Thursday, May 6, 2010
How to Handle Lapsed Catholics at First Communion?
by Fr. John Bartunek, LC
MAY 7, 2010 (www.faithandfamilylive.com) - Q: We have a large extended family, most of whom think we have jumped off a cliff for being so zealous for our beautiful faith,many of whom are no longer practicing Catholics, and some of whom were baptized Catholic but have chosen to practice another faith (Lutheran). How can we peacefully handle telling fallen away Catholic family members, that they should not receive the Eucharist while attending the Sacrament of First Holy Communion? Are we required to educate these family members to prevent this sacrilege? We are already a bit disconnected from this side of the family for a variety of reasons; loving them from a distance, and getting together with them almost only on special occasions is what we have found most healthy for our children.
A: From the way you phrase and contextualize this question, it is clear that you are prudent, thoughtful, and balanced parents. So before sharing some reflections, I want to encourage you to continue exercising that prudence. Asking God for guidance and then following your heart’s compass will probably keep you on track, and even give you some chances (down the road) to help some of these relatives come closer to Christ.
Guarding the Sacrament?
That said, your second question needs to be addressed before your first. You are certainly not required to insure that all relatives avoid the improper reception of Holy Communion. No one is required to do the impossible. In fact, considering your family situation, it would be fair to assume that all these relatives should already know their duty in this regard. You should not feel obliged to inquire of each relative whether or not they are aware.
Rather, if by experience you know that Aunt Lutheran just really likes going up to receive Catholic Holy Communion, even though she knows she shouldn’t, it may be an act of charity to try and explain things to her once again. But since the other relatives are familiar with the Catholic faith, and are aware of your devotion to the faith, they are the ones responsible for showing proper respect to the Sacrament. Of course, if you notice that Uncle Fallen-Away-Bob-the-Adulterer goes up to receive, it may be an act of charity (depending on your relationship with him) to go and speak to him about it afterwards.
Usually at First Communions, Weddings, and Funerals, a special announcement is made during the Mass, reminding people that only Catholics properly disposed should receive Holy Communion. That is often how the pastor protects the integrity of the Eucharist on these occasions. He is primarily responsible for doing this, not you.
Explaining the Issue
Now your second question has to be faced: Having decided to try and explain it, how can you do so without making them angrier and more alienated then ever?
First, do it long before or after the Mass. Second, no matter how charitable and understanding you are, sometimes you may still cause offense. Third, sometimes the best way to broach the subject is with a question: e.g., “How often do you receive Communion in your Church?” Fourth, when explaining this to our separated brethren (Lutherans and other Protestants), the important thing is to recognize explicitly that as Christians, there is much more uniting us than separating us.
But sadly, and they will admit this, there are still many divisions among the different Christian denominations. And in the Catholic Church, when we receive Holy Communion, in which Jesus is truly (not just symbolically) present, we are publicly acknowledging our “communion” with everything that the Catholic Church teaches. This is why we invite other Christians to come up for a blessing, if they wish, but not to receive Communion – it would be like making them into liars.
The same line of explanation can help non-practicing Catholics understand why they too should refrain. It’s not that God doesn’t love them; it’s just that in receiving Holy Communion we are saying (among other things), “I believe and wish to follow all that Christ’s Holy, Catholic Church teaches.” A non-practicing Catholic can’t say that (and they may have very good reasons, subjectively speaking). They also, however, can come up to receive a blessing.
Those are some possible tactics for explaining the issue. But remember that these types of conversations can also be prime opportunities to share with others your own love for Christ and his Church. Try to go beyond listing the rules and speak of the relationship that God wants to have with each of us, a relationship that grows and flourishes, by God’s own design, within the spiritual family of his Church.
(By the way, be careful about using the term “sacrilege.” That refers to a sin, which must be consciously committed. If someone unwittingly receives Holy Communion improperly, due to ignorance or wrong instruction, for example, they are not necessarily committing the sin of sacrilege.)
View this article in ParishWorld.net
Sunday, April 4, 2010
Who Can Receive Communion?
