have caused scandal and not repented.

Thankfully, that’s not an issue for country priests! The closest I’d get to that is clarifying who may make a sacramental communion at weddings.

I’ve adopted the rule that if the matter is addressed in the booklet I won’t speak to it. If it is not mentioned in the booklet, or if there is no booklet, then I will speak to the matter before the Ecce Agnes Dei. It shouldn’t have an overly high profile. The rite of communion is not the time for lengthy catechesis on conscience and canonical discipline. Hence my either-or approach: either an oral statement or a printed statement, but not both.

Here are two recent examples of the sort of statements I mean:

HOLY COMMUNION

Reception of the Eucharist is the greatest expression Christians have of communion in and with Christ. For Catholics, it is also an expression of communion with Christ’s Church, which is embodied in communion with Pope Francis.

Catholics in communion with the Church are invited to approach the altar. Other guests are welcome to join the communion procession with their arms crossed across their chest so that they may receive a blessing.

HOLY COMMUNION

In accord with the practice of the Catholic Church, Catholics who are ready and disposed to receive Holy Communion may approach to receive the Most Blessed Sacrament.

Non-Catholics and Catholics not prepared to receive communion may approach for a blessing, the request for which is made by crossing your arms across your chest.

To be honest, I’m not very happy with them. Saying too little, I think, can be more damaging than saying nothing at all. A bald statement of the rules, without elaborating on the rationale, can leave the impression that the Church’s exclusive rules on communion are in direct contradiction with our Lord’s inclusive ministry to sinners.

I’ve been contemplating a scriptural quote:

“Whoever 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. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgement upon himself.” (1 Cor 11:27-29)

But maybe a quote from Pope Francis lends itself. He speaks, after all, with the authority of someone whom the world has decided is inclusive and Christ-like. So it’s not just the hoary old young priest being miserly.

David had been an adulterer and had ordered a murder, and nonetheless we venerate him as a saint because he had the courage to say: ‘I have sinned.’ He humbled himself before God. One can commit enormous mistakes, but one can also acknowledge them, change one’s life and make reparation for what one has done.

It is true that among parishioners there are persons who have killed not only intellectually or physically but indirectly, with improper management of capital, paying unjust wages. There are members of charitable organizations who do not pay their employees what they deserve, or make them work off the books. [. . .] With some of them we know their whole résumé, we know that they pass themselves off as Catholics but practice indecent behaviors of which they do not repent.

For this reason, on some occasions I do not give communion, I stay back and let the assistants do it, because I do not want these persons to approach me for a photo. One may also deny communion to a known sinner who has not repented, but it is very difficult to prove these things.

Receiving communion means receiving the body of the Lord, with the awareness of forming a community. But if a man, rather than uniting the people of God, has devastated the lives of many persons, he cannot receive communion, it would be a total contradiction. Such cases of spiritual hypocrisy present themselves in many who take refuge in the Church and do not live according to the justice that God preaches. And they do not demonstrate repentance. This is what we commonly call leading a double life.

Really, it’s much too long, and the context is different. It’s actually an explanation for the Pope’s habit of often “sitting out” the communion rite.

But it does provide a good model, I think, for a shorter statement on communion which I can compose for future weddings and the like. It avoids jargon, and sounds reasonable. I like it.

Incidentally, I think holy communion is one instance in which the Church does need to be exclusive rather than inclusive. But such instances are exceedingly rare. A beautiful post from Joanne K. McPortland’s Egregious Twaddle blog provides good context. Here’s a pertinent warning:

We act—I act—as though the Church is only for those whose hands are washed, who wear the right vestments, who never question or stand up to or run away or sass back, who sing only in Latin, who would never ever ever experience disordered desires for the wrong person-gender-entertainment-food-lifestyle-political position, who would stand up and walk out rather than hold hands during the Lord’s Prayer, who could not imagine longing so deeply for Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist that they might risk approaching the Table in less than a state of grace.

Catholic means ‘here comes everyone.’ We have to believe that, and live it, even as we restrict access to sacramental communion.

Read the whole post. It’s moving Mother’s Day fare.

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