I still recall a homily from a high school mass many years ago. Our principal, Fr. Mohan declared very succinctly, “many of you are not fit to receive communion. I invite you to refrain from coming up.” In fact, he dared us to show the courage of integrity to not come up for communion, recalling the necessary conditions for a devout reception i.e. be free of culpability of any mortal sin and having fasted sufficiently before communion. It is in Canon Law (916), it is in the Catechism (1387), but it is also rooted in Scripture (1 Corinthians 11:27-29).
It is the celebration of the Eucharist which represents the source and summit of our Faith. We receive many graces when we receive in the state of Grace, being open to God’s friendship, and we err towards sacrilege when we do not receive worthily. Thus to refrain from receiving communion appropriately is in itself an act based on faithfulness and obedience of what God has set out. In other words, a full and active participation in the liturgy is to have the integrity to remain in one’s pew praying fervently to make an act of spiritual communion while everybody else is heading up to receive.
There is much awkwardness felt when it seems like I’m the only one deciding to abstain from communion. One thread of discussion that took place during the Synod seemed to sympathize with this problem, but implicitly suggested the wrong solution. Nobody wants to feel excluded, and worse yet is the feeling that you are permanently excluded because of a divorce and remarriage. The dilemma of being a church who calls all for salvation yet stipulates qualifications for full participation in the sacraments must somehow be resolved.
The church has power to loose and bind, but cannot do so in an irresponsible manner that puts souls in danger. The worst thing for families would be to sanction broken homes and despair of reconciliation between persons who previously vowed their lifelong love. Even worse would be to imply that people who should not receive communion may do so. The Church’s mission as a field hospital is to not put souls in danger, nor is it to leave souls in the dark to perish.
A full and active participation in the life of the church should be open to all who seek Truth, Goodness and Beauty and the Church is the last organization that should need to compromise on any of those. I welcome the discussion on how we can set up the right conditions in our communities for all to participate as fully and actively as they can without the feeling of exclusion. Any penitential path towards full communion necessarily calls for true penance and reform towards the good. We as a community can certainly do better to remove the stigma of refraining from communion and other areas of ministerial involvement. We need not pretend to be a church of ivory saints, but saints-in-the-making – beaten and bruised in our interactions in the world, but united in our striving for the all-good at the end of our days.
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