By Paul Dion, STL
"Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food, and my blood is real drink. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever" (John 6:53–58).
Because of this teaching about the Eucharist, we know that receiving this Sacrament is very important to our lives as Catholics.
The burning questions is: What are the pre-requisites for receiving the eucharist for the first time? What are the requisites for receiving the eucharist every time after that?
"Jesus gives Himself to us," the Mystery of Transubstantiation
By Fr. Ray Ryland, Coming Home Network
One of the post-communion prayers in the Eucharistic liturgy makes this petition: “Lord, by our sharing in the mystery of this Eucharist, let your saving love grow within us. Grant this through Christ our Lord.”
We pray and say things like this so often in our liturgy we tend to take them for granted. Take another and closer look at what Jesus Christ does in this great mystery of the Eucharist.
Start With the Incarnation
Ponder these astounding words from the prologue to the Fourth Gospel: “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God...And the word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth...” (John 1:1, 14a)
Sacred scripture is telling us that Almighty God has become part of the material world. And all for the purpose of working out our salvation through the human nature (body as well a soul) of his divine Son.
Now that Christ has been raised in glory, through his transfigured human nature God mediates to us the salvation Christ has won for us. God acts on us in an intimate, person-to-person way.
Our contact with God is a spiritual reality made possible by god’s grace and by our response to that grace in faith. And so for all persons who have faith in Christ, he makes himself spiritually available to them.
Bur in his infinite love for us, Jesus Christ has chosen to do far more than be simply spiritually available.
In the Eucharist, Jesus Christ Gives Us Direct Contact With His Human Nature
Think of your senses: Hearing, seeing, smelling, touching, tasting. You can hear or see or smell something, but our sense of hearing or seeing or smelling is detached from its object. You are not in direct physical contact with what you hear or see or smell.
Touching is different. We come into direct contact with something by putting our fingers or our hand on that object. Tasting is a form of touching, but with a very great difference. Tasting – eating – actually brings about a union between ourselves and the object of our tasting (eating). What we eat literally becomes part of us.
Now this is deeply significant: the central act of the Catholic religion is an act of feeding on particular food. Jesus wants us to be united with him through faith, of course. But through his Church he has provided for much more intimate contact with himself. He has given us food – the Eucharist – through which he gives us his very self.
At the Last Supper he said of the elements, “this is my body,” “this is my blood.” (Matt. 26:26-28). Jesus Christ gives us himself under forms of bread and wine.
In all the other sacraments, Jesus uses physical means through which he gives us his grace: the water of baptism, the oil of the anointing, and so. But in the Eucharist, the physical means Jesus uses themselves become Jesus Christ himself.
Only God himself could fully explain the miracle of the Eucharist, but the Holy Spirit enables his Church to describe the miracle, in her doctrine of transubstantiation.
View this article in ParishWorld.net
It's a Matter of Honesty: To Receive Communion, We Need to Be in Communion
by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.
MAY 25, 2008 (www.catholicculture.org) - Relationships have consequences. They shape the way we act. That's true in our friendships and business dealings. It's even more deeply true in marriage.
When a man and woman fall in love and choose each other in marriage, they also choose to forego other choices. They submit themselves to each other. They give up certain rights over themselves out of love, and they take on certain responsibilities. The joys, sorrows, children, self-sacrifices, car loans and mortgages that follow become part of the story they share. That's why infidelity is always such a serious wound in marriage. It's not just a form of lying. It's also an act of violence against a very intimate bond of trust.
It's no accident that Catholics have always described the Church in the language of marriage and family. The Church is "the bride of Christ." The Church is our "mother and teacher." The Church is the family of God's "sons and daughters in Christ." The Church is a web of relationships based on the most important relationship of all: Jesus Christ's gift of Himself to us in the Eucharist for our salvation. That relationship has consequences — or should — for every decision we make.
None of us earns the gift of Christ's love. None of us "deserves" the Eucharist. The words of the centurion are just as true today as they were 2,000 years ago: "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and my (soul) will be healed" (Matt 8:8).
