Wednesday 24 September 2014

Why do we single out the divorced and remarried for exclusion from receiving the Eucharist?

Should we be doing this more often?

There's much being written about the forthcoming Synod on the Family.  Of course, its being reduced in the media to a one issue event but I'm sure that it will be much broader than that.  However, on that one issue I wonder why we single out the divorced and remarried as not in the right position to receive Holy Communion.  Perhaps we should be looking at the issue from another perspective.  Why is it that all the other sins, difficulties and human failings that abound among the fallen humanity that fill our churches are not given much attention?  The link between receiving Holy Communion and preparing oneself  for it by Confession seems to have been completely abandoned.   It seems there are no sins left that might exclude someone from receiving Holy Communion. Why is that?

Seems like everyone needs to go to Confession sometime.

We now concentrate on receiving to the exclusion of almost everything else.  The Sunday Obligation seems to be not to be in attendance at Mass but to receive Holy Communion.  As though, influenced by our consumer society, it doesn't count unless we "get something".  

This flows through to those who might receive Communion at home.  It seems an increasingly frequent model that many people  who are listed as "housebound" as far as getting to church is concerned can actually get out to the shops, to the day centre, to visit relatives and even go on holiday, and yet they have been encouraged to expect that they can to receive Communion at home. 

My classic example of this came some years ago when I received a phone call from a lapsed gentleman who told me that a priest he'd met in a church while on holiday in Malta had suggested that, as he had walking difficulties, he might get his parish priest back home to bring him Holy Communion each week.  The gentleman was somewhat put out when I tentatively suggested that as he'd managed to get to Malta all by himself he might just be able to make it to his local parish.

Another incident was told to me by a priest friend who, on asking if the "housebound" recipient might not be able to get up to church as she had not been home on his previous two attempts to call, received the reply, "O Father, its as much as I can do to struggle up to the off-licence these days."

But I digress...

There are many  reasons to abstain from receiving Holy Communion.    Being divorced and remarried is one of them in the Church's teaching.  However, such folk would not feel so marked out if all the rest of us abstained when we were not supposed to receive as well.  The daily gossip who hasn't been to Confession for 20 years could remain with them in the pews making a spiritual communion.  The family that only come to Mass once a month could likewise swell the ranks of non communicants. I'm guessing that there are very many in sin - either serious or habitual - who have not been to Confession for long enough to make it suitable that we should not be receiving Holy Communion every time they come to Mass.

I'm not suggesting that no one should ever come but the desire to encourage everyone up every time seems to cheapen the Sacrament, to make it less awesome and more everyday.  Presumably a concentration on being in a state of grace was what led to so few receiving Holy Communion that the Church came to enforce at least a yearly reception - along with Confession, of course.  What we used to call Easter Duties.  We need not go back to that state of play but perhaps we have travelled too far in the other direction.  The result is that only those whose failings are publicly known - that is, those in irregular marriages - are forced to abstain from receiving Holy Communion.  An honest appraisal of many other failings - real but not recorded in marriage registers - might lead to us taking the reception of Holy Communion with more seriousness.  

Its not the Church's teaching on marriage that is faulty but perhaps Her teaching on receiving the Holy Eucharist, as commonly perceived and lived out in most places, needs a little adjusting.

It might also remind us that the Mass is not just about receiving, about "getting something" but it is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and about us giving something to Him -  our worship of Almighty God.  It is a thing in itself.  Simply being in the presence of it is a source of grace, of comfort and of hope.  In itself, it is the act of Our Lord on Calvary - we can "get" plenty form it just by being there and acknowledging it as such.


philipjohnson said...

Fr.Years ago most catholics went to confession -i did,and still do.Today all people who attend mass go to holy communion and never go to confession!The church never talks about sin ,redemption and the salvation of souls or anything else involving their eternal life.God Bless.This weekend i will go to the tridentine mass and also the novus ordo mass in my own church .Maybe the people who sin have no notion of the fact.They are not told about it any more..Philip johnson.

Unknown said...

A bit Jansenist?

philipjohnson said...

john russell finch.your comment,i assume relates to mine.what is it about my writing that is jansenist?philip johnson.

Victor S E Moubarak said...

You make some very good points Father. Thank you.

It occurs to me that when Jesus walked this earth he sought sinners and invited them to join in the love of God. He did not say "You're excluded because you have sinned!"

God bless you.

Thomas said...

Another point about the fact most people go up to Holy Communion is that it makes harder for those in a state of mortal sin to refrain from going up. If my sin is a private one, and yet I am the only one to remain in the pew when everyone else is going up, I'm effectively advertising the fact I have a mortal sin in need of confession/

annmarie said...

