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Monday, March 30, 2009

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skeeton

Carl,
Your focus on public witness and ecclesiology are important for the proper understanding of the Church's teaching on who should present themselves for Holy Communion. Since my conversion, I have had this discussion ad nauseum with my still-Anglican parents, who claim to take offense that they are not allowed to "take" communion at a Catholic Church.

In an effort to simplify the argument, I tell them:
1) We do not "take" communion. We receive it, and the Church gives it us.
2) When we receive communion, we are not just receiving a consecrated host that is now the True Presence of God Himself. We are also, importantly, receiving at the same time the full authority of the Catholic Church in our reception of Holy Communion. Everything the Church teaches can be distilled down to our belief in the Incarnation and the fact that God continues to make himself incarnate upon our altars. The entire God-given authority of the Church is bound up in her teaching on the Holy Eucharist.

From those perspectives, it beats me why a non-Catholic would even want to receive at our altar. Such a reception for a non-Catholic is a tacit acknowledgement of the Church's authority and an apostasy from their current non-Catholic faith tradition.

Brad

"If you are not a full and visible (public) member of the Catholic Church, why does it follow that you should be able to receive the sacrament which states, in the very reception of it, that you are a full and visible member of the Catholic Church?"

Because Christ didn't require even his own disciples to be "full and visible" members of His church. He knew what Judas was going to do, yet he still said "Take, eat; this is my body."

Jackson

Brad, at the time that Jesus said "Take, eat," Judas was very much a full and visible member of the twelve. This is partly what made his future betrayal such a scandal.

Carl E. Olson

Or, to follow-up on Jackson's comment: Judas was not a non-Catholic, but a bad Catholic. He was with Jesus for three years, so how exactly was he not a full and visible member of the Apostles? The sad fact is, bad Catholics (that is, Catholics with unconfessed mortal sin) receive Communion all of the time.

(By the way, this somewhat loose use of terms on my part should not be taken to mean I believe the Church was established before the death and Resurrection of Christ, nor is it meant to downplay the importance of Pentecost in the establishment of the Church.)

Brad

The point is that Christ was "non-exclusive" enough to present the sacrament of Communion to the one who would precipitate His own death. Judas was more than a "bad Catholic". You can't get much more out of communion with God than to knowingly condemn him to death.

So if (as) the Roman Catholic Church is the representative of Christ on earth, and Christ never turned away those who would truly draw near to Him, and He never turned away the one who betrayed Him, why not present the Eucharist to any of His followers?

MarkAA

The Catholic Church isn't the only one that has closed communion. Several Protestant denominations also have closed communion (at least officially). I have heard it explained with the verse in 1 Corinthians: "29For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself." I used to advocate open communion until I had experiences and conversations with new believers or seekers who were receiving communion who hadn't been trained in why it was so sacred and thus who treated it casually; that opened my eyes to the wisdom of insisting only full members of a church body take part in communion.

Evan

"The Catholic Church isn't the only one that has closed communion. Several Protestant denominations also have closed communion (at least officially)."

I don't know about several. A few, I think. Most Protestant services I've been to offer communion to any who are baptized and living out their baptism, including Catholics (not that Catholics would necessarily receive it, but it would be given were they to come to receive).

There are also plenty of Protestant denominations that offer it without much discretion at all, and that's of course a problem. But I think communion closed to a particular denomination/episcopal structure is limited to Catholics, Orthodox, and a handful of confessional Protestant denominations. Closed communion to the local congregation is particularly Baptist, I think, and that strikes me as a different theological beast entirely (though I'm not especially educated on the matter)

Evan

...one thing I have always found interesting. To what extent does a critique of open communion in Protestant denominations contradict a critique of Protestantism as perpetually schismatic? That is, if members of disparate Protestant groupings still share the eucharist with one another, how far can we really call that a schism?

Lewis

It seems the basic disagreement here is indeed one of ecclesiology. I understand that the Catholic church acknowledges others as Christian, but not a part of the one, true church. Yet this looks to me like an inherent contradiction. The Church is one body, with the one Christ as its head. Now, either all those who acknowledge Christ as their Lord are in the body, or they are not. If you really want to say that only baptism into the RC church qualifies a person as a member of that body, I respect that. However, once you have accepted the idea that there is Christianity outside the RCC, I don't see how you can say that other churches can be anything else than a part of the One Church. We may not be in full, visible unity with one another, just as a family may fight and disagree and refuse to hang out together, but that doesn't change the fact that we are one family under one head, to Whom the table under dispute belongs. I'm not suggesting that people who aren't full members of a church should be invited to receive Communion, but I strongly believe that our common Christianity should be more powerful than our differences, and that we should be able to act in a way that gives witness to that.

