By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Archbishop Raymond L. Burke, the newly appointed Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, said the Church has the right to tell someone who persists in grave public sin that they may not receive Holy Communion, and that this should be regarded not as discipline, but as an act of mercy for both the individual and the community of believers.
Archbishop Burke recently sat down with Thomas J. McKenna, president of the San Diego-based Catholic Action for Faith and Family, to discuss the issue of respect for the Holy Eucharist by the faithful, including those who hold public office.
Noting the laxity among the faithful in regard to the Eucharist, Archbishop Burke says a lack of worship of the Eucharist such as through processions, private adoration, Benediction, is to blame.
“There has not been sufficient emphasis on Eucharistic devotion,” he said. “Without devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, people quickly lose Eucharistic faith.”
He also cited the loss of the sense of connection between the Sacrament of the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Penance. While there was once a time when people exaggerated the need for confession before receiving the Eucharist, even though they had not committed any unconfessed mortal sin, the situation today is the exact opposite.
“Now people go to Communion regularly and perhaps never, or very seldom, go to Confession,” he said. “They have lost the sense of their own unworthiness to approach the Sacrament . . . “
This is also apparent in the way people dress for Mass, how they approach the altar for Communion without folded hands or showing due reverence, and sometimes even visiting with people along the way.
However, another problem that has surfaced from the civil sphere is the idea that because a person is baptized Catholic and has received all of the sacraments, they somehow have a right to the Eucharist.
“Who could claim that he has a right to receive the Body of Christ?” the Archbishop asked. “This is all an act of God’s immeasurable love. Each time we approach, we should approach with a profound sense of our own unworthiness.”
Others, including many politicians who support policies that are against Church teaching, insist they are “following their conscience.”
“It is true that we must act in accord with the dictates of our conscience,” the Archbishop said. “But our conscience must be properly formed. . . . Conscience is not some sort of subjective reality where I make up for myself what is right and good. Rather, it is an objective reality where I conform my own thinking to what is true.” Only when a conscience is properly formed can it have the primacy that is ascribed to it, he said.
Some politicians say no one has the right to deny them Holy Communion, not even a priest or bishop, but Archbishop Burke said this is just plain wrong.
“The 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 or violating his conscience regarding a most serious matter, when he sees a notorious sinner coming to receive Holy Communion to the scandal of everyone . . .”
Anyone, including public figures, who knowingly and willingly support policies which are against Church teaching should be admonished not only for the sake of their own salvation, the Archbishop said, but also because their behavior leads others to believe that it is alright to be in a state of mortal sin and receive Holy Communion. It might also lead others to believe that the public act which the 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.
This is why the Church must enforce its disciplines, something it has done since the time of St. Paul, he said.
“ . . .(T)hroughout the Church’s history, She has always had to discipline the reception of Holy Communion which is the most sacred treasure we have in the Church.”
Enforcing compliance with Church law by a bishop, priest, or other Church authority is sometimes perceived as bullying, the Archbishop said, but in reality, it’s just the opposite.
“Many people seem to forget that the Church considers that when a person is not in a worthy state to receive the Holy Eucharist, generally it is because they are in a state of mortal sin which is very serious and directly related to their eternal salvation. It seems that when a bishop or priest enters into dialogue or takes disciplinary measures with a sinner, it is a mercy.”
It is the obligation of the bishop or priest to care for the faithful under their care, and to lead back those who have strayed from the fold.
“It is the greatest act of charity to prevent somebody from doing something that is sacrilegious that is, to warn them, and then actually refuse to be party to a sacrilege.”
It is analogous to a parent whose child wants to play with fire and the parent refuses to let him, the Archbishop said. “We would not say that somehow the parent is being unkind o to the child by disciplining him. We would say this parent is a truly loving parent.
“In the same way the Church, in her love, prevents people from doing things that are gravely offensive to God and gravely damaging to their souls.”
Archbishop Burke is the newly appointed Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, the administrative appellate tribunal of the Holy See, the highest judicial authority of the Church after the Pope.
1. How does the Church recommend that we prepare ourselves for receiving the Eucharist? See Catechism of the Catholic Church, Nos. 1385-1387
2. Less than a year before becoming Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, as Prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, sent a statement to Washington’s Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, entitled Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion, which gave clear instructions regarding pro-abortion politicians and Church teaching about reception of the Eucharist.
a. What recommendations were given to pastors in this letter about how to deal with pro-abortion politicians who wish to receive the Eucharist? (See Nos. 5 and 6 in http://www.priestsforlife.org/magisterium/bishops/04-07ratzingerommunion.htm )
b. In the case where abortion and euthanasia are considered legal by civil authorities, how are Catholics to view these laws? (See No. 2)
c. Why is formal cooperation in the sins of abortion and euthanasia considered graver than in regard to capital punishment or waging war? (See No. 3)
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