As Catholics, we believe that the Eucharist is not just a symbol or a sacred meal or an important ritual expressing our community. Rather it is, quite literally, the body and blood of Jesus Christ. It's His living presence in our midst. This is what distinguishes the Catholic faith from nearly every Protestant denomination. In fact, it's one of the central Catholic beliefs that the Protestant Reformation eventually "protested."
The Eucharist remains today the source and summit of Catholic life. And like every Catholic generation before us, we need to take the words of St. Paul very seriously: "Whoever, therefore, 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" (1 Cor 11:27). We should also remember the words of St. Justin, the great martyr from the second century: "No one may take part (in the Eucharist) unless he believes that what we teach is true, has received baptism for the forgiveness of sins and new birth, and lives in keeping with what Christ taught."
What's the lesson for Catholics? Fifty years ago, too many of us avoided receiving Communion out of an excessive fear of our own sins. Today, far too many of us receive Communion unthinkingly, reflexively, with no sense of the urgent need for our own self-examination, humility and conversion. Worse, too many Catholics receive the body and blood of Christ even when they ignore or deny the teachings of His Church.
When we sin by theft, lying, adultery, pride, gossip, anger, envy, callousness to the poor, pornography or indifference, we do not live "in keeping with what Christ taught." We remove ourselves, by our actions, from friendship with God. That means we need to turn back to the sacrament of penance before we receive Communion. In fact, many of us today need a deeper devotion to confession simply to regain a basic understanding of grace and sin.
Likewise, if we ignore or deny what the Church teaches, or refuse to follow what she teaches, we are not "in communion" with the Catholic faith. We separate ourselves from the community of believers. If we receive Communion anyway, we engage in a lie.
Claiming to be Catholic and then rejecting Catholic teaching is an act of dishonesty and a lack of personal integrity. Worse, if we then receive Communion, we violate every Catholic who does believe and does strive to live the faith fully and unselfishly. And that compounds a sin against honesty with a sin against justice and charity. Again, as Justin Martyr said: "No one may take part (in the Eucharist) unless he believes what we teach is true."
If we claim to believe in Jesus Christ and the Catholic faith, then we need to act like it — without caveats, all the way, all the time, with all our heart, including our lives in the public square.
The current media turmoil over "denying Catholic politicians Communion" is filled with ignorance about the Church and the real meaning of the Eucharist. Denying anyone Communion is a very grave matter. It should be reserved for extraordinary cases of public scandal. But the Church always expects Catholics who are living in serious sin or who deny the teachings of the Church — whether they're highly visible officials or anonymous parishioners — to have the integrity to respect both the Eucharist and the faithful, and to refrain from receiving Communion.
One of the ironies of an already strange election year is the number of non-Catholics, ex-Catholics and anti-Catholics who have developed a sudden piety about who should receive Communion and when. We should thank God for them. Whenever the Church is criticized, she understands herself better and is purified. And when she's purified, then she better serves the Lord.
We're at a time for the Church in our country when some Catholics — too many — are discovering that they've gradually become non-Catholics who happen to go to Mass. That's sad and difficult, and a judgment on a generation of Catholic leadership. But it may be exactly the moment of truth the Church needs.
Saturday, April 3, 2010
by Father Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M., S.T.D.
Did you ever play that game where everyone sits around in a circle and the first person whispers a sentence into the ear of the next person, and that person whispers it to the next person and so on until the sentence has been passed to everyone in the group? Then the last person says the sentence out loud, and a sentence that started out as, for example, “My horse is afraid to go upstairs!” has become “My house has learned to say its prayers!”
While this game can be a lot of fun, it also illustrates how hard it can be to hand on information accurately from one person to another. And if it is difficult to hand on one sentence, think of the difficulty in handing on from one generation to the next something as complex, wonderful and mysterious as the Holy Eucharist!
We find this difficulty with “handing on” present in the earliest written account of the Eucharist. To the Church at Corinth, St. Paul writes: “I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread...” (1 Cor 11:23). Paul goes on to say that the Corinthians have not accurately received what he handed on. He sharply criticizes the way they are celebrating the Eucharist: “Your meetings are doing more harm than good” (1 Cor 11:17). What didn’t get handed on? What was it that they didn’t get right?
