Thursday, February 12, 2009

No, you will not be excommunicated but...



I had a conversation with a man a few months ago, who had been married for five or so years, he had two children, he and his wife separated, after less than a year he met another woman and is contemplating “attempting a civil marriage” with her. It might well that he can eventually his marriage can be annulled, possibly there is a case for lack of due discretion, I don’t know, he will have to try.
He asked about going to Holy Communion, as gently as possible I reminded him about what Jesus had said about a man who, “put his wife aside and marries another” and the incompatibility of disregarding this element of Christ’s teaching and the reception of Holy Communion. “So I will be excommunicated, will I?” he responded.
“No”, I said, “but, rejecting Jesus’ teaching in an important aspect of your life and you choosing to receive Holy Communion would be an act of hypocrisy.”
I am not sure how convinced he was but this story illustrates the loss of a connection between being in a state of Grace and Holy Communion.
I actually welcome and delight in those come to Mass without receiving Holy Communion. Nothing fills me with greater joy than a priest who having celebrated Mass himself previously attends in choir.

How times have changed, read Fr Hunwicke:


It is notorious that in most Eastern Christian communities, and throughout most of the history of the West, Confession has been regarded as the natural preliminary to each act of Communion. It is instructive to consider the controversies in seventeenth century France; a period during which such as Madame Louise, a daughter of Louis XIV who became a Carmelite of great sanctity, was allowed to receive Communion daily with the permission of her Confessor. A Jansenist-influenced rigorist of this time, Antoine Arnauld (1612-94), argued that no one should approach communion at all unless he had done penance for all his sins and was sure he had a perfectly pure love of God. On the other side, S Francis de Sales (1567-1622) envisaged frequent, even daily, communion, but wrote " To communicate every week, one must be free from mortal sin, and from all affection to venial sin, and have a great desire of Communion; but to communicate daily, it is necessary, in addition to this, to have surmounted the greater part of our evil inclinations, and to have the consent of our spiritual father". A decree of the Congregation of the Council, confirmed by Pope Innocent XI in 1679, confirmed the anti-Jansenist view that the Faithful had a right to communicate even daily while exhorting bishops and pastors to do their utmost to secure in all who communicate the most pious and fervent dispoitions.


I wonder how or even if it is possible to recover a sense of reverence for Holy Communion, or even for living in communion with Christ and his teaching.

17 comments:

George said...

A 'double whammy' by the devil!

Firstly the onslaught on our Catholic senses by the secular world has all but nailed the lid on any concept of sin and sinful behaviour and second the lack of Catholic formation from the pulpit, in our homes and in our schools has churned out two generations of 'Catholics' who are ignorant of the Church's Teaching.

And all this in the spirit of V2. In the short span of 40 or so years so much damage has been done.

We must above all else recover a deeper Reverence and Devotion for Our Blessed Lord TRUELY present in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. When that is recovered the Faithful will, I believe, automatically return to the Sacrament of Confession, because they themselves will desire to receive Jesus but only with a pure and contrite soul, cleansed in the Confessional.

Laurence said...

Hi Father

I really like that post. I think the fact that you rejoice in the fact when people don't come to Communion BECAUSE it means they actually take Communion seriously is a priestly view which is perhaps not heard enough. In the area, you are one of the only priests reminding people from the pulpit of the need for a State of Grace. I'm sure a lot of people go to Catholic Church in the UK and NEVER hear that...

I imagine that quite a few Catholics are unsure about approaching, due to not being in a State of Grace, but think, 'Well, it is the thing to do,' or something. I think, obviously, TLM will help, as is the Holy Father's intention. Receiving kneeling would help too and on the tongue.

But also, what you've talked about is a truth of the Catholic Faith that isn't getting passed down to the children in schools. So, problem could be Catholic education....again!

GOR said...

"I wonder how or even if it is possible to recover a sense of reverence for Holy Communion..."

It is definitely an uphill battle, Father. But I think it starts with preaching and example - preaching on the Real Presence and example in the reverence shown in church for Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.

It bothers me when I see people (priests too) merely bowing when passing before the Tabernacle. It was always the case that you genuflected when passing before the Tabernacle - whether in the Sanctuary or walking across the back of the church! And if the Blessed Sacrament was exposed, it was a double genuflection.

That along with observing silence in church stresses what we believe and Who we believe to be present there. It needs to be instilled in children from an early age and reinforced by the example of their parents and all adult Catholics.

Years ago in Ireland we always made the Sign of the Cross when passing a Catholic church and men tipped their hats - small gestures, but indicative of the faith people had. That, along with Benediction, Adoration and Holy Hours served to reinforce and demonstrate our belief.

