St Francis Q&A

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

"Growth in the Christian life needs the nourishment of Eucharistic Communion"

Here are some questions from anonymous bloggers regarding the Eucharist and Holy Communion which are timely, given the fact that we just celebrated Corpus Christi two days ago:

1) “I have a question regarding the Real Presence. When someone attends a Catholic Mass who is not Catholic, they are asked to abstain from receiving the Eucharist. Is that because they may not believe that the Eucharist is really Christ or is it because they, as a non-Catholic, are not in communion with the Roman Catholic Church in a number of potentially other ways?

I ask, because, unless I am wrong, Catholics are required to receive the Eucharist (don’t know how many times) each year, right? So what if a Catholic does not believe in the Real Presence? Can they be said to be in communion with the Catholic Church and, therefore, should they ‘not receive if they don't believe’ even if they are, I believe, required to do so by the Church?”

The following are excerpts from an online conversation between a Catholic (theologian) and a non-Catholic Christian which should be helpful. To view the conversation in full, please click on today’s title.

CATHOLIC: The Church holds that to receive the Eucharist we must believe all that the Catholic Church officially teaches as coming from Christ…The Catholic Church follows ancient Christian practice on this matter. Ancient Christians believed that we cannot partake of the Eucharist unless we believe the Christian faith. You see this idea in Justin Martyr’s First Apology (1:66), which is quoted in our current Catechism in section 1355: “Because this bread and wine have been made Eucharist, we call this food Eucharist, and no one may partake in it unless he believes that what we teach is true, has received baptism for the forgiveness of sins and new birth, and lives in keeping with what Christ taught.” In other words, to receive the Eucharist you must believe that these teachings are from Christ.

OBJECTOR: You’re falling back on that old Catholic standby: tradition. Maybe Justin Martyr was just plain wrong. Anyway, I don’t see this idea in the Bible.

CATHOLIC: I think you see Jesus our Lord saying this truth in Matthew 28:20 when he said "teaching them to observe everything that I have commanded you." Jesus is saying that all he taught is to be passed on. And you see Paul boasting to the leaders of the church in Ephesus that he had not "shrunk back from declaring to them the whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27).

So, you see, the Church has the responsibility of teaching all of the truth that Christ taught. Whether you agree or disagree with all the Church’s teachings is beside the point just now. I only want you to see that partaking in the Eucharist requires one to believe all the Church’s teachings. You said earlier that we believe the same things about the Eucharist. I am only pointing out that we don’t, because for us Catholics receiving the Eucharist means embracing all of Christ’s teachings handed down through the Church.

OBJECTOR: Well, that leaves me even more confused, because I know Catholics who receive the Eucharist every week and also say that they don’t agree with the Church’s teachings on certain points. Then are they wrong to receive Communion?

CATHOLIC: That’s a thorny problem that will take more time to explain than we have now. But in general you are following the logic behind this very well. No one—not even a baptized Catholic—should receive the Eucharist knowledgeably if he does not believe that our teachings are the teachings of Christ(*). Taking Communion is an act of love for Christ as well as actually receiving Christ into one’s heart. To do that and yet not believe Christ is clearly a contradiction between one’s act and one’s beliefs—and that’s a problem.

(*) – including transubstantiation / the teaching on the Real Presence.

2) “I also wonder about those who want to receive the Eucharist but cannot because they are, for example, divorced and remarried and are therefore excluded from that sacrament. By still attending Mass and not receiving, are they still receiving grace despite their ability to partake? Isn't their presence at Mass and their desire to receive enough? And what of those who receive regularly but do not believe in the Real Presence? How are they nourished by a grace in which they do not believe?”

Pope John Paul II addressed the situation of divorced Catholics who have remarried outside the Church in “Familiaris Consortio” (The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World”), 1981. He wrote that “they can, and indeed must, share in (the Church’s) life. They should be encouraged to listen to the word of God, to attend the Sacrifice of the Mass, to persevere in prayer, to contribute to works of charity and to community efforts in favor of justice, to bring up their children in the Christian faith, to cultivate the spirit and practice of penance and thus implore, day by day, God’s grace” (#84). They do receive grace in all of these things, but still need, as we all do, the sacramental grace of the Eucharist: “growth in Christian life needs the nourishment of Eucharistic Communion” (CCC, # 1392). Hopefully, their desire to receive the Eucharist leads them to have their marriage validated in the Church so that they can receive.

Regarding those who knowingly and freely don’t believe but receive, it was stated above that they shouldn’t receive. If they receive, then they make an illicit communion. It is also an unfruitful communion because they have closed themselves off to the grace of the sacrament.

3) “Maybe a weird question- but are those who receive the Eucharist on a daily basis ‘more’ nourished with grace than those who only receive on the Sabbath and Holy Days?”

Yes, because they avail themselves to the grace of the sacrament more often.


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