The Eucharist is a complex mystery. None of us—no matter how learned, no matter how holy—can fully grasp it. The Holy Spirit helps us to hand on to the next generation what we have received from the generations before us so that “the Church constantly moves forward toward the fullness of divine truth” (Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, #8).
But this constant move forward happens in a human way: It happens in time, over centuries, with periods of rapid progress and periods of hesitancy and retreat. God works “incarnationally.” God has placed the divine mysteries, even the great mystery of the Eucharist, in human hands. “Your son has entrusted to us this pledge of his love” (Eucharistic Prayer for Reconciliation II).
The Incarnation of Jesus can help us understand the mystery of the Eucharist. We believe that the eternal Word of the Father took flesh and became truly human. In his divine nature Jesus existed before all time with the Father and the Spirit. In his human nature Jesus of Nazareth was a man of his time: He dressed like other first-century Jews, spoke their language, ate their food and shared their culture.
Similarly, the Eucharist has both divine and human elements. While the Eucharist is, was and always will be the celebration of the Paschal Mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection, this divine mystery is “incarnated” into human culture. The eucharistic celebration employs the language, clothing, postures and rhythms appropriate to the culture in which it is celebrated. And, as cultures differ from place to place and from age to age, we can expect corresponding differences in the celebration of the Eucharist.
One of the most important things I have learned about the history of the Eucharist is that there was no one, uniform, original way of celebrating the Mass. There were as many ways of celebrating the Eucharist as there were Christian communities. It was only gradually that the ceremonies became more fixed and uniform.
Around the fourth century these various rituals and customs began to coalesce into local traditions around the major cities; these traditions developed into what we now call liturgical rites. For example, from Alexandria in Egypt we have the Coptic Rite; from Antioch, the Syrian Rite; from Constantinople, the Byzantine Rite, and from Rome, the Roman Rite (the liturgical rite we have been discussing in this series).
The Eucharist was “incarnated” or “in-fleshed” into these various cultural settings. The language spoken by the people who lived in a place became the liturgical language used in the Eucharist: Coptic, Syrian, Greek and Latin. The clothing, gestures, food, vessels, music, etc., of the region were incorporated into the liturgy. These are the human or cultural aspects of the eucharistic celebration.
But it was none of these things that upset St. Paul when he wrote to the Corinthians. He was not concerned about the vestments they wore, the language they used or the type of cups or bread employed for the Eucharist. He was concerned about the “divine element”—the way in which the Eucharist embodies the divine mystery.
Mystery of faith
One way to enter the mystery of the Eucharist is through the three foundational events of the Paschal Mystery: Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
1) Holy Thursday: The Mass is a sacred meal at which we eat and drink the Body and Blood of our Lord and become that Body by the action of the Holy Spirit. The Eucharist embodies the mystery of our divinization, our incorporation into the very life of the Trinity.
2) Good Friday: Through the biblical understanding of anamnesis (memorial), the Eucharist enables us to become present to the once-and-for-all redeeming sacrifice of Christ on Calvary. The Eucharist embodies the mystery of our salvation and redemption in Christ.
3) Easter Sunday: At the Eucharist we encounter the presence of the risen Christ. The risen Lord so identifies with his disciples that what we do to one another we do to Christ himself. “...[W]hatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Mt 25:40). This presence of the Body of Christ was at the heart of St. Paul’s initial transforming experience of Jesus: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4). The Eucharist embodies the real, substantial presence of the risen Christ.
The primary difficulty in handing on the mystery of faith from generation to generation often lies in preserving the balance and the integrity of these three foundational meanings.
When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, his complaint seems to have been that they were eating and drinking their sacred meal in memory of the risen Lord but were identifying the eucharistic presence with the head of the Body to the exclusion of the members of Christ’s Body here on earth, especially the poor and the marginalized.
