instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Friday, May 18, 2007

A word to the wise

Since his ordination last year, my parish's parochial vicar has said, "Let all faithful Catholics come receive our Lord," just before distributing Communion at every Mass he's presided over.

This has caused consternation among some who aren't quite sure what it means to be a "faithful" Catholic.

The idea, of course, is to remind people that there are rules about who may receive the Eucharist. As Fr. Greg says:
Yes, when I say "faithful Catholics", I am mainly referring to Catholics who are in a state of Grace. But, it would seem a bit too legalistic to say that at Communion each time. I'd rather it be more of a spiritual invitation than a statement of a rule. And, the latter part of my statement – "come receive our Lord" - is more of the focus than the former part.
Clearly, "faithful Catholics" is a shorthand formula rather than an accurate description. In thinking about it, I quickly came to the realization that it's simply impossible to say who "can and must be admitted to holy communion" in a way that is both accurate and non-legalistic. An accurate statement is necessarily legalistic, since it requires quoting or at least paraphrasing canon law.

Moreover, there's no way of briefly stating all the ways in which one might be "not prohibited by law" from receiving our Lord, nor is there a way of stating all these ways positively (somewhere in there there's got to be a "not conscious of grave sin"-type clause).

Still -- and as harrowing as what I'm about to type is when you stop and think about it -- we Catholic Internet rats are all hep to what Canon Law says in re: participation in the Most Holy Eucharist. My new thought this week on the topic is this:

Participation in the Most Holy Eucharist isn't supposed to be legalistic, complicated, and negative.

That is, the Most Holy Eucharist is intended to be celebrated among a people none of whom is unbaptized (Can. 912), or is excommunicated or interdicted or obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin (Can. 915), or is conscious of grave sin without sacramental confession (Can. 916), or is absent from Mass (Can. 917, 918), or has not fasted (Can. 919).

In short, if everyone in the world were a Catholic who properly prepared -- through confession and fasting -- for every Mass they assisted at, there would be no need for all that legalism, complexity, and negativity. Those things arise only because the premise doesn't hold.

So we have both a contemplative conclusion and an active conclusion. The contemplative conclusion is that Canon Law (of all things) points to the nature of the unity of the Church intended by Christ. The active conclusion is that we should get everyone in the world to be a Catholic who properly prepares for every Mass they assist at.