When was the last time you felt unable to go to Holy Communion?
There is some discussion at the moment (here and here) about the approach to Holy Communion in regard to those not in normal or traditional family relationships - in short hand, those who are divorced and remarried. Much less discussion about those in a very similar situation, couples who are living together without the benefit of even a civil marriage - in both cases they are living as man and wife without the relationship being recognised as marriage by the Church.
Any priest will have encountered the difficult situation first hand among his parishioners (and many personally in their own families). I always find it a hard task to explain the truth and validity of the Church's teaching and yet it is so clearly rooted in Our Lord's own words in the Scriptures. I come back again and again in these circumstances to the issue of the now general practice of receiving Holy Communion. In other words, everyone receives all the time. There are in reality plenty of other situations where receiving Holy Communion is not appropriate. Before anyone taps away in the comments box, I am not in favour of returning to a time when no-one went to Holy Communion and the Church had to virtually force people into receiving "at least" once a year. Obviously, we cannot reserve Holy Communion only for saints. However, arriving at church in a bad temper after an argument or in conflict with someone without having made your peace before coming to the Temple is another Scriptural injunction of Our Lord or a plethora of other unrepented sins should also cause us to hold back. To say nothing of those who are not yet old enough to receive and those who are not Catholics (ie not "in communion" with the Church).
Of course, this is instilled in that most unedifying and rubric-lite of settings for the Mass, the school Mass or classroom Mass. In these unnecessarily makeshift environments (for there is often an empty church just next door) the teacher's desk is suddenly an altar and the pretty ditties are accompanied by the clatter of dishes from the canteen behind the shutters in the school hall. The odour of semolina (or whatever noxious substances are served as school meals these days) drift over the proceedings. All present are then marched up to receive Holy Communion, including those who have not darkened the church since the day of their first Communion, whose families never contribute a single penny to the upkeep of the parish or a prayer to its spiritual good. I've a vague suspicion that in many cases even non-Catholic children are marched up as well. The overarching concern is that no-one should feel "left out". If the rules and guidelines were observed, it would, of course, be those who come from families that actually practice their Faith that would be in the minority and, therefore, the "odd ones out". So the children learn that it's okay to come to Holy Communion whenever they attend Mass - no matter who they are or what state they are in. (I have a priest friend who experienced this logic as a school chaplain. Whilst hearing Confessions in the school he discovered that ALL the children, regardless of religion, were being pushed through the door. He discovered this "pastoral" approach when a child wearing a turban came in to Confess!)
To be able to receive Holy Communion is, of course, glorious. I do wonder though, if beluga caviare and Bollinger Champagne were to be on offer to everyone every day how quickly they would become rather devalued? How quickly would the associated thrill around them become rather routine and not very much valued? Such items generally engender a sense of occasion and so should Holy Communion.
From another angle, I wonder if this has something to do with an almost consumerist approach to the Sacrament - we need to "get" something when we come to Mass, a physical thing. This would explain why it is not considered enough for those who, for whatever reason, cannot come to Holy Communion to simply kneel in the pew in the Real Presence of Our Lord, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity making a Spiritual Communion but they must be encouraged to come up to the altar rail and have the priest wave a hand over them - or sometimes, as I have seen, extra prayers as well. Simply to attend the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is a great blessing and grace. This is also the command of the Church for each Sunday - to attend, for which we seem to now read, "receive Communion".
Those not in a suitable condition of life/soul do not need to pretend otherwise. By making a Spiritual Communion they can receive much grace. Indeed, it's sensible to act in accordance with one's actual spiritual state, as defined by the Church of which we are members. To pretend to something that is not reality does not, in the end, assist in negotiating the spiritual life (or any part of life). We focus on those who are divorced and remarried but this seems to me to be an example of Pope Francis' concern that we are almost too focussed on sexual sins. Instead of looking at why those in the particular position might be able to get around the rules (and Our Lord's clear teaching) we ought, perhaps, to be asking why so many feel able to come to Holy Communion so frequently without the benefit of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. To recognise our relationship with the teaching of the Church and of Our Lord, we do not need to condone the sin to rejoice that the sinner is still with us. Not to make an exact comparison, we are quite happy to carry out the injunction to visit the prisoner without believing that every inmate is actually innocent and there on a miscarriage of justice. Archbishop Muller has just been saying that the care of remarried divorcees must not be reduced to the question of receiving the Eucharist:
Even if there is no possibility of admitting remarried divorcees to the sacraments, in view of their intrinsic nature, it is all the more imperative to show pastoral concern for these members of the faithful, so as to point them clearly towards what the theology of revelation and the Magisterium have to say. The path indicated by the Church is not easy for those concerned. Yet they should know and sense that the Church as a community of salvation accompanies them on their journey. Insofar as the parties make an effort to understand the Church’s practice and to abstain from communion, they provide their own testimony to the indissolubility of marriage.
Incidentally, those who, for whatever reason, do not frequently or ever, receive Holy Communion can attend Mass, sing and pray to their heart's content, take an active part in the social life of the parish, involve themselves in the temporal and spiritual works of mercy. (Every parish has great attendees who come as the non-Catholic parent of Catholic children. I don't think of them as any less my parishioners.) No-one should be looking at who is and isn't coming up to Communion. In this case, the attitude of all fellow parishioners should be that of the Pope when dealing with those who are seeking God and have good will but find themselves in a flawed and fallen humanity , "Who am I to judge?"
Here is what the Pope has just been saying about the family:
The family is the fundamental cell of society. From the beginning the Creator blessed man and woman so that they might be fruitful and multiply, and so the family then is an image of the Triune God in the world.Our reflections must keep before us the beauty of the family and marriage, the greatness of this human reality which is so simple and yet so rich, consisting of joys and hopes, of struggles and sufferings, as is the whole of life. We will seek to deepen the theology of the family and discern the pastoral practices which our present situation requires. May we do so thoughtfully and without falling into "casuistry", because this would inevitably diminish the quality of our work. Today, the family is looked down upon and mistreated. We are called to acknowledge how beautiful, true and good it is to start a family, to be a family today; and how indispensable the family is for the life of the world and for the future of humanity. We are called to make known God’s magnificent plan for the family and to help spouses joyfully experience this plan in their lives, as we accompany them amidst so many difficulties. And also with a pastoral that is intelligent, courageous and full of heart.