Thursday, January 3, 2008

Argument of the month club

With a name like that you want to know more, don't you? The topic this month relates to a previous post by Joshua 24:15 in regard to denial of the Eucharist.
The speaker will address "[w]hat does Church law say about denying Holy Communion? When and why does the Church deny the Eucharist to certain groups or individuals? Under what circumstances may a Catholic politician and others be denied the Eucharist? Is this a political act? Why does there seem to be confusion on this issue?" More information can be found at


Joshua 24:15 said...

Have you gone to any of these meetings? It does sound interesting and I do like a spirited discussion from time to time...

I'm not sure the topic is all that confusing. It must be very difficult to make the decision to deny Communion to anyone, and I don't envy the bishops who are put on the spot to do so; however, in some cases it's not hard to figure out. But maybe I'm oversimplifying it.

Germanicus said...

I have not been.

I tend to think about this issue in terms of my vocation as a natural father. There are many times I know my children (all of them) have gleefully sinned and are not only unrepentant but defiant in their indignation that I will not take their side in the issue. Yet, I allow them to take the Eucharist. On the other hand I clearly recall an instance when both Tania and I forbade one of our children from participating. As a father (parent) I must use judgment in exercising my authority.
My basic premise is that since I really believe the Eucharist to be a sacrament, and that sacraments can be a sure means of grace and that it is only through grace that we can grow in grace it then follows that by not allowing my child to receive a sacrament I am not allowing them to receive grace and am in effect forbidding them that sure means of grace; but it is grace that they need because if they had more grace it would be easier for them to love and do the right thing.
On the other hand I must also consider that this little brat is choosing to do the very thing I just told them not to do or they are treating their sibling worse than an enemy and they are refusing to repent, and that we are obliged to cooperate with grace. Perhaps then what they need is a “sacramental timeout”. So, I must balance mercy and judgment.
On a similar vein this morning we went to Mass. I gave one of my children permission to eat breakfast within 1 hour of receiving the Eucharist. I clearly explained to them the fasting requirement but that I was extending them mercy. Even though they had ample time to eat prior to the time limit I still allowed them to eat. However, I was careful to explain that the fasting requirement was not optional and that they could arbitrarily decide when to obey it.
I continued by explaining to them that this was an act of mercy and because the supreme law of the church is love (because of Christ, because of the Father) that mercy is always acceptable…but don’t do this again!
I think the larger issue of denying the Eucharist to public official’s balances on this issue of mercy and justice.

MinnesotaMan said...

It is an enjoyable time and if you get the chance you should try and go to one of them.

Laura The Crazy Mama said...

Aw, if you guys get a chance, you should go to one of these meetings! Represent! (plus, I can't go, 'cause of the "I'm a gal" thing).

MinnesotaMan said...

If a person receives a Sacrament unworthily, i.e., in a state of mortal sin, then they are compounding their sin. The merciful thing then is to deny them the Sacrament and prevent that from happening.

J. Thorp said...

Balancing mercy and judgment seems a reasonable approach, until I read Minnesotaman's last post. Something troubles me here, and it's this -- how does one judge the state of a man's soul?

I suspect, given my (admittedly shallow) understanding of church teachings, that the only two persons have a real chance of knowing *for certain* the state of a soul -- the individual (and then only if they are self-aware and painfully honest) and God.

In such a case, it seems to me that judgment should be balanced first with humility, at which point mercy might flow more freely ...

J. Thorp said...

By the way: My comment was not meant to imply that Minnesotaman's post was unreasonable -- only that while it makes sense, I would not want to be the one making that judgment. But perhaps that's why I'm not ...

Joshua 24:15 said...

Yep, as I said it would be very difficult making the decision to deny Communion, and I would expect that such an action would be rare.

In a different thread I posted about denying Communion to Ted Kennedy, based on the obvious scandal in which he regularly and unabashedly participates, namely initiating and supporting anti-life policies and legislation.

While rare, I think it must be done when warranted.

J. Thorp said...

And yet I wonder (perhaps not specifically in Kennedy's case, where there is a likely a very long record) if a policy leader might feel obligated to make a policy decision in opposition to his personal beliefs based simply on his oath of office and the strong desire to support the very system of freedom and tolerance that protects our right to worship and minister as Catholics?

Don't get me wrong: In addition to our shared belief that human life is sacred, I believe there are very good and logical *non-religious* reasons to prohibit abortion. But I can imagine a soul committed to serving both God and the country that permits him to worship as he pleases. I can imagine that person being genuinely conflicted as he or she thinks not only about protecting the right to life, but freedom of religion (which also requires freedom *from* religion, and tolerance of the Mahers of the world). I can imagine this person trying to serve two "gods" (as so many of us do in life) and failing to serve either one ...

I think this may be why institutions like our Supreme Court tend to have a softening effect on the political leanings of their members -- and why I wouldn't hold my breath on the court overturning Roe vs. Wade. The notion of precedent and the long history of these institutions seems to favor deliberation and incremental action.

And that's as it should be -- would that all policy decisions were made in the same deliberate way. Unfortunately, progress rarely takes time to reflect.

Anyway -- I come away from this ramble convinced of two things: 1) That denial of communion should be *extremely* rare, since one cannot know the heart of any but the most public and unrepentant sinners, and 2) that we're unlikely to affect public policy in this country if our arguments are couched in our particular religions and readily dismissed by those who simply don't share our faith (or in the case of "personally pro-life/pro-choice Catholics," our *interpretation* of our faith, right though it may be).

Patrick M. said...

The discussion really all boils down to canon 915 in the Code of Canon Law:

"Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion"

I think for this discussion we can ignore the "Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty" category and concentrate on the "others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin" group.

I think the word "obstinately persevering" above points to a situation involving pastoral counseling and time. So I think IF denying Communion to a person did occur, there would need to be a history of effort by the Church to reach out to the person. So I don’t think you’ll ever see – nor should we - any "from-the-hip" rejections, or rejections based on a person’s history without an extended effort by the Church to help them reconcile.

In today’s society, "manifest grave sin" is ALL around. If the Church denies Communion to politicians who vote against Church teaching, should She also deny it to those openly not living it? The drunk, divorced and remarried (without annulment), couples living together without being married, … would they get the same treatment? I’m certainly not condoning anything, but is there a distinction that needs to be made what could be done, and what should be done?

One last interesting note is that the criterion above is "grave sin" which doesn’t necessarily mean "mortal sin". A sin being grave is only one of the three criteria needed for a sin to be mortal, the second being that the person knows the sin is grave, and the third committing the sin of their own free will. If a person committing the grave sin honestly doesn’t know that it is grave, and they are denied Communion, is the very source of grace that person needs to correct their ways been removed?

What a tough call! A great reminder for us all to keep our Bishops, and those "obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin", in our prayers. Great discussion.

Joshua 24:15 said...

Thanks Patrick and JThorpe. A couple of final thoughts on this one.
I'm not sure there is a "nonreligious" case for ending abortion. Without following a particular moral code, what reason is there to protect innocent life, or do any good thing for that matter? I know, I know-- a lot of "good" people are not very religious, or even atheist. Perhaps, but I believe they're following the innate moral yearning given them by God.

Second, the conflict JThorpe describes for a public figure who is torn on a particular issue, is certainly a reality. However, certain issues are considered "nonnegotiable" by the Church-- like abortion. So, if you're a Catholic public official you're expected to follow the same moral teaching on this particular topic as we civilians-- namely, not to perform, facilitate, obtain etc an abortion.

Thanks, folks!