I hear a lot of talk these days from laymen and women in the Catholic blogosphere who would like to see the Eucharist withheld from certain politicians because of their stance on certain social issues.
I won’t disagree that many politicians who claim to follow the Catholic faith are guilty of promoting ideas and actions that are expressly contrary to Church teaching. However, as lay Catholics, we have zero authority on who should and should not receive. That power lies with the Bishops, and ultimately the Vatican.
Those who call for others to be denied the Eucharist may often cite Canon Law 915 which states: Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest graves sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.
The first part of the law, dealing with excommunicated persons, is a given. They are not a part of the Church, so they are unable to receive on that merit alone. However, it’s the last bit, “others obstinately persevering in manifest graves sin” that I find is the foundation for this discussion, and the point I’d like to approach a few different ways.
I can understand how one can take the last part of 915 and use it to fuel the outcry for particular people to be banned from receiving, and honestly I think it begins in a good place. As Catholics, we recognize the Eucharist for what it is: The body and blood of Jesus Christ. We also know that the Church teaches that we cannot receive with the stain of mortal sin on our soul, it degrades the sacrifice. When we see any Catholic, public figure or not, commit a grave offense, our instincts flair up and say, “That person should go to confession.” It’s natural.
However, following those instincts to the point of publicly calling for those people to be refused the Eucharist is a dangerous road to travel. Regardless of how we may perceive any situation, and regardless of what all reasonable deductions may tell us, we have no possible way of knowing what is truly in a person’s heart. We have absolutely no knowledge of whether or not a person has gone to confession before receiving. Therefore, when we call for politicians, public figures, or anyone else to be refused the Eucharist, we are putting ourselves between a person and the saving grace of Christ based on what are ultimately just assumptions.
In fact, the only way that we can know for sure that a person is “persevering in manifest grave sin” and must be withheld from receiving is when they are divorced and remarried without an annulment. As we have discussed before, this puts an individual in a permanent state of adultery. Other than that, however, we don’t know. No one does, and until the Vatican officially declares otherwise, the burden to receive the Eucharist in a state of grace relies on the individual or at the discretion of the Church authority.
Let us recall what Paul said in 1st Corinthians:
Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself,* and so eat the bread and drink the cup.
We have the ability to recognize right from wrong, and that’s good. However, when we sin and our instincts flair up, we should turn our feelings inward instead of outward, and ask ourselves, “Am I coming to the table justly?”
I think one of the biggest problems is that we get too wrapped up in hot-button issues like abortion. A grave evil, yes, but where is the outcry for those who send troops to fight unjust war? Or those who advocate for “enhanced interrogation techniques” aka torture? Or those who ignore the needs of families stricken with poverty in our country, a sin that scripture clearly states cries out to God for vengeance?
Better yet, how many of us lie, covet, take the Lord’s name in vain, or allow something else to come before God in our lives? These are all grave sins, and the most dangerous thing we can do to ourselves is allow the sins of others to blind us to our own shortcomings. That creates in us the gravest of all offenses: pride.
When we call for the Eucharist to be withheld from someone, we attempt to act as a barrier between God and a person WE have decided is unworthy. That is not our place. The Vatican makes that decision. The Bishops discern who receives. Not us. We are not the authority of this Church, and it is important we remember that.