instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Neither pretense nor trump

Msgr. Thomas Wells was a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington who was murdered in his rectory several years back, but his influence continues among those who knew him.

Our parochial vicar -- a priest today due in no small part to Msgr. Wells's influence -- occasionally posts reflections he wrote as a pastor. The latest is found here, on the thorny pastoral problem of closed Communion.

Msgr. Wells concludes:
To pretend a unity that does not exist may feel good at the moment; but it allows us to avoid the painful truth that we are still far from the oneness in faith and action intended by the Lord.
True enough, but if I may, I don't think Catholics and non-Catholics who desire intercommunion are pretending a unity that does not exist. At the very least, they surely don't think they are.

What I think they're doing is acting on a unity that really does exist: namely, the unity of friendship and goodwill between fellow disciples of Jesus*. And since this unity really does exist, it won't do much good to tell people that they're just pretending. They can if they like search their hearts, discover that they aren't pretending, and conclude that, since the reason against intercommunion you gave is incorrect, there is no reason not to share Communion.

Better, I think, to point out that, whatever principle of unity they are acting upon, the Sacrament itself imposes its own principle of unity. We don't get to decide what the Eucharist is and what It isn't; we can't say, "Today, in this case, the only unity this Sign effects is the one we here all acknowledge."

It's not an easy point to make, but I think it's an extremely important point. Merely to get people to consider the possibility that the Blessed Sacrament is not the product of the community, that It Is What It Is, that It has an absolute, objective nature -- and that It's absolute, objective nature has actual, real, important implications about how we approach the Sacrament -- would be a tremendous step in the right direction.

*: Okay, so a lot of times it seems more like a unity of family and social ties and of fear of bad manners, but even then I'd guess most Christians know enough Christianity to cobble together a "what would Jesus do"-type argument in favor of open communion.