Carl E. Olson

Lewis: Unfortunately, I don't have time to give you a proper, nuanced response, so will point you, for the moment, to two paragraphs from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

"The Church knows that she is joined in many ways to the baptized who are honored by the name of Christian, but do not profess the Catholic faith in its entirety or have not preserved unity or communion under the successor of Peter." Those "who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are put in a certain, although imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church." With the Orthodox Churches, this communion is so profound "that it lacks little to attain the fullness that would permit a common celebration of the Lord's Eucharist." (par 838)

Baptism constitutes the foundation of communion among all Christians, including those who are not yet in full communion with the Catholic Church: "For men who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are put in some, though imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church. Justified by faith in Baptism, [they] are incorporated into Christ; they therefore have a right to be called Christians, and with good reason are accepted as brothers by the children of the Catholic Church." "Baptism therefore constitutes the sacramental bond of unity existing among all who through it are reborn." (par 1271)

It's not that non-Catholic Christians (especially Protestants) aren't in ANY sort of communion, but that they are in imperfect communion. Your comment,"just as a family may fight and disagree and refuse to hang out together," actually gets at this to a certain degree. If I don't get along with my father and only speak to him once a year, I can accurately say that we have a relationship/communion, but that it is imperfect. The problem with a "common Christianity," of course, is it begs some serious questions: Who defines what that is? On what basis do they formulate what it is? And so forth.

Gotta run!

Eric G

Aquinas actually addresses the question of why Christ gave Communion to Judas. He says it was to give the future ministers of his church a binding precedent: at the time of the Last Supper, Judas' sin was not manifest (i.e., public), and so while Judas should have kept himself from Communion, Christ did not deny it to him. And Judas was otherwise a disciple of Jesus.

This exactly mirrors Catholic teaching: Ministers of Holy Communion are only to deny the Sacrament to non-Catholics or Catholics living in manifest (public) grave sin. Even if a priest knows, say, that a particular person is an unrepentant fornicator, he is not to publicly deny said fornicator the Sacrament unless his fornication is manifest and would cause scandal (e.g., if the man in question were a prono star).

Brad

"It's not that non-Catholic Christians (especially Protestants) aren't in ANY sort of communion, but that they are in imperfect communion."

Catholics that are not reconciled to the Church by means of the sacraments are also in imperfect communion, no? Yet the Church doesn't prevent them from receiving Holy Communion.

Evan

he is not to publicly deny said fornicator the Sacrament unless his fornication is manifest and would cause scandal (e.g., if the man in question were a prono star).

I'm getting this odd picture of such an example actually in Aquinas, perhaps with a cite of the Sentences or Augustine to back it up.

I haven't a clue how "porno star" would translate into Latin, though. :)

David Deavel

Brad, those in mortal sin who have not received sacramental reconciliation are told not to approach for communion, too. The fact that many do, as do some non-Catholics, is not a good thing since it adds yet another sin to their soul.

Janny

As far as non-Catholic Christians not being in full communion, and therefore not fully able to partake of sacramental Communion...I was always taught that Jesus covered them in the statement: "Other sheep I have that are not of this fold..." etc.

And then there's always that old Communion hymn with the line, "We pray for those who wander from the fold/O bring them back, Good Shepherd of the sheep/Back to the Faith which saints believed of old,/Back to the Church, which still that Faith doth keep."

We were always taught, in the good old parochial schools (when they could be counted on to teach the Faith!), that Protestants were in those "other sheep" and that we should constantly be praying that there would be "one flock and one Shepherd" again. They weren't called "goats" and condemned to the fate awaiting those excluded at final judgment; they were sheep, just misguided and mis-taught sheep. There was never any question of whether they were Christian; there was never any question either, however, of whether they would be allowed at the Communion rail. Nor, in all fairness, did most of them want to be there--for the simple reason that they recognized, just as we did, that there was a separation there.

