Wednesday, November 22, 2006

USCCB: Worthy Reception of Holy Communion

I'm catching up on something that happened while on my one-week hiatus.

On November 14th, 2006, the USCCB issued several documents, one of which was entitled, "Happy are Those Who are Called to His Supper". Printed out, it is 24 pages, but it is double-spaced, so not nearly as long of a read as one might expect.

How did this come about?

It is said that Bishop John J. Myers of Newark, NJ initiated it about two years ago. For all practical purposes, it could have turned into a document on politicians and Communion. Instead, a document was produced that clarifies for politicians - and the rest of us - when we should refrain from receiving Communion. Here is a major excerpt:

Lack of Sanctifying Grace
In order to receive Holy Communion we must be in communion with God and with the Church. Mortal sin constitutes a rejection of communion with God and destroys the life of grace within us. Mortal sin is an act violating God’s law that involves grave matter and that is performed with both full knowledge and complete consent of the will. If we are no longer in the state of grace because of mortal sin, we are seriously obliged to refrain from receiving Holy Communion until we are reconciled with God and the Church. While we remain members of the body of Christ and continue to be part of the Catholic Church, we have become lifeless or dead members. We no longer share in the common bond of the divine life of the Holy Spirit. Because our sin has separated us from God and from our brothers and sisters in Christ, we have forfeited our right to receive Holy Communion, for the Eucharist, by its very nature, expresses and nurtures this lifegiving unity that the sinner has now lost. St. Paul warned the Corinthians that “whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Cor 11:27).14 Manifesting the Father’s mercy, Jesus instituted the Sacrament of Penance precisely to allow us to confess our sins in repentance, receive absolution from the priest, and so receive again the grace of the Holy Spirit, who once more makes us living members of Christ’s body, the Church.15

Objectively, certain thoughts, actions, and omissions entail grave sinful matter. As Catholics, we are obliged to form our consciences regarding what constitutes grave matter in accordance with the Church’s teaching. While it is not possible to make a complete list of thoughts and actions that involve grave matter, they would all be serious violations of the law of love of God and of neighbor. If we follow the order of the Ten Commandments, some examples of such thoughts and actions would be:

  • Believing in or honoring as divine anyone or anything other than the God of the Holy Scriptures

  • Swearing a false oath while invoking God as a witness

  • Failing to worship God by missing Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation
    without a serious reason, such as sickness or the absence of a priest

  • Acting in serious disobedience against proper authority; dishonoring one’s parents by neglecting them in their need and infirmity

  • Committing murder, including abortion and euthanasia; harboring deliberate hatred of others; sexual abuse of another, especially of a minor or vulnerable adult; physical orverbal abuse of others that causes grave physical or psychological harm

  • Engaging in sexual activity outside the bonds of a valid marriage

  • Stealing in a gravely injurious way, such as robbery, burglary, serious fraud, or other immoral business practices

  • Speaking maliciously or slandering people in a way that seriously undermines their good name

  • Producing, marketing, or indulging in pornography

  • Engaging in envy that leads one to wish grave harm to someone else

Catholics who are conscious of committing any mortal sin must receive the Sacrament of Penance before receiving Holy Communion. Assistance in examining one’s conscience is available from confessors and spiritual directors.

One must truly read and digest the entire document. In it, the bishops explain the difference between someone who is seriously trying to understand the church's teaching - to the extent that they consult the catechism and make inquiries, versus someone who holds fast to beliefs that are in conflict with Catholic teaching, refusing to consult the catechism or to make inquiries for the purpose of learning.

It takes humility to want to learn more deeply about something in which we have difficulty accepting. It takes pride to remain obstinate. This is why the confessional is the perfect place to tell a priest when we are struggling with a specific teaching. Confession takes humility (not humiliation). Between this act of humility and the Sacrament of Penance, along with prayer and a genuine desire to understand, come the graces we need to work through these things. In the meanwhile, we must adhere to any teaching whether we understand it or not out of humble obedience. We must be like Mary who always said "yes", most especially when she could not have had complete understanding. To act on something we think may be wrong is to act with doubtful conscience, which itself is a sin.

Some say it does not go far enough because it does not specifically tell priests and bishops what to do with politicians who are publicly promoting things like abortion who present themselves. This document puts the decision squarely on the individual who may want to consider 1 Cor. 11:29: "For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily eateth and drinketh judgment to himself, not discerning the body of the Lord."

I was ecstatic to see the USCCB actually talk about mortal sin - listing many kinds of sin that would bar one from receiving the Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion. To my mind, it shows the beginning of a new direction, likely resulting from viewpoints of some mature members of the USCCB who have been steadfast all along, mixing with some younger members who are spreading their wings in profound ways.

You know that when Call to Action and New Ways Ministries gets their dander up, the USCCB is headed in the right direction.

Several other documents were released by the USCCB in mid-November, including one on ministering to those with homosexual inclinations, but I have not read them yet.