I use a mobility scooter to get to Mass and tuck it into a space during Mass.

As a result, some ministers assume I need Communion brought to me, though I don't (except on the rare occasions when the Church is really crowded or I can't get round a coffin). On rare occasions (maybe I haven't kept the fast, or I got to Mass really way too late) I don't go to Communion as I think it's more respectful not to go up.

At this point I am borne down on by an eager minister determined I shall have Communion (despite my indication to the contrary). As she is standing right in front of me with a Host, I can't do much about my original intention without making a drama and distracting everyone, so I end up going to Communion when I didn't intend to.

Just another aspect to the inability to remember that your obligation is to attend Mass, not to go to Communion. Incidentally, even if I have been so (unavoidably!) delayed that Mass is almost finished, I still go for what I can. Even if it is as late as the Eucharistic Prayer, I can still acknowledge that He Is There under the form of Bread and Wine; I can still look at the Host and say: Ave Verum Corpus, or Godhead here in hiding, Whom I do adore.

He might not have got as much of me as he should have, but at least I have made contact, at least I have renewed my acknowledgement of the Truth of Transubstantiation, that Truth which is the reason I became a Catholic.

Maybe others can take comfort from the fact that there is still value in what they do even if they can't get to Communion. There are so many Catholics whose beliefs are shaky (or so it would seem) that I'm sure Our Lord will welcome that acknowledgement of His Presence and maybe what they suffer in being excluded will be reparation for those who can come and do, without realising what they are about.

Anonymous said...

Well said Father

Jacobi said...


The issue of Holy Communion for the divorced and remarried is a ”test case”. The real issue is whether sin is all that important. After all, Protestants believe that Faith alone will get you there. So as long as you have “Faith” why bother?

As for all other sinners, those guilty of the seven deadly sins, and the sins crying out to Heaven for vengeance, and also of course for contraceptors and casual Mass attenders, well they have their rights too, you know!

I mean if the divorced and remarried, in a state of Mortal Sin, objectively speaking of course, are allowed to receive Holy Communion without Confession and a firm purpose of amendment, well so also should all the others. We must be fair after all, and ensure everybody’s rights are guaranteed.

And then we can then all relax and enjoy ourselves in the knowledge that a “nice” God will let us in after all.

Damask Rose said...

Great, well explained thread, Father.

I suspect much of the problem, unfortunately, lies with the priest. Perhaps to do with seminary training or their understanding of what 'Church' means today. Or it's their home life experience or ego.

Two examples:

1. Some while back, my parish had a 'mission', which thankfully I didn't attend, as on the 'end' Sunday Mass, the diocesan priest who gave the mission, referred to himself numerous times and to my mind at least, alarmingly, told the Sunday congregation that parishioners were taken aback when at a Mass during the mission week he said he blessed all those people who hadn't gone to confession. Of course, this priest received an ovation for his work as 'missionary' and what a successful week it had been. I recall that as it was First Friday that week, I attended one of the 'missionary' Masses but luckily a priest who came with 'missionary' Father attended and to my amazement the 'week' was to end with a buffet after this Mass with drinks on. All heartily invited, of course. I remember hoping that people wouldn't start drinking alcohol so soon after reception of Communion and the Bishops encouraging Friday penance.*

2. One of our parish priests wished to make an important point during homily about the Church being community by recounting a true story. Apparently a non-Catholic visitor to a parish Sunday Mass told Father how he now understood the togetherness and community aspect of the Mass and what we Catholics are doing, because we all went up to receive Communion. Father obviously thought this was uplifting.

* Contrastingly, in the mid-80s, when a teenager, I attended a mission with my parents led by monks, Paulines, I think. After Mass we had to split up. The teenagers, young adults in one room, women in the church, men in the parish hall. We were all given a talk. Many years later, as a woman, I remembered and asked my mother what the monk preached to them. She said amongst the responsibilities of motherhood, he preached about contraception. He said that women didn't realise the wrath of God they incurred when thwarting the Will of God, better they hadn't been born and that coming form a large family, if his mother had aborted him today, God would have lost a vocation. She said that some of women sat with their heads lowered.

Can you imagine what the monks would have said to the men?

One of the few homilies I can remember from years ago was another missionary priest who, as an example of societal ills and destruction of the family, at the outset, gave the stark example of a girl he had spoken to saying how she was relieved her father was dead because he was a drunk.


The Body of Christ has become very ill, but it seems that it cannot remember what the Remedy is. It doesn't want to take its Medicine.

Damask Rose said...

Fr Henry, I've just scrolled back through the threads and noticed that it was your birthday. Happy Birthday! (though belated). May you live for another fifty years of priesthood!

Beautiful pics from Budapest. The Baptistery window is stunning.