Seems a lot of the fussing that goes on nowadays about who "ought" to be at the Communion table is just another extension of the worldly "entitlement" mindset that our culture so encourages. "If I want it, I oughta have it..." whether I can assent to what it truly means or not. But there was a time when Protestants didn't feel "entitled" to Catholic Communion any more than we would feel "entitled" to communion in a Protestant church. Maybe there was a much clearer understanding in previous generations of what the word "communion" actually meant? For sure, there wasn't the "entitlement" mindset that so many of us have nowadays, getting in the way.

My take,
JB

Evan

Seems a lot of the fussing that goes on nowadays about who "ought" to be at the Communion table is just another extension of the worldly "entitlement" mindset that our culture so encourages.

I don't know if that's true. I think it's a legitimate yearning for the unity of the Church that drives this. We can deconstruct the semantics of "taking communion" or what "ought" to happen as entitlement, but I don't think that explanation goes very far. The "ought" isn't a selfish demand, it's a statement of what one receives in faith as the truth, and it's no different than someone saying communion "ought" to be closed. It's a stance that we personally assent to, and our personal assent shouldn't be viewed as entitlement simply because it is personal. It's sort of like the Kantian "ought" in that sense. And one needn't be a raving deontologist to recognize that deontology isn't merely solipsistic.

I think we can only really get at the heart of the separation that you speak of when we stop trying to discern the motives of those with whom we disagree and take their perspective with some faith in its coherence, if not its truth.

Carl E. Olson

Janny: Acknowledging that motives differ from person to person, and knowing that some Protestants do have a real hunger for Holy Communion, I agree with your observation. In fact, my pastor and I were talking about this very fact last night; it is something he has encountered several times in his nearly thirty years as a priest. It is certainly something I've encountered among various Protestant friends and family members: "Why can't I receive Communion? Am I not as much of a Christian as you?"

Sometimes this has been expressed with puzzlement, but sometimes it is expressed with an anger that is, I'm convinced, rooted in this sense of entitlement. Obviously we should give people the benefit of the doubt, and should assume good motives unless the evidence says otherwise. But it is out there and it isn't, I'm convinced, altogether rare.

think we can only really get at the heart of the separation that you speak of when we stop trying to discern the motives of those with whom we disagree and take their perspective with some faith in its coherence, if not its truth.

On the other hand, when the motives are plainly evident, it's not wrong at all to identify them for what they are.

Brad

"Seems a lot of the fussing that goes on nowadays about who "ought" to be at the Communion table is just another extension of the worldly "entitlement" mindset that our culture so encourages."

I can't speak for anyone else, but I don't feel 'entitled' to Holy Communion at a Catholic parish. It would just be wonderful to see the Church to be the Church. If we're one flock with one Lord, if Christ never denied the sacrament to anyone, if the Catholic Church is the physical representation of Christ to this day, and if the Church doesn't deny its own from taking the sacrament, then it should be offered to all followers of Christ.

Carl E. Olson

Brad: Here is a conundrum, then, based on what you have said:

1. If the Catholic Church is what she says she is--the true Church founded by Christ and given authority by Him--then she has every right, based on her apostolic authority, to say who does and does not have a right to receive Holy Communion. In which case, if you acknowledge who the Church says she is, you would have to accept that position.

2. If, however, you don't believe the Catholic Church is what she says she is, why would you want to receive Holy Communion in a Catholic Church?

The fact is, Christ does deny the Blessed Sacrament to many; He does so through the authority of the Church. Which is why Saint Paul, for instance, wrote, "Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself" (1 Cor 11:28-29). In other words, as has been noted above, there are instances (having unconfessed mortal sin) in which Catholics shouldn't receive Communion.

I'm not sure how else to explain the fact that Holy Communion is for those who are in full, visible communion with the Catholic Church and who are in a state of grace. The Church, in fact, "is being the Church" when it upholds this truth.

MissJean

I think it's a trend for non-Catholics to receive Communion. I had to put my hand on the arm of a Unitarian friend who was going up at a wedding. She wanted the "experience" despite an explanation that we believe Communion is really the body and blood of Our Lord. I know several non-Catholic Christians who believe the Eucharist is just a symbolic sharing of bread and wine, so they see it as no different from coming into the Catholic churches on Ash Wednesday for ashes (and boy! were they upset this year when "You are dust..." was replaced with "Believe the Gospel" etc. Why can't they crave something else, like annulments before remarriage? :)

Philip

All people are welcome to receive Communion in the Catholic Church, but by the same means: Baptism, obedience to the Magisterium, full assent to the Creed, no known stain of mortal sin, having fasted one hour prior, and having received First Communion. It's more than walking up the aisle.

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