Protecting the Holiness of the Eucharist

Some people have asked why some lay organizations are seeking information on Liturgical abuse, and some even witnessing by their presence in prayer where abuse is going on especially where Holy Communion is being received by those publicly and blatantly opposing Church teaching. But after all, isn’t correcting liturgical abuse the responsibility of the hierarchy and not the laity? In his 2003 encyclical, Ecclesia De Eucharistia, Pope John Paul tells us that it is specifically the task of the hierarchy, but that the laity has a role in this too. (see quote from Pope John Paul; p. 5, Paragraph 2)

Obviously, the intentions of these lay organizations have been misinterpreted by some. It is not their intention to cause harm to any bishop, priest, deacon, or group of people. In all charity their purpose transcends any person or group of people although they feel they must bring attention to abuses which do severe damage to the faith and the Church’s belief in the real presence (transubtantiation) of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. Also, their concern, I believe, touches a chord deep within them which is very conscience of the abuse being done to Jesus Himself, our Lord and universal savior. Serious sin and Jesus are totally incompatible. We are reminded of this in many scripture passages, for example:

Everyone who commits sin commits lawlessness, for sin is lawlessness. You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who remains in him sins; no one who sins has seen him or known him…Whoever sins belongs to the devil because the devil has sinned from the beginning. ( 1 John 3:4-8)

At the last supper Jesus said:

I will no longer speak much with you, for the ruler of the world is coming. He has no power over me, but the world must know that I love the Father and that I do just as the Father has commanded me. ((John 14:30-31)

Receiving Jesus in the state of serious sin is a terrible abuse. Many believe they cannot stand idly by and do nothing especially when they see that corrective action can and should be taken. As lay people they can not do this directly, but can certainly encourage and support those who have this authority. No parent would stand idly by if his child is being abused. They feel the same way about our Blessed Lord. These lay people feel it is their duty to protect the sanctity of the Holy Eucharist.

On April 23, 2004, the Vatican Congregation for Divine worship and the Sacraments, headed by Cardinal Francis Arinze, issued a new document calling for careful compliance with the Church’s norms for the celebration of the Eucharist. It states in No. 184:

Any Catholic, whether Priest or Deacon or lay member of Christ’s faithful, has the right to lodge a complaint regarding a liturgical abuse to the diocesan Bishop or the competent Ordinary equivalent to him in law, or to the Apostolic See on account of the primacy of the Roman Pontiff.

I would also like to quote a few relevant passages from Pope John Paul II’s encyclical of a year ago, Ecclesia De Eucharistia (April 17, 2003), which are our guide lines for action. The pope speaks about visible and invisible communion as preconditions for receiving Holy Communion. Visible communion means being fully united with the Church and its teachings. Invisible communion means being in the state of sanctifying grace. Both of these communions are prerequisites, before one may receive Holy Communion at Mass. The Pope wrote:

The celebration of the Eucharist cannot be the starting-point for communion; it presupposes that communion already exists, a communion which it seeks to consolidate and bring to perfection. The sacrament is an expression of this bond of communion both in its invisible dimension, which, in Christ and through the working of the Holy Spirit, unites us to the Father and among ourselves, and in its visible dimension, which entails communion in the teaching of the Apostles, in the sacraments and in the Church’s hierarchical order. The profound relationship between the invisible and the visible elements of ecclesial communion is constitutive of the Church as the sacrament of salvation. Only in this context can there be a legitimate celebration of the Eucharist and true participation in it. Consequently it is an intrinsic requirement of the Eucharist that it should be celebrated in communion, and specifically maintaining the various bonds of the communion in tact. (Ecclesia De Eucharistia, No. 35)

