It is no secret that my favorite part of my day (not counting sleeping and any time spent in the company of Heidi the Great) is daily Mass. I can hardly remember the days when going to Mass was a hassle and, instead, look forward to spending a half hour with 200 fellow travelers, most of whom older and wiser than I. There are 20ish people there who are my age, and most of them are the novitiates, witnessing in their traditional white Dominican habits. I sometimes wonder what they used to do before dedicating their lives to Christ. None of them could be older than 25 and they are so happy that they make me even happier.
During Catholic Mass (simplified), the first half is the Liturgy of the Word (Old Testament reading, Psalms, New Testament reading and the Gospel) and then the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Catholics believe that the wafers become Christ's body and blood, which is possible through Christ's fully divine nature. His fully human self went to Heaven during the Ascension, so cannibalism is not possible. (Here's a past post to clarify the Church's teaching more.)
For non-Catholics, being denied communion seems merely symbolic or on-par with excommunication. For Roman Catholics, being denied communion is very serious business. Canon Lawyer Ed Peters was interviewed by Catholic News Service about Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY), a Roman Catholic who is divorced and living with his girlfriend. He also takes communion when he goes to Mass.
Now, it is not the practice of the Church to deny people communion. The Church does not babysit all its members; if they come up for communion and do not cross their arms to indicate a blessing instead, the priest will think the best of the parishioner and give it to them. One of the five mandates of being a Catholic is to attend Mass every week (if not more) and on all Holy Days of obligation. It is not required, however, that Catholics take communion every week. If Catholics know of any reason why they should not take communion, they should not. There is no shame in recognizing that one is not in communion with the Church, although one should certainly work quickly towards healing that schism.
Again, for clarification, being denied communion is not being kicked out of Church. All are welcome in Church. But if one of a professing Catholic that has, for example, a mortal sin on his/her soul, then one can absolutely not take communion.
In Graham Greene's 'The Heart of the Matter,' one of the most terrifying scenes in the book is when Officer Scobie takes communion with heavy sins on his soul-- including being in an adulterous relationship, having too much pride to admit it to his wife and not being repentant for having an affair. One of my favorite lines in the whole book is when Scobie admits at a dinner party that "we Catholics are damned by our knowledge." He has an affair and knows it is wrong. He lies to his wife and knows it is wrong. He takes communion and knows the repercussions.
A week or so ago, I read an article I've been mulling over almost every day. Michael W. Chapman of Catholic New Service (CNS) wrote:
As noted, Canon Law 915 states that persons “who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin, are not to be admitted to holy communion.” In addition, the Catechism, section 2390, states that “in a so-called free union, a man and a woman refuse to give juridical and public form to a liaison involving sexual intimacy. … The expression covers a number of different situations: concubinage, rejection of marriage as such, or inability to make long-term commitments. All these situations offend against the dignity of marriage; they destroy the very idea of the family; they weaken the sense of fidelity. They are contrary to the moral law. The sexual act must take place exclusively within marriage. Outside of marriage it always constitutes a grave sin and excludes one from sacramental communion.”
CNSNews.com asked Peters by e-mail, “Is Gov. Andrew Cuomo living in a ‘free union’ (Catechism 2390) with Sandra Lee -- in the objective order – ‘contrary to the moral law’ and does this behavior ‘always constitutes a grave sin and excludes one from sacramental communion’? (2390)”
Peters answered, “Yes. There is no dispute about this one, whatsoever. The governor, with complete freedom, is publicly acting in violation of a fundamental moral expectation of the Church. On these facts alone, his taking holy Communion is objectively sacrilegious and produces grave scandal within the faith community.”
More reasons Cuomo is being called out is for his active support and public policy initiatives which support "direct abortion, homosexual behavior, and same-sex marriage [which] are all contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church."
A close friend of mine made an off-hand comment about how most Catholics blindly follow the Church and it was a timely reminder for me of the necessity of free will. People like to think that because of the Catholic Church has a hierarchy and the Pope, who can potentially make dogmatic infallible statements, then all its members do not think for themselves. It is often dismissed that people choose to be Catholic and stay Catholic, as well as convert their hearts.