Paul criticizes them because when they gather “it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper, for in eating, each one goes ahead with his own supper, and one goes hungry while another gets drunk.” He asks: “Do you not have houses in which you can eat and drink? Or do you show contempt for the Church of God and make those who have nothing feel ashamed?” (see 1 Cor 11:17-22). At issue is the manner in which the presence of the risen Lord is manifested and experienced in the sacrificial meal and the moral implications of that presence.
A need for balance
As the Church hands on the eucharistic mystery from generation to generation, there is a constant struggle to pass on the tradition accurately. Looking back over the centuries, we find periods of history when the Holy Thursday (meal) dimension of the Eucharist seemed underemphasized and people went to Mass without sharing in the sacred meal, without receiving Holy Communion.
There were times when we forgot the community dimension of the Lord’s Banquet and priests said Masses privately with only a server in attendance. There were times when the Good Friday (sacrifice) dimension of the Eucharist seemed to be emphasized so much that it obscured the once-and-for-all nature of the sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary. This caused a reaction on the part of some that minimized the sacrificial dimension of the Eucharist and emphasized the Lord’s Supper.
The liturgical movement
At the beginning of the 20th century, the Holy Spirit inspired scholars in various countries to a renewed interest in the history, rituals and meaning of the Eucharist. Manuscripts and records that had been neglected or lost for centuries were rediscovered and studied. Many new facts were discovered. This new information opened the door for the liturgical renewal embodied in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, the first document of the Second Vatican Council.
Since then, we have seen many changes in the way we celebrate the Eucharist. Some of us are happy with these changes; some are not. But in any case, many Catholics wonder why the Eucharist—the sign and source of our unity—has become the source of so much division and controversy.
The dynamics of change
Many years ago I saw a graph that mapped the dynamics of change. The vertical and horizontal lines were “how long it takes” and “how difficult it is.” Along the diagonal line were 1) facts, 2) attitudes, 3) behavior and 4) group behavior. The graph illustrated that it is a lot easier and quicker to accept new facts than it is to change attitudes or behavior. And to change group behavior is harder yet and takes even more time.
For example, years ago I used to smoke cigarettes. When the government began to require warning labels on cigarette packages and programs on the dangers of smoking appeared on TV, I began to learn new facts about smoking. Little by little I became convinced of the truth of these facts, but I continued to smoke.
Even after my attitude changed and I didn’t like smoking anymore, I continued to smoke. It was only after much effort and many failed attempts that I changed my behavior and quit for good. And now, 40 years later, I can see how group behavior has changed in restaurants, airports and public buildings.
But some people continue to smoke. Perhaps they don’t have the facts? Perhaps they know the facts but interpret them differently? Perhaps they just like smoking? Perhaps they have always smoked and can’t or don’t want to change a behavior they have enjoyed for years?
How might this apply to the Eucharist? In the past 40 years I have acquired a lot of new facts about the Eucharist. I hear the Eucharistic Prayer in my own language. I have learned how the meal is the sacramental sign of the sacrifice. I understand the importance of eating and drinking. I see that the point of the Eucharist is not only the transformation of the bread and wine, but also the transformation of the people, the Church, into the Body and Blood of Christ.
These new facts have begun to influence my attitudes and my piety. Little by little they affect my behavior and my devotion—for the better, I trust. And I believe that in another 20 or 50 years we will begin to see changes in our group behavior. Then the Eucharist will become such a powerful source of strength and grace in our lives that people will say of us as they said of the first Christians, “See how they love one another! There is no one poor among them!”
We have examined the Mass from various angles—sacrament, sacrifice, meal, Real Presence. But Catholics also honor the Eucharist apart from Mass, and that is the topic of our next, and final, article in this series.
• When have you participated in a Mass that reflected a culture other than your own? What benefit do you see from local ethnic groups appropriately expressing some of their own culture within the Mass?
• What difference does it make to you to learn that there was no single original way of celebrating the Mass? How might it help you accept future developments and changes in the eucharistic liturgy?
• What moral implications do you experience as a result of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist? How does it touch your daily life?