But much of that was lost and even derided after Vat II. We were so much more grown-up now and didn't need such childish pious practices. But they were not childish, but child-like...

We need to become more child-like again.

mafeking said...

When I was at school the priests used to regularly remind us during the sermon or just before communion that you couldn't go to communion unless you were in a state of grace. I have to say I've never once heard a priest say this in the past 15 years despite the fact it must be blindingly obvious that most of the people going to communion haven't been to confession in years.

A Polish student of my acquaintance told me the first thing he noticed about Catholics in this country (and mass in this country) was that the queues for communion were long but the queues for confession were short. He said in Poland the opposite was true. To check this out I went along to the local Polish church to see it was true. He was right. The queue for communion was short and the queue for the confessional was long. I would estimate a bit less than 50% of people went to communion and the confessional was open all through mass. When I asked why, he told me that in Poland the kids are trained to go to confession once a month from the age of about 7 and never to go to communion unless they are in a state of grace. The pattern was that for the first two weeks most people would go to communion and then in weeks 3 and 4 going to communion would drop off until the cycle began again the following month.

I'd like to be positive about this and say things like better catechesis at schools and for adults would do the trick or a Bishop's letter read out at mass would do the trick or perhaps priests reminding people at mass that they can't go to communion unless they are in a state of grace would do the trick but I'm beginning to think the damage is so bad it's beyond that. Maybe the only solution now is that the orthodox believers finally emerge from the pack and pass it on to their children. The heterodox and lapsed will eventually die off because they haven't got the committment to pass it on. Once the orthodox are the majority again true reverence for the Blessed Sacrament and Holy Communion will return as the norm.

Sorry for the length of the post.

Daniel said...

Father, you say:

“I wonder how or even if it is possible to recover a sense of reverence for Holy Communion”

Pull down those ghastly places that are more like dance halls than churches and restore the tabernacle with Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament back to its rightful place on the main altar of the church. The mere act of genuflecting as one moves back and forth past that Holy Place instils in one the sense of reverence and the red light was always there to reassure one of Who was present.

Like many other office workers in the 60s I would pop into St Mary Moorfields in the City of London during the lunch break. There would be 1 pm Masses on three week days and Benediction at 1 pm on two weekdays (Wednesday & Friday, if I recall correctly). There was a reasonable size congregation and also many were daily communicants, as I was unless business made it difficult to attend, communion was also available at Benediction. The priests were very patient with us office workers, no doubt realising the pressures of business. On occasion someone would arrive in a rush, as I did a couple of times, and would be disappointed that the priest was just finishing giving communion. He would beckon the late-comer to approach and would give the communicant time to kneel down at the altar rail and take a moment to pray and gain composure before receiving communion. There was no lack of reverence but on the couple of occasions it occurred for me at a time of great stress at work and the act of receiving Our Lord provided a sense of calm and gave me the strength to go back to the office and meet the problems head on.

This was all to change with the re-ordering of the churches and the new Mass. I preferred the Latin but did not mind the Mass being in the vernacular however the change was so severe that I found it unbearable. I could not stand the lack of reverence (that word again) and loss of the deep sense of worship. The hand shaking with complete strangers was an awful distraction that I began to dread, and the final straw came when during a sermon the priest ‘instructed’ that we were not to bow our heads during the elevations. This simple act of adoration now became wrong and we were to stare upon Our Lord as if in eye contact as two dogs would do in bold challenge to each other. Each Mass I attended had me more and more angry and such a state of mind made it impossible for me to receive communion. What a contrast to those days at St. Mary Moorfields.

It was the Cardinals, bishops and priests who forced the new Mass upon us the laity, they knew best. We were told that from such and such a day we were to worship in a certain manner. My answer was NO I WON’T, if the old Mass was good enough for the saints and sustained the martyrs then it was fine by me. I stopped attending the Mass that filled me with so much anger that I no longer felt able to worship with peace of mind and humility. By the Mass attendance now I should imagine a lot of others felt the same and, like me, voted with their feet. Once the thread of regular Mass attendance is cut then it becomes very difficult to restore and thousands are lost to the Church, but still the bishops don’t seem to get it.

George said...

Oh this is such a great post Fr Ray. The comments are full of hope and I can vouch for the Polish view about Confession from personal experience.

Mafeking talks about having a Bishop's letter read out - Where is there a Bishop in this Country that would write such a letter????????!! It certainly needs to be written and then read out from every pulpit in the land.