Obedience to Rome does not equate an inability to think for one's self or make one's own decisions. There is no coercion with free will. This is what makes sin so terrible; it is turning away from God's laws and making man's laws truth because they jive with what one wants better. But St. Thomas More rightly said we cannot get to Heaven on feather beds.
CNS further writes:
Cardinal Raymond Burke, who heads the highest court at the Vatican and to which Peters serves as an adviser, chastised Catholics who support abortion and same-sex marriage. As CNSNews.com reported in October, Cardinal Burke said, “We find self-professed Catholics, for example, who sustain and support the right of a woman to procure the death of the infant in her womb, or the right of two persons of the same sex to the recognition which the State gives to a man and a woman who have entered into marriage. It is not possible to be a practicing Catholic and to conduct oneself publicly in this manner.”
Arbp. Burke also said that Catholics in public life “who persistently violate the moral law” on abortion and homosexual marriage “lead many into confusion and or even error,” which does the “gravest harm to our brothers and sisters and, therefore, to the whole nation.”
Burke added that, as a discipline for such actions, the Church will withhold Communion “to those who persist, after admonition, in the grave violation of the moral law.”
In 2004, Burke said he would not give holy communion to then-presidential candidate John Kerry (D-Mass) because of his pro-abortion views. Burke stated in 2009 that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius “has publicly and repeatedly betrayed her Catholic faith” and should not present herself for holy communion because “she obstinately persists in serious sin,” namely her long-term support for abortion.
At the Jan. 2 Mass in Albany, the Times Union reported that, in his homily, Bp. Hubbard said the following about Gov. Cuomo and Lt. Gov. Duffy: "They, over the next four years, will be deeply immersed in the work of evangelism by bringing about the transformation of our state and our society and we assure them of our prayers, of our support and of our best wishes for challenges they will face."
CNSNews.com asked Dr. Peters, “In expressing ‘support’ for Gov. Cuomo and Duffy and ‘the challenges they will face’ is Bishop Hubbard -- in the objective order -- creating scandal given Cuomo’s policies in support of same-sex marriage and abortion?’”
Peters said, “Based on the reports I’ve seen, Bp. Hubbard’s homily was, I think, a failure in pastoral care, but more for what he did not say, than for what he did say.”
“Bp. Hubbard, faced with a prominent Catholic leader of whom, it may be fairly said, there are ‘great expectations,’ did not challenge the governor to begin his reform of the state with a reform of his person,” said Peters. “The bishop did not, it seems, allude to the fact that the higher one goes in public service, the more rigorously one must examine one’s conscience. When discrepancies between principle and practice are found -- as such failings will be found in everyone of us -- it is incumbent on us to bring our behavior into line with right reason, and for that matter, with Church teaching. Christ’s help will not be lacking.”
“The bishop was right to promise his prayers and best wishes for Cuomo, of course, and, in an ironic way, he was even right about the governor’s being deeply immersed in evangelism,” said Peters. “A Catholic in major public office cannot not be a prominent example to others of how a Catholic lives the Gospel. That is the essence of evangelism.”
“The question is not, therefore, whether the governor will be an example to others,” said Peters, “the question is, what kind of example will Cuomo be?”
This is an extremely interesting and prevalent issue in the Church today. The possibility of being denied communion, although a scary prospect to me, is also needed. When I was little, I was taught not to fear Hell because of the physical pain of burning, but because I would be eternally separated from God. There are always repercussions for behavior against God and Catholics, especially public figures, should understand that they are not entitled to the Eucharist. Anyone can go to Jesus, but not everyone will share at his table, if they so chose. But again, that is up to the individual person, to make the right decision privately and not force the Church to take a public stand.
We all have a vocation towards holiness. That is something I struggle to remember. John Paul II said that conscience is an act of intelligence; may we all have the strength to act according to our reason, repent of our wrongs, and live according to our faith!