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Lest so many words complicate a simple question

March 19, 2014

Catholic discipline that precludes holy Communion for divorced-and-remarried Catholics rests on three simple points. Assuming the specifications and nuances that should flesh out these points, they are:

  • Catholics obstinately persisting in manifest grave sin should neither approach for nor be administered holy Communion. Canons 915, 916.
  • Catholics living in post-divorce ‘marriages’ are in a state of public and objective grave sin (specifically, a form of chronic adultery). CCC 2380, 2381, 2384.
  • Such ‘marriages’ are adulterous because true marriage is an exclusive union lasting until death. Canons 1055, 1134, 1141.

Abandon any of these three points and Church discipline in this area collapses. If marriage is not an exclusive union till death, if living in pseudo/second marriage is not objective grave sin, or if the Eucharist is not precluded for those persisting in grave sin, then divorced-and-remarried Catholics can begin receiving holy Communion today and the 2014 Extraordinary Synod on the Family can turn its attention to other pastoral issues facing the family. But if these three assertions are sound, then the present Eucharistic discipline demands, as a matter of personal integrity and public honesty, observance by faithful and hierarchy alike, and the Synod must grapple with its pastoral ramifications.

Now, no one (at least, no one being taken seriously) in this debate denies that marriage is an exclusive union lasting until death, and few formally deny that living in pseudo/second marriage is objectively wrong—though many are confusing commission of objective sin with the incurring of personal culpability for sin and, based on their confusion, are rejecting the objective evilness of pseudo/second marriage itself. That confusion must be addressed elsewhere.

Instead, the aspect of this matter under the greatest challenge is, I suggest, whether Catholics who live in an objectively sinful state (such as pseudo/second marriage has always been reckoned) should bear the primary sacramental consequence that has always been expected regarding those known to be persisting in an objectively sinful state, namely, deprivation of holy Communion. Whatever crisis of faith some might harbor regarding Jesus’ teaching on the permanence of marriage, or whatever crisis of courage some might experience in having to call some sins by their true names, the most visible aspect of the current crisis over divorce and ‘remarriage’ concerns, I think, the reception of holy Communion thereafter.*

And so one may ask a simple question:  what do we suddenly know about marriage, human falleness, and the Eucharist that the Apostles, the Fathers, the Doctors, and the Saints did not know before us? What do we face for upholding one of the Lord’s hardest sayings that they did not face before us?  If, as I suspect, the answer to both questions is “nothing” (or at least, nothing persuasive of, let alone compelling, change) by what authority do we consider so great a departure from the course so-long steered by the Church?

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* Yet another idea, I pause to note, being floated these days, one whereby divorced-and-remarried Catholics ‘confess’ their sin (specifically, remarriage after divorce) but not be required to put off their sin, threatens serious harm to the sacrament of Penance as well as to Marriage and the Eucharist, but we can only deal with so many heads of this hydra at one time.

Alert readers will note that I offered a version of this argument back in December 2013. I recast it here.

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