In reparation for all the insults, ignominies, irreverence and sacrilege heaped upon Our Blessed Lord, we would do well by reciting that wonderful devotional prayer to 'The Holy Face of Jesus'

The Golden Arrow Prayer
(as dictated by Our Lord to Sister Marie of St. Peter)

May the most holy, most sacred, most adorable, most incomprehensible and ineffable Name of God be forever praised, blessed, loved, adored and glorified in Heaven, on Earth, and under the Earth by all the creatures of God and by the Sacred Heart of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. Amen.

Eternal Father, I offer Thee the adorable Face of Thy Beloved Son for the honour and glory of Thy Name, for the conversion of sinners and the salvation of the dying. Amen.

Read the following:

“See how I suffer. Nevertheless, I am understood by so few. What gratitude on the part of those who say they love me. I have given My Heart as a sensible object of My great love for man and I give My Face as a sensible object of My Sorrow for the sins of man. I desire that it be honoured by a special feast on Tuesday in Quinquagesima (Shrove Tuesday – the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday). The feast will be preceded by novena in which the faithful make reparation with Me uniting themselves with my sorrow.”

(Our Lord to Mother Pierina 1938).

God Bless.

berenike said...

the Catholic Teuchtar says, in a comment on a post on that bit from Hebrews about "you are not come to a mountain that might be touched, and a burning fire", and "But this man offering one sacrifice for sins, for ever sitteth on the right hand of God..." that "When the significance of it was first explained to me by err..scott hahn I think, I was blown over. Totally blown over.

Im sure if every single priest in every single parish expounded this one sunday in the manner we have a special collection for a special cause then reverence for the whole Mass would increase 10 fold among listening mass-goers."

I found his comment moments before reading your question, and it seems the one is a suggested answer to the other.

Jonathan said...

As a frequent visitor to a strong Catholic country for many years I have seen the common practice, where there is more than one priest, for confession to be available during Mass. I beleive Rome has pushed this practice. Being at Mass is often the place where the Holy Spirit will inspire us and encourage us to partake of this sacrament. Why is it never offered during Mass in England and Wales? I have also to say that I had to wait two hours for the sacrament of confession in Westminster cathdral prior to the Extra ordinay form of the Mass presided over by cardinal Hoyos. There were so many priest and such a queue for confession!

alban said...

We are never truly worthy to receive Communion, and that's the very point; we are unworthy and thus need Christ in the Eucharist.

Lest we fall into either the disrespect of carelessness or the rigidity of neo-Jansenism, it would be useful to remember some passages from the Catechism.

Para 1393: Holy Communion separates us from sin. The body of Christ we receive in Holy Communion is "given up for us," and the blood we drink "shed for the many for the forgiveness of sins." For this reason the Eucharist cannot unite us to Christ without at the same time cleansing us from past sins and preserving us from future sins:

Para 1394: As bodily nourishment restores lost strength, so the Eucharist strengthens our charity, which tends to be weakened in daily life; and this living charity wipes away venial sins. By giving himself to us Christ revives our love and enables us to break our disordered attachments to creatures and root ourselves in him.

Para 1395: By the same charity that it enkindles in us, the Eucharist preserves us from future mortal sins. The more we share the life of Christ and progress in his friendship, the more difficult it is to break away from him by mortal sin. The Eucharist is not ordered to the forgiveness of mortal sins - that is proper to the sacrament of Reconciliation. The Eucharist is properly the sacrament of those who are in full communion with the Church.

I am struck by how the Church emphasises the healing power of the Eucharist, its ability to wipe away venial sin and preserve from being in a state of mortal sin. Christ, the Healer, indeed!!

Now, I shall pose 2 questions. By definition, a person who is in a state of mortal sin is separated from God by his/he own choice, which "...necessitates a new initiative of God's mercy and a conversion of heart which is normally accomplished in the setting of the sacrament of reconciliation."(para 1856). Note the word "normally" which indicates the possibility of another route.

First question: A person fufils the various conditions for being in a state of mortal sin; in mercy God reaches out; the person experiences conversion and accepts God's mercy. Before having the opportunity to celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation, the person is at Mass. How about receiving Communion since the state of mortal sin no longer exists within this person's soul?

Second question: when a person approaches the confessional, contrition is presumably present; thus the person is no longer alientated from God (otherwise, no approach to the confessional would be possible). Therefore, can it be said that all those who come(contrite) to the sacrament of reconciliation are not in a state of mortal sin?

I believe most strongly in the power of both the Eucharist and the sacrament of Reconciliation. The 2 questions are offered in all sincerity, and I hope for some prayerful responses - ones based on logical thinking and what the Church actually teaches rather than personal opinion. Many thanks.

PeterHWright said...

