National Catholic Register


Closed Communion

BY Mark Shea

| Posted 3/12/12 at 2:00 AM


A reader writes:

The candidate I am sponsoring (who is coming into the Church from Protestantism) is finding the issue of intercommunion to be a real sticking point. It not only seems slightly rude to her for Catholics not to invite other Christians to come up to receive Our Lord, but—more seriously—it seems to somehow be cutting people off from God’s grace.

If a Protestant is baptized, sufficiently respectful, and at least in the general neighborhood of believing in the Real Presence, she doesn’t understand why they shouldn’t be welcome at the table of Our Lord. I think there’s also some discomfort at the idea that Catholic authorities have the right to control access to Sacraments which, in her view, were meant to be spread as widely in this world as possible.

I’ve clumsily spoken about the Eucharist as a sign of unity in the Body of Christ (and will try to address it again less clumsily with a Catholic Answers pamphlet); tried to distinguish between the Sacraments, regarding which the Church has authority to set ground rules, and God’s grace, which no mortal man may restrict…but I haven’t seemed to quite hit on anything that reaches the heart of the problem for her. And it backfired when I tried making the point that the Church wants to be sure that everyone who receives the Body and Blood of our Lord knows just what that mind-boggling gift actually is and fully accepts it…because she knows full well that she already knows and accepts it much better than some of the poorly-catechized or cafeteria Catholics who are allowed to come up for Communion.

Do you have any ideas? I’d much appreciate any thoughts.

I once wrote about the matter of Closed Communion here (though I don’t know that it will scratch where your friend itches).  My own take on the matter, speaking as a convert myself, is something like the story of Naaman the Syrian in 2 Kings 5:1-14:

Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master and in high favor, because by him the LORD had given victory to Syria. He was a mighty man of valor, but he was a leper. Now the Syrians on one of their raids had carried off a little maid from the land of Israel, and she waited on Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” So Naaman went in and told his lord, “Thus and so spoke the maiden from the land of Israel.” And the king of Syria said, “Go now, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” So he went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten festal garments. And he brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you Naaman my servant, that you may cure him of his leprosy.” And when the king of Israel read the letter, he rent his clothes and said, “Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Only consider, and see how he is seeking a quarrel with me.” But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had rent his clothes, he sent to the king, saying, “Why have you rent your clothes? Let him come now to me, that he may know that there is a prophet in Israel.” So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the door of Elisha’s house. And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.” But Naaman was angry, and went away, saying, “Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place, and cure the leper. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage. But his servants came near and said to him, “My father, if the prophet had commanded you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much rather, then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.

The point of Communion is, well, communion.  And that means communion is not just betweeen me n’ Jesus, but between me and the Church to whom Jesus has entrusted the sacraments.  Telling that Church who she may and may not give communion to seemed to me, as a convert, a rather ingracious and ungrateful way of approaching a sacrament whose entire meaning is thanksgiving and communion.  It’s not like they are asking me to perform seven Herculean feats.  They are simply asking, rather as we are asked when we get married, to be willing to wait until we are ready to say fully that we are in full communion of heart and mind before consummating the sacrament.  That means more than agreeing to the Real Presence.  It means being able to say, “I believe all that the Holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims is revealed by God.”  The sacrament is grace, not magic.  If it were simply a matter of handing the sacrament to as many people as possible, regardless of their actual relationship to the Church and their docility to its teaching that would be one thing.  But the Church has a responsibility to see to it that we converts really know what we are agreeing to, much as engaged couples need to have a clear idea of what they are doing in the act of marriage.  As it is, this great herd of cats called the Catholic communion is a pretty rowdy and obstreperous bunch.  So I had no hard feelings that the Church asked me, like Naaman, to do a minor act of obedience and humility in token of my submission to her legitimate authority.  After all, Jesus did, in fact, entrust the administration of the sacraments to her for a reason.