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One should read Canon 844 before appealing to it

March 24, 2014

Per a report in ‘Protect the Pope’, Bishop Thomas McMahon of Brentwood [England] told The Tablet that ‘provisions could be made for those Catholics [remarried divorcees] to receive the Eucharist in the same way that non-Catholic Christians are permitted to share Communion.’

Oh really?

I’m not sure that treating divorced-and-remarried Catholics as if they were non-Catholics is quite the rhetorical flag ‘round which Bp. McMahon wants to rally the cause, but that’s his call. I am more interested in whether divorced-and-remarried non-Catholic Christians are eligible for holy Communion under Canon 844 in the first place. I think they are not.

Recall that Catholics—and since Bp. McMahon has dragged them into this debate, non-Catholic Christians, too—who are remarried after civil divorce live in an objectively disordered state (i.e., chronic formal adultery, CCC 2384). That is precisely what makes them (Catholics) ineligible for holy Communion under Canons 915 and 916, CCC 1650*, CDF Letter to Bishops (1994), and so on.

But, what Bp. McMahon seems not to realize is that divorced-and-remarried non-Catholics manifest exactly the same matrimonial disorder as do divorced-and-remarried Catholics. Thus, even if divorced-and-remarried non-Catholic Christians were, per Canon 844, to approach for Communion of their own accord and manifest a Catholic faith in the Eucharist, they cannot, on account of their public and objectively sinful state of life, manifest the “proper disposition” required by that same norm to receive holy Communion.

In short, under the only provision of sacramental law relevant to this question, divorced-and-remarried non-Catholics can no more approach for or be administered holy Communion than can divorced-and-remarried Catholics.

* CCC 1650. Today there are numerous Catholics in many countries who have recourse to civil divorce and contract new civil unions. In fidelity to the words of Jesus Christ – “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery” the Church maintains that a new union cannot be recognized as valid, if the first marriage was. If the divorced are remarried civilly, they find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God’s law. Consequently, they cannot receive Eucharistic communion as long as this situation persists. For the same reason, they cannot exercise certain ecclesial responsibilities. Reconciliation through the sacrament of Penance can be granted only to those who have repented for having violated the sign of the covenant and of fidelity to Christ, and who are committed to living in complete continence.

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