Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Do you receive Communion too often?

A book written by the (then) Archbishop of Buenos Aires has just been translated into English.  "On Heaven and Earth" encourages divorced and re-married Catholics to stay within the Church - and calls on pastors and others to integrate them into parish life.  I found an article about it on the National Catholic Register site.   However, from the write up the book is only applying what was taught by Pope John Paul II and what is in the Catechism.  The emphasis on practical and personal charity, kindness and welcome does not descend into ignoring the Church's teaching.  The reality is that many parishes face the difficulties of such situations; where there are long standing relationships, children involved, people divorced and re-married before they discover the Church, abandoning their partner is not advice many priests would be willing to give.  Living as best they can in an imperfect situation may be the best that can be hoped for (as with all of us in one way or another where sin is concerned). Nowhere is it suggested that such second marriages are approved of or that those in them should be re-admitted to Holy Communion, in fact the continuing relationship with the Church is in the hope that they can remedy their situations.  

It struck me that this might be helped if it were not the case that everyone, almost without exception, comes  to  the rail to receive Communion at every Mass.  You could be forgiven for thinking that being in a second civil marriage is the only sin  Catholics ever commit.  Under Pope John Paul there was a call to remind us that the practice of encouraging everyone at Mass to receive Communion without serious reflection on the state of their soul should be reviewed.  

The obligation of any Catholic, whatever their standing in the Church, is to attend Mass on Sunday - the obligation is not that we receive Holy Communion but that we place ourselves in the Real Presence of the sacrifice that redeems us. We do appear to have come to an understanding that it is rather to receive Communion - almost as a right.  Thus a priest could find himself in a situation where Communion is asked for at home for someone "housebound": "But you can't come on Mondays, Wednesdays or Fridays, Father, I'm at the Day Centre. Oh and Saturdays my daughter takes me to the hairdresser."  Or the request I once got from a lapsed Catholic who said that whilst on holiday in Malta a priest had told him that he could get communion at home if he couldn't get to Mass. I tried to explain that if he could manage to get all the way to Malta on holiday he might just be able to drag himself to Mass in the local parish church!

I'm not saying that we should return to a time when people hardly ever came to Communion but if more people took seriously the state of their soul and did not just come to the communion rail as a mater of course, then those few brave souls who do take seriously the teaching of the Church might not feel so gawped at by all the other saints in the parish. To quote from Blessed Pope John Paul's  Ecclesia Eucharistia (36)
The Apostle Paul appeals to this duty when he warns: “Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (1 Cor 11:28). Saint John Chrysostom, with his stirring eloquence, exhorted the faithful: “I too raise my voice, I beseech, beg and implore that no one draw near to this sacred table with a sullied and corrupt conscience. Such an act, in fact, can never be called 'communion', not even were we to touch the Lord's body a thousand times over, but 'condemnation', 'torment' and 'increase of punishment'”. 
Along these same lines, the Catechism of the Catholic Church rightly stipulates that “anyone conscious of a grave sin must receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to communion”.74 I therefore desire to reaffirm that in the Church there remains in force, now and in the future, the rule by which the Council of Trent gave concrete expression to the Apostle Paul's stern warning when it affirmed that, in order to receive the Eucharist in a worthy manner, “one must first confess one's sins, when one is aware of mortal sin”.
While the Church wants everyone to receive Holy Communion as often as possible, weakening our respect awe for it does not in the long run assist our faith.  As often as possible - what is possible might well be different for different people.  But however often it might be, everyone should be treated with the love, generosity and encouragement that Pope Francis highlights in order to draw them ever more closely to the Lord and to the safety of the harbour of the Church.

Our Lord was unfailingly kind and welcoming but he didn't pull his punches either!

NB. The Catechism of the Catholic Church  on the divorced and civilly re-married says:
1650 Today there are numerous Catholics in many countries who have recourse to civil divorce and contract new civil unions. In fidelity to the words of Jesus Christ - “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery"160 the Church maintains that a new union cannot be recognized as valid, if the first marriage was. If the divorced are remarried civilly, they find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God’s law. Consequently, they cannot receive Eucharistic communion as long as this situation persists. For the same reason, they cannot exercise certain ecclesial responsibilities. Reconciliation through the sacrament of Penance can be granted only to those who have repented for having violated the sign of the covenant and of fidelity to Christ, and who are committed to living in complete continence.
1651 Toward Christians who live in this situation, and who often keep the faith and desire to bring up their children in a Christian manner, priests and the whole community must manifest an attentive solicitude, so that they do not consider themselves separated from the Church, in whose life they can and must participate as baptized persons:
They should be encouraged to listen to the Word of God, to attend the Sacrifice of the Mass, to persevere in prayer, to contribute to works of charity and to community efforts for justice, to bring up their children in the Christian faith, to cultivate the spirit and practice of penance and thus implore, day by day, God’s grace.


GOR said...

dingDiviAhem, Father. The National Catholic Reporter is the one known as the Fishwrap not the National Catholic Register.

Yes, it is confusing.

Think of it this way - The NC Register is the American Catholic Herald, while the NC Reporter is the Tablet.

Fr Simon Henry said...

Thank you - corrected.

English Pastor said...

I experience exactly the problems you recount here. I remember one housebound lady had to receive Holy Communion on a Sunday by a certain time because her daughter came to take her out for lunch; there was another who, after I had given her Holy Communion for First Friday, I met an hour later in the supermarket; another lady was in the Club every Saturday evening but unable to come to Mass. Sadly, for a priest to say “we can no longer bring Communion to you” is to be ‘unpastoral’ and risk a rebuke from one’s Bishop. One minister laughed as she recounted having gone home, tidied the house and then went on her vast in a different coat –leaving the Blessed sacrament at home in the pocket of the coat she wore for Mass. All of this is very sad, yet very common.

And then there are the few Holy days left that have not been transferred to Sunday. I can have just about a quarter of our normal congregation attending, though all the regulars come to Holy Communion the following weekend. And then there are the School Masses... In one school I would give Communion to children I never saw at Mass, and when I said “only for those who go to Mass on Saturday night or Sunday Morning”, the number dropped from around 30 to around 5. Virtually the whole school came up for blessings at Communion and I gave out more blessings than Holy Communion.

Celia said...

In my experience many (most?) Catholics do indeed regard Communion as a right, regardless of circumstances, and someone who doesn't receive it as distinctly odd. I was asked recently why I hadn't received and when I explained that I'd been careless and failed to fast for an hour the response was incredulity and mild ridicule:'No-one bothers with that any more! God doesn't care if you don't fast'. I suggested that God probably does care if you disobey His Church, which didn't go down too well. Obedience coming well below recycling in the order of virtues these days.

Jacobi said...

For so many "Catholics", Mass has become just a Protestant-style communion service.

The idea of the re-enactment of the Sacrifice of Calvary simply does not exist in their minds and sin has been dismissed.

The logical outcome of dismissing sin, is that the death of Christ on the cross was unnecessary and that he was but a deluded zealot.

Sixupman said...

As the use of the confessional decreased, the reception of Communion, within parishes, increased.