The trouble seemed to begin in, I think, the early 1960s, when priests and teachers of religion started talking like this :

"The Mass is a meal. Now, if you were invited to a banquet, you would't just sit there and eat nothing, would you ?"

I always felt very uneasy with this idea. It was not only bad theology, it seemed to me to make the reception of Holy Communion an integral part of attending Mass. Not a desirable development at all, I thought.

Well, we now see what it has led to. The Sacrament is taken for granted. It is no longer seen as something very special, a miraculous feeding, something so wonderful that it requires careful preparation, fasting and regular confession. Today, it is an ordinary feeding, a routine part of Mass.

As other commenters so rightly point out, the necessary catechesis is missing.

Bring back sound Catholic teaching, with emphasis on the need for regular Confession. And Eucharistic Adoration is the thing. Bring back Exposition, Holy Hour, Benediction. These things should never have been downgraded, or, in some places, lost altogether.
We now see the consequences.

alban said...

With all respect to Peter Wright who comments: “It was not only bad theology, it seemed to me to make the reception of Holy Communion an integral part of attending Mass. Not a desirable development at all, I thought.”

The catechism of the Church states in paragraph 1388:

"It is in keeping with the very meaning of the Eucharist that the faithful, if they have the required dispositions, receive communion when they participate in the Mass.”

Thus, it is the teaching of the Church that receiving Communion IS an integral part of attending Mass; indeed, it is "in keeping with the very meaning of the Eucharist". Thus, far from being "bad theology" it is, in truth, excellent theology - proper disposition being presumed, of course.

Even further, the common (and to my mind lamentable) practice of distributing Communion from the tabernacle is discouraged when the catechism continues: “As the Second Vatican Council says: "That more perfect form of participation in the Mass whereby the faithful, after the priest's communion, receive the Lord's Body from the same sacrifice, is warmly recommended."

I certainly agree with Mr Wright's proposal to revamp the devotions of Exposition and such like.

PeterHWright said...

I read Alban's comment with interest. It is relevant because of what people
have been told, or have been led to believe, in recent years.

The answer to both questions is : No.

Laurence said...

"To check this out I went along to the local Polish church to see it was true. He was right. The queue for communion was short and the queue for the confessional was long. I would estimate a bit less than 50% of people went to communion and the confessional was open all through mass."

I've seen this too, the Polish community have a deep reverence for both Confession and the Holy Eucharist.

Sharon said...

I wonder how or even if it is possible to recover a sense of reverence for Holy Communion, or even for living in communion with Christ and his teaching.





As long as priests preach only "God lurves you" or social justice homilys and as long as Catholic schools are Catholic in name only - no it will never be possible.

I can't remember the last time I heard a homily about the Real Presence or the need to be in a state of grace to receive Holy Communion.

PeterHWright said...

In his second comment, Alban quotes the Catechism of the Catholic Church which contains the all important caveat "having the correct disposition".

Well, no one is saying the Catechism is bad theology. But the idea that "the Mass is a meal" is bad theology. I thought it was a dubious way to describe the Sacrifice of the Mass when I first heard people speaking like this. I still think so.

No one should feel constrained to go up to receive Holy Communion simply because everyone else seems to be doing so, but that way of thinking has almost inevitably led to this conclusion.

Elizabeth said...

The reverence for Holy Communion is lacking in so many people today because they no longer believe in the true presence of Christ. The eucharistic miracles of Lanciano, Altari, Balasar, Montserrat etc are never mentioned, yet they offer so much to our sceptical world.
Jesus allows Himself to be received in Holy Communion by people who are not worthy, who are in a state of Mortal sin, who never go to confession who openly state they don't believe in the sacrament of confession yet happily follow the Communion queue. Looking at some of the celebrations that are supposed to be Mass, He also allows Himself to come into the midst of a gathering in which the people are sometimes totally preoccupied with themselves, with the noise and movement (dancing) they are making,as though the Saviour of the world was not right there.

How many of even the best catholics pay a visit to the Blessed Sacrament. How many of our children and adults, for that matter, know how to geneflect not curtsy in front of the tabernacle. Our Lord is not loved in the Eucharist because He is not known well enough. It is due to a lack of understanding of what the Eucharist that is the cause of the indifference and neglect that Christ experiences in the Blessed Sacrament.

When Christ appeared to Saint Mary Margaret He said "What most pains me is that I am so coldly treated by my consecrated souls, the priests and religious who above all should show Me their affection"

Henry said...

Liturgical reforms would help. The EF mass conveys the awesomeness of what is happening and one is less likely to approach the eucharist in an unfit state or with a wrong disposition.