Thursday, April 1, 2010
"This is My Body"
The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ
June 14, 2009 (CorpusChristiB)
By Fr. Alex McAllister
The inauguration of the Holy Eucharist is celebrated first and foremost on Maundy Thursday in its natural place the night before Jesus died on the Cross. But because that celebration takes place very much in the context of the sadness of the events of Christ’s passion and death, the Church gives us this second feast in the course of the year to help us to get to explore more fully the Eucharist, the commemoration of the Last Supper.
Two Sundays ago we celebrated Pentecost and last Sunday we celebrated the feast of the Blessed Trinity and now we commemorate the Blessed Eucharist. There is a certain logic in this sequence of celebrations.
Pentecost is the Birthday of the Church and on the Feast of the Blessed Trinity we look at the very nature of God himself. Today in the Feast of Corpus Christi we examine how God continues to make himself present to his Church, how he sustains and nourishes us. And he achieves all this principally through the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.
On the night before he died Jesus gave his disciples a Last Supper. It was a meal with a difference. It was a meal during which, and through which, he showed them the very depths of his love.
He gave them special instructions both by word and example; the example being the washing of feet. And then, as we know, he took the bread, blessed and broke it and said: this is my body which is given up for you. Do this as a memorial of me. And then he hid the same with the wine.
By these actions Jesus brought into focus, and in a mysterious way actually made present, the events which were to happen on the following three days.
And through our following out of Jesus’ command, and doing this in memory of him, in an extraordinary way those same events are made present here on this altar, and in this Church and in our hearts.
The Last Supper wasn’t an event that was sprung on the apostles out of the blue. And to prove this we only have to look at today’s Gospel reading. Jesus takes the five loaves and the two fish and manages to feed five thousand people.
The incident was clearly meant to be a foreshadowing on the Last Supper since all the essential elements are present: He took the bread, said the blessing, broke the bread and gave it to the people. What could be more Eucharistic than that?
And all had their fill! Here in the celebration of the Eucharist—whether it be on a high day with hundreds of people, all the ceremony, altar servers, choirs, bells and smells or quietly and in a very subdued manner with just a few people on what you might call a ‘low day’—we encounter the Lord Most High and he gives us real nourishment for our souls. So much nourishment that it would take a lifetime to begin to appreciate.
“Jesus made the crowds welcome and talked to them about the Kingdom of God; and he cured those who were in need of healing.”
You might think that this first verse of our text today is simply an introductory scene-setting phrase, but it too is loaded with meaning. Jesus was talking to the crowds about the Kingdom of God and curing those who needed healing.
Besides the actual Liturgy of the Eucharist we begin each mass with the equally important Liturgy of the Word in which, just as in that opening sentence, we are made welcome, we share the scriptures and we talk together about the Kingdom of God.
And then there is the aspect of healing; it is in the context of healing the sick that Jesus feeds the Five Thousand. He heals not only their bodies but also their souls.
The very word salvation means healing, but not at any superficial level for the healing that Jesus brings, the healing we find in the Eucharist, is actually a profound experience of salvation. It permeates every part of our being.
Yesterday we celebrated the First Communion of ten young children; they received Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament for the very first time.
It was a great day for them and for their families and indeed for the whole parish. We take this opportunity to congratulate them and to assure them of our prayers for a full and faithful Christian life.
We have been speaking about what a profound mystery the mass is and we know that huge books have been written on the theology of the Eucharist, we are aware that there are theologians who have worked on the subject for whole careers and not yet exhausted its depths.
Yet the Church has determined that by the age of seven our young people have the capability to understand what it is that they are receiving.
This is because the basics are simple. Through the intercession of Christ the bread and wine are transformed into his body and blood. At the mass we are united with the Last Supper and here on this altar just as there in the Upper Room we receive the body and blood of Christ in the form of bread and wine.
You can go into the metaphysics of it if you like, but it is not necessary. The Lord who commanded the wind and the waves, who made water into wine, who by his word healed the paralytic, this same Lord offers us his body and blood under the form of these simple elements.
Let us praise and thank God for this great gift which enables us to be united with Christ’s work of redemption in a real and most intimate way. And let us celebrate this Eucharist in his memory and come to communion with him as we share his Body and Blood.