In the light of what the Pope has written, it is readily understandable why some opposed the Rainbow Sash people who received Holy Communion in a body on Pentecost Sunday, not only in our own Cathedral, but in many other cathedrals thoughout the nation. The Rainbow Sash people publicly disagree with the teaching of the Church regarding homosexual activity as being seriously wrong. (see their website). Receiving Holy Communion presupposes a communion with the Church, which means loyalty in the unity of doctrine, faith and morals. The Church isn’t telling them they cannot act out their homosexual life style. That is their free choice. What it is saying is that if you do this, you may not receive our blessed Lord in Holy Communion. You cannot use receiving Holy Communion as a means of promoting the acceptance of your beliefs which you may believe as moral, but the Church considers immoral. No one is compelled to be a Catholic, but if one wants to be one he must be in communion with its teachings. We have another example of Catholic politicians who refuse to oppose abortion, and in fact, publicly support it. Should they be told they may not receive Holy Communion? The politicians themselves have made a public stand on this issue. The following is a quote from an article appearing in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Thursday, May 20, 2004 (original article appeared in the Washington Post):

WASHINGTON – Forty-eight Roman Catholic members of Congress have warned in a letter to Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington that U.S. Bishops will revive anti-Catholic bigotry and severely harm the church if they deny Communion to Politicians who support abortion rights.

“For many years, Catholics were denied public office by voters who feared that they would take direction from the pope,” they wrote. “While that type of paranoid anti- Catholicism seems to be a thing of the past, attempts by Church leaders today to influence votes by the threat of withholding a Sacrament will revive latent anti- Catholic prejudice, which so many of us have worked so hard to overcome.

In their letter, the Democratic House members said they “firmly believe that it would be wrong for a bishop to deny the Sacrament of Holy Communion to an individual on the basis of a voting record. We believe that such an action would be counter- productive and would bring great harm to the Church.”

Noting that the Supreme Court has ruled that women have a constitutional right to choose an abortion, they said members of Congress “who vote for legislation consistent with the mandate are not acting contrary to our positions as faithful members of the Catholic Church. We also do not believe that it is the obligation of legislators to prohibit all conduct which we may, as a matter of personal morality, believe is wrong.”

The letter questioned how the bishops could limit the denial of Communion to abortion, noting that Pope John Paul II and many U,S. bishops have condemned the death penalty and the war in Iraq.

I believe that the above thoughts of our Catholic politicians illustrate a profound misunderstanding of Church teaching. First of all it should be noted that the Church does not deny anybody the right to pray or to attend Mass. It denies the right to receive Holy Communion for those who are not properly disposed. As the Pope has stated in his encyclical, one must be visibly and invisibly in communion with the Church in order to be properly disposed. Holy Communion is a sign of full communion and unity.

Further, it is an error to think that just because our Supreme Court has declared something constitutional that it makes it necessarily morally correct. Remember the Dred Scott decision at the time of slavery. The court said because slaves were considered as property, the run-a-ways must be returned to their owners. This issue of slavery brought about the Civil War. It took an amendment to the Constitution to set this aright. (Amendment 13, Dec. 6, 1865) No constitution is a law unto itself, nor it can be the supreme criteria of morality; of what is right and what is wrong. All law and every constitution must be subject to and under a higher law, which the Declaration of Independence, a document written before our Constitution, clearly indicates. (The Declaration speaks in the first paragraph of a nation being under the “Laws of Nature and Nature’s God”)

The Congressmen claim that those disallowing reception of communion are setting the Church back. They say we have come a long ways in overcoming persecution and bigotry and therefore must be tolerant. The early martyrs of the Church were asked to obey the laws of the Roman Empire which included declaring Caesar divine and offering incense to false gods. Some of the martyrs were told that they didn’t have to believe it in their hearts, but to just go ahead and do it to save their skins. What kind of Catholics would we be if we refused to stand up for the truth? The Nazis thought it was perfectly correct to put to death in the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Jews, Catholics, and those who opposed the regime. Was it O.K. to condone these atrocities for the reason of not wanting to impose upon them one’s personal moral standards? Isn’t a higher law necessary if evil intent and unjust purposes are to be prevented? Aren’t the atrocities done to the innocent unborn victims as great if not greater than what the Nazis did?

