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An important week for Eucharistic discipline–or lack thereof

February 23, 2018

Three items on the discipline of holy Communion round out the week. Two are simple but diametrically opposed, a third is licit but ill-advised.

1. This is simply right. Bp. Thomas Paprocki of Springfield IL, no stranger to my readers, has reiterated that Catholic Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, one of the Bloody 14, may not, in view of Durbin’s longstanding support for abortionism as seen in the light of Canon 915, be given holy Communion. Paprocki’s statement is clear and, besides being canonically correct, is pastorally sensitive to the spiritual dangers into which Durbin has placed himself. May Paprocki’s prayers for Durbin’s return to his earlier respect for innocent human life bear fruit. As for Paprocki himself, no worries there—an accomplished amateur hockey player and goalie, he is used to taking hard shots while defending what is important.

2. This is simply wrong. The German bishops as a whole (and not just an executive committee thereof) have approved the administration of holy Communion to divorced-and-remarried Catholics under the malleable conditions typical of these times. Think Malta. The only mildly remarkable thing here is that this latest degradation of sacramental discipline has caused so few ripples in Catholic media. But I suppose that no one really expected the German hierarchy to act other than to authorize disobedience to an inconvenient canon law, regardless of how unanimous the tradition behind that canon might be.

3. This one is licit, strictly speaking, but such a bad idea that the canon allowing it probably needs to reformed. Once again, the German bishops are acting, but the law was convenient so it was respected.

Canon 844 § 4 allows baptized non-Catholics to receive holy Communion if “grave necessity urges” the local bishop or (here) the conference of bishops to allow such reception, provided further only that those seeking holy Communion claim (as most can) to satisfy some practical and minimal credal criteria. Effectively, then, the canon expects the “grave necessity” requirement to keep the Communion rite at Mass from turning into a free samples line.

The problem, obviously, is about when (besides, one might concede, at the time of death, an option already allowed under a different part of the canon) is it ever gravely necessary for non-Catholics to receive holy Communion? Not, when might it be helpful or decorous or embarrassment-squelching to receive holy Communion, but when is it necessary for them to receive, and gravely necessary to boot?

I suggest, Never. Even Catholics are required to receive holy Communion only once a year (c.  920). 

But, unless the canon is establishing a criterion that can never be satisfied, what does the clause “grave necessity” mean? Apparently, pretty much whatever a bishop or (here) conference of bishops decides it means, including, as the Germans have decided, non-Catholic spouses who assert “serious spiritual distress” and a “longing to satisfy hunger for the Eucharist”—albeit, exactly the kind of healthy spiritual ferment that has occasioned countless baptized persons over the centuries to seek full communion with the Catholic Church. So much for that motivation.

Nevertheless this ruling falls narrowly within the law, I think, suggesting that maybe the law’s desire to legislate on an admittedly “hard case” has resulted in a bad law. As hard cases usually do. Other “hard cases” will doubtless follow. Just watch.

A last thought. How the Germans’ ruling on non-Catholic spouses receiving holy Communion will combine with their recent provisions for divorced-and-remarried Catholics receiving holy Communion—well, it makes the head spin.

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