Our Thursday stroll through the Mass has taken us through the Eucharistic Prayer and into the Communion Rite. This is the part of the liturgy when those who may do so come forward to receive the Eucharist.
‘Those who may do so’ – now that is a phrase redolent with the controversies of our day. What do you mean, ‘may’? Do you mean to suggest that there are people who may not receive the Eucharist? What kind of an outfit are you running, Lemieux? Who do you think you are, telling anyone what they can and cannot do?
And so on. And so forth. Look, I get it. The worst thing any North American can imagine is being told that they are not allowed to do something. We’re North Americans and we can do anything we want, right? ‘No right, no wrong, no rules for me, I am free’ – such is the ethos of our culture (thanks, Elsa, for summing it up for us so tunefully!). Oddly, at the same time as we angrily cast off anything the Church may have to say to us about what we can and cannot do, we easily consent to be harried and bullied on all sides by petty bureaucrats who churn out bushel-loads of regulations covering just about every aspect of life… but I am getting distracted here.
Yes, there are people who may not receive the Eucharist (whether they do so or not is really up to them, as it is not the place of the priest or other minister in the Communion line to correct people on their decisions). And the Communion Rite actually gives us a pretty good resume of who may or may not do so—the rite itself can serve as a good examen for whether or not I should go up the aisle to receive.
The rite begins with the Our Father. In other words, the reception of Communion brings to perfection something that already exists, and that is our unity with God. There is so much to say about the Our Father itself—I have blogged an entire series about it in the past, in fact. It is crucial to note that we don’t just take our relationship with God as Father for granted here—it is only ‘at the savior’s command, and formed by divine teaching’ that we pray this prayer. Our relationship with God is a gift, not a given.
And so, if we are in a state of serious sin, if we through a serious free choice to reject the moral law, have broken our relationship with God, then we may not receive communion. You cannot bring to perfection what does not exist, and mortal sin has precisely that effect. In a state of mortal sin we may remember our past relationship with God, we may grieve over having lost it, and we may truly desire to have it back (all human beings desire God, whether they know it or not) but we do not in that state of being have it.
Now the only person who can discern if you are in a state of mortal sin is you yourself, and even that, only imperfectly. Nobody else can examine your conscience for you. But it is a very good thing not to be presumptuous about these things, not to blithely assume you’re OK with God. Are you sure about that? Really sure?
This is why frequent confession has always been recommended by all the spiritually wise, and why a fundamental attitude of humility of heart and contrition of spirit for one’s sins, mortal or not, is the true mark of a disciple. ‘Don’t get cocky, kid’, in short (thanks, Han Solo, for putting it so pithily!).
So this is the first principle for whether one ought or ought not receive communion—are you in a state of sin? Have you committed adultery, for example (i.e., you are married, and having sex with someone besides your spouse, and yes that word does indeed apply to people who have divorced and remarried)? What about theft? Told a lie? Have you been violent? Abusive, physically or verbally? Fornicated (that is having sex with someone you’re not married to, for those unclear on that word)? Missed Mass on Sunday without a good reason (i.e. illness or physical impossibility)? Blasphemed? You know – basic Ten Commandment stuff. It’s not rocket science.
If you want to be in Communion with God and you have fallen into one of these areas of serious sin, the Church does not leave you without resource. There is available to us the wonderful Sacrament of Reconciliation—go to Confession, dummy! And then receive the Eucharist!
If you don’t want to leave off your serious sin, and you don’t want to go to confession, then you really don’t want to be in communion with God, at least not as we understand these things in the Catholic religion. In which case… why do you want to receive the Eucharist in a Catholic Mass?
There is whole other aspect that pertains to whether or not one may receive the Eucharist, but that is for next time.