The Catholic politicians as noted in the newspaper article compare abortion with the death penalty and the war in Iraq. If one is refused Holy Communion because of views on abortion, why not then for the Iraqi war and the death penalty which the Pope and some Bishops disapprove? Again there is a lack of understanding of what the Church teaches. Abortion is murder of the innocent which is never permitted. Capitol punishment is not intrinsically evil. The state has this authority which it may use or not use. Nor are all wars evil or unjust. To put all three in the same category is begging the question and a false argument.

The Pope in the Encyclical on the Eucharist, quotes canon 915 which clearly indicates refusal of Holy Communion when the offenders are publicly known and seriously not in communion with the Church in matters of grave proportion. He states this in the context of the visible and invisible communion necessary in order to receive worthily. The Pope wrote:

The judgment of one’s state of grace obviously belongs only to the person involved since it is a question of examining one’s conscience. However, in cases of outward conduct which is seriously, clearly and steadfastly contrary to the moral norm, the Church, in her pastoral concern for the good order of the community and out of respect for the Sacrament, cannot fail to feel directly involved. The Code of Canon Law refers to this situation of a manifest lack of proper moral disposition when it states those who “obstinately persist in manifest grave sin” are not to be admitted to Eucharistic communion.” (No. 37)

This brings up a final concern. Should people who are sinning seriously but are not known publicly be refused Holy Communion? The Holy Father in his encyclical does not say they should be prevented because only the person knows if he is properly disposed. But nevertheless, he gives a strong admonition against receiving unworthily since doing so would be of no merit and in fact do serious spiritual harm to the person receiving and also be a grave offense to our Lord. The Pope wrote:

Invisible communion, though by its nature is always growing, presupposes the life of grace, by which we become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), and the practice of faith, hope and love. Only in this way do we have true communion with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Nor is faith sufficient; we must persevere in Sanctifying Grace and love, remaining within the Church “bodily” as well as “in our heart”; what is required, in the words of St. Paul, is “faith working through love” (Gal 5:6). (No. 36)

Keeping these invisible bonds intact is a specific moral duty incumbent upon Christians who wish to participate fully in the Eucharist by receiving the body and blood of Christ. 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 time over, but condemnation’, ‘torment’ and ‘increase of punishment.” (No. 36)

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”. (No. 1385) 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 moral sin”. (No. 36)

As for the role of the laity, the pope points out that it is the task and concern not only of the hierarchy, but each member of the faithful:

The safeguarding and protection of ecclesial communion is a task of each member of the faithful, who finds in the Eucharist, as the sacrament of the Church’s unity, an area of special concern. More specifically, this task is the particular responsibility of the Church’s Pastors, each according to his rank and ecclesiastical office. For this reason the Church has drawn up norms aimed both at fostering the frequent and fruitful access of the faithful to the Eucharistic table and at determining the objective conditions under which communion may not be given. The care shown in promoting conditions the faithful observance of these norms becomes a practical means of showing love for the Eucharist and for the Church. (No. 42)

In conclusion, it is interesting to note, that the Holy Father announced on June 10, 2004, the feast of Corpus Christi, a “Year of the Eucharist” from Oct. 2004 to Oct. 2005. The Pope explained that “The Year of the Eucharist” will begin with the International Eucharistic Congress, Oct. 10-17, in Guadalajara, Mexico. The year will end with the next ordinary assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which will be held in the Vatican from Oct. 2-29, 2005, and whose theme will be “The Eucharist: Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church.” John Paul II reminded the faithful that the Church lives from the Eucharist. He has made this sacrament the focus of his pastoral concern as reflected in his 2003 encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia.

When we think of the reality of the Eucharist, the presence of the one through whom the world was created and through whom all were redeemed and offered salvation, how can it be otherwise than to stand up and do what one can to protect our Blessed Lord from being forced to enter into those who openly and publicly defy what he is teaching through the Magisterium. This must be done in all charity, but with the courage to speak the truth.

Fr. Marvin Deutsch, M.M.