LET US RESUME where we left off.
Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation has gone nowhere near as far as many people expected.
But for ‘expected’ read ‘chose to believe’ and once again it is impossible not to compare the reaction among the ‘progressives’ with the reaction to Humanae Vitae. When are those who appear to do all their thinking with their loins going to learn that no pope is ever going to make fundamental changes to the Church’s teaching on marriage, divorce and matters of procreation?
It is frustrating to many Catholics — and I have spoken to a large number over the years — who have, as they see it, fought the good fight over years and decades, holding their families together for the sake of their children, trying to set an example of Christian love and fortitude and patience, falling by the wayside and staggering to their feet to make their peace with God, going out of their way to avoid the temptations that could lead to serious sin, and for them to see others imploring the Vatican to make life easier because “the world has moved on” or “the Church needs to get up-to-date” or, more seditiously (see my comment about treating God as an equal in the previous post), “I can’t believe God would want ….[insert sin/lifestyle/latest craze of choice here]”.
“We are not concerned with the Spirit of the Age,” a priest said in a recent homily, “we are concerned with the Spirit of Eternity.”
Much has been made of the idea that priests will give advice to their parishioners on matters to do with divorced people and those who have re-married “illegitimately”. Since I think most Catholics were under the impression that one of the functions of a parish priest was the spiritual guidance of his parishioners this news should not come as a shock — or perhaps the fact that it needs to be said at all will come as a shock. Where the idea may well fall down is over the question of whether modern priests have the necessary training, whether they have the time in between all the diocesan committees and commissions and ecumenical gatherings they must attend, and simply whether they will have the guts to stand up to those seeking their “advice” since, almost by definition, those who present themselves for such guidance are likely to be amply endowed with a sense of entitlement and are not likely to take any thwarting of their will too kindly!
Nevertheless, the suggestion that all such cases should be treated on an individual basis is sound, is probably what many priests do already and will at the very least give those who are spiritually troubled greater confidence that their Church is listening to them and understands their worries and their fears and their genuine desire for reconciliation with God even if, after all the discussion and the counselling, the answer has to be “you may not receive Communion in your present state.”
At this point I am going to diverge a little from the mainstream of this post and preach something that may be heresy but which, in my view, is worthy of consideration.
“Receiving Communion unworthily” (1 Corinthians: 11, 27-29) has been interpreted and re-interpreted down the ages to the point where (in my view at least) nobody truly knows what it means. Let me explain.
We receive Holy Communion having just recited as a congregation a prayer that begins “Lord, I am not worthy …” Well, we all know we aren’t worthy so it can’t mean that.
One interpretation of 1 Cor 11, 29 is that it refers to the manner in which St Paul’s listeners were receiving the Sacrament, “not discerning the body of the Lord”, ie simply treating the bread and wine as food.
The generally accepted interpretation by the Church is that it refers to receiving Holy Communion while in a state of mortal sin but that does appear to be at odds with St Paul, or at least with the majority of translators for whom the word ‘unworthily’ is interpreted as an adverb and as such refers to the word “receiving”. (Sorry for the grammar lesson!)
Nothing in my reading of St John’s Gospel leads me to conclude that mortal sin is an absolute bar to receiving Holy Communion and there are many occasionswhen we have been in a state of grace and have “gone up to Communion” because the person next to us has gone while we have spent half the Mass more concerned with the choice of hymns or the fact that whoever chose the Prayers of the Faithful this week should be persuaded that we’re not here solely to say prayers connected to her particular hobby horse again … (go on, admit it! we’ve all done it.) Are we receiving Our Lord worthily in that context?
Or what about those people who are absolutely insistent on receiving Holy Communion every day even to the point where they have persuaded their parish priest to permit a Service of the Word on days when he is not celebrating Mass (contrary to Vatican instructions, incidentally!). Surely Holy Communion is not something to be served up at our behest like morning coffee?
So, to get back on track, is it necessarily unworthy to receive Holy Communion while we are in a state of mortal sin? Does the context make a difference and if so in what way and to what extent? And is it fair to put the burden of that decision onto the humble parish priest? And I don’t know the answer. Sorry.
I’ll have more to say about Amoris Laetitia when I’ve finished reading it in a day or two.