US Bishops: Every Catholic should consider how to more worthily receive the Eucharist
NOV. 15, 2006 (www.catholicnewsagency.com) - The Catholic bishops of the United States voted Tuesday to approve a document aimed at increasing the reverence of all Catholics for Holy Communion. The document, written in a question and answer format, addresses the fundamental importance of the Holy Eucharist and the conditions for proper reception. While the bishops did not directly address the contentious issue of denying communion to public officials who actively reject Church teaching, it did reiterate that all Catholics should seriously examine their own disposition for receiving.
"Happy Are Those Who Are Called To His Supper: On Preparing To Receive Christ Worthily in the Eucharist,” begins by recalling the Catechism’s instruction that “the principal fruit of receiving the Eucharist in Holy Communion is an intimate union with Christ Jesus,” who comes in a real way in the Blessed Sacrament.
“In virtue of our membership in the Catholic Church we are ordinarily free to receive Holy Communion,” the bishops note. “In fact, it is most desirable that we receive the Lord’s Body and Blood, so that Holy Communion stands out clearly as a participation in the sacrifice actually being celebrated.”
There are times however, when, after an examination of conscience, Catholics may come to realize that they, “should refrain from partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ.” Such barriers to the reception of Holy Communion included the unconfessed committal of a mortal sin, a lack of adherence to Church teaching, or giving public scandal.
The bishops made a clear distinction when it comes to questioning Church teaching. They acknowledge that some Catholics may not fully understand the Church’s doctrinal and moral teaching on certain issues and may have particular questions and even uncertainties, and said that such Catholics are welcome to partake of Holy Communion, “as long as they are prayerfully and honestly striving to understand the truth of what the Church professes and are taking appropriate steps to resolve their confusion and doubt.”
If, however, “a Catholic in his or her personal or professional life were knowingly and obstinately to reject the defined doctrines of the Church, or knowingly and obstinately to repudiate her definitive teaching on moral issues, however, he or she would seriously diminish his or her communion with the Church,” and thus should refrain from taking part in Holy Communion, the bishops continued.
Those people who are, “publicly known to have committed serious sin or to have rejected definitive Church teaching and is not yet reconciled with the Church,” should also refrain from receiving communion as their reception would cause scandal for others, the bishops said. “To give scandal means more than to cause other people to be shocked or upset by what one does. Rather, one’s action leads someone else to sin,” the bishops noted, quoting from Pope John Paul II’s encyclical on the Eucharist, “Scandal is an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil.”
Newark’s Archbishop John Myers, who proposed that the bishops write about the document told CNA he was, “very happy,” with it, “because I think it gives a solid foundation for all of us to think about proper preparation to receive the sacraments.”
“By having a point of reference, I think it has the potential of building more unity among the bishops as we deal with particular situations,” Archbishop Myers added.
In addition to discussing situations that would prevent Catholics from receiving communion, the document also provides a guide for the faithful to prepare to receive the sacrament more worthily. “While the celebration of the Eucharist itself is a communal act,” the bishops noted, “the benefit that each individual receives from the Eucharistic celebration depends on the way he or she approaches the sacrament.”
The bishops point out tools for “remote” and “proximate” preparation to receive the Blessed Sacrament, including regular prayer, reception of the Sacrament of Penance, upholding the Eucharistic fast, actively participating in the liturgy, and offering a prayer of love and thanksgiving after receiving.
Bishop Arthur Serratelli, whose Commission on Doctrine drafted the document, noted that the aim of the bishops was to make clear the power and importance of the Sacrament and to bring more people to a deep Communion, not to keep them from Communion. The call to examination before receiving should serve as “a challenge now to Catholics to have a certain consistency in their lives," he said.
The bishop said the document may seem tough to some people, but in fact points to a real question about one’s own adherence to the faith, “If you reject...a teaching that is fundamental to Catholics," he said, "the real question is, then, Why would you want to take Communion? Because Communion itself says, 'I am part of this church and I embrace what it believes.'"
To read the bishops’ document in full, click here.
View this article in ParishWorld.net