Sunday, September 7, 2008

When the minister of the Eucharist is obliged to withhold communion

Interview with Archbishop Raymond L. Burke

(then archbishop of St. Louis, Missouri, USA, and since June 2008 Prefect of the SupremeTribunal of the Apostolic Signatura of the Vatican)

Q: Your Excellency, in today's world there seems to be a lax attitude regarding the reception of the Holy Eucharist. Why?

A: One of the reasons I think that this laxity with regard to the Holy Eucharist has developed is that there has not been sufficient emphasis on Eucharistic devotion. [...] Without devotion to the Blessed Sacrament people quickly lose Eucharistic faith. We know that there is a high percentage of Catholics who do not believe that the Eucharistic species are the Body and Blood of Christ. [...]

Another aspect is a loss of the sense of connection between the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist and the Sacrament of Penance. [...] people go to Communion regularly and perhaps never, or very seldom, go to Confession. [...]

Also connected with this is a sense that has grown up from the civil sphere, which is that receiving Holy Communion is a right. [...]

Q: There are laws of the Church to control inappropriate actions by the faithful for the good of the public. Could you please comment on this and explain to what degree the Church and the hierarchy have an obligation to intervene to clarify or correct issues?

A: With regard to the Holy Eucharist for instance, there are two canons in particular that have to do with the worthy reception of the sacrament. They have in mind two goods.

One is the good of the person himself. To receive the Body and Blood of Christ unworthily is a sacrilege. [...] So, for the sake of the person himself, the Church has to instruct us that each time we are going to receive Holy Communion, we should first examine our conscience.

If we have a mortal sin on our conscience, we should first confess that sin and receive absolution, and only then approach to receive the Sacrament. Many times, our serious sins are hidden and only known to ourselves [...] But there are other cases in which people are committing grave sins knowingly and publicly. [...] An example is a public official who knowingly and willingly supports actions which are against the Divine and Eternal moral law; for instance, to publicly promote procured abortion [...] A person who is sinning in this way publicly is to be admonished not to receive Holy Communion until he has reformed his life.

If a person, who has been admonished but persists in serious or mortal sin in a public way, receives Holy Communion, then the minister of Holy Communion has the obligation to refuse Holy Communion to that person.

Why? First of all, for the sake of the salvation of the person himself, lest he commit a sacrilege. But, secondly, for the sake of the whole Church, lest there be scandal in two ways.

Number one, scandal regarding what our disposition should be to receive Holy Communion. In other words, people would be led to think it is alright to be in the state of mortal sin and to receive Our Lord in Holy Communion.

Or it could be scandal, in a second way, in that people think that the public act which this person is committing, which everyone thinks is a serious sin, must not be so serious because the Church permits that person to receive Holy Communion.

If you have a public figure who is openly and deliberately supporting abortion rights, and that same person approaches and receives Holy Communion, what are people to think? They could be led to imagine that some how it is alright to support publicly the taking of innocent and
defenseless lives in the womb. [...]

Q: Some people say that it is a right to receive Holy Communion and that no one else has the right to tell another not to receive the Sacrament. Not even a bishop, priest or minister. What would you respond to them?

A: In responding to this question, the first thing that needs to be said is that the Body and Blood of Christ is a gift of God's love to us. It is the greatest gift, a gift beyond our ability to describe. No one, therefore, has a right to the gift. Just as we don't have a right to any gift that is given to us.

A gift is freely given out of love and that is what God is doing for us every time we are able to participate in Mass and approach to receive Holy Communion. So to say that I have a right to receive Holy Communion is not correct.

If one means by this that, if he is well disposed and the Mass is being offered, he has a right to receive Holy Communion in the sense that he has a right to receive. Yes, that is true.

Now, regarding the reception of Holy Communion, there is Our Lord Himself who is involved. There is the person who is receiving Holy Communion. Then there is the minister of the Sacrament, the one who has the responsibility to make sure that the Sacrament is distributed only to those who are properly disposed. Certainly the Church does have the right to tell someone who persists in public grave sin that he may not receive Holy Communion because he is not well disposed.

That right of the minister to refuse to give Holy Communion to someone who persists in public and grave sin is safe guarded in the Code of Canon Law, under canon 915. Otherwise the minister of Communion would be put in the situation of violating his conscience regarding a most serious matter, when he sees a notorious sinner coming to receive Holy Communion to the scandal of everyone, and he is somehow told he does not have the right to refuse to give Holy Communion, in such a circumstance. That simply would be wrong.