On Receiving Communion

Cardinal Francis Arinze, following a groundswell of activity in dioceses around the world, finally raised it to the level of a Vatican pronouncement.

Well, a press-conference pronouncement, yes, but a pronouncement all the same: Politicians who make or defend laws that promote the abortion business shouldn't receive Communion.

Some Catholic politicians — and some Church leaders — have vigorously complained about the new rule. But in doing so they betray two tragic conditions: Many Catholics have forgotten just how bad abortion is, and they've forgotten just how great Communion is.

The Second Vatican Council called abortion a “heinous crime.” The U.S. bishops call it today's “pre-eminent threat to human dignity.” They warn that attacks on life “are endorsed increasingly without the veil of euphemism, as supporters of abortion and euthanasia freely concede these are killing even as they promote them.”

In other words, those who make the laws that encourage abortion are legalizing killing — and threatening human dignity.

Our politicians have forgotten that abortion isn't a political issue. It's a horrifying crime that will one day haunt our nation and all who were involved in it.

We've also forgotten what Communion is.

Politicians, pundits and the public should be asking, “Should the Church add abortion lawmaking to the long list of things barring people from Communion?” After all, the Church has kept very strict limits on who can receive Communion.

The fact is, you can't receive Communion if you're conscious of any serious sin on your soul, unless you've gone to confession — for starters, sins such as violating the Third Commandment by missing Mass on a Sunday or Holy Day of Obligation.

We think that, were the truth about Communion rules better known, there would be no controversy about pro-abortion politicians being denied Communion.

Evidently parents, priests and bishops haven't done a good job communicating to people either what Communion is or what the safeguards on it are.

The Eucharist is the body and blood, soul and divinity of Christ — the Real Presence of God among us — and the strict safeguards on the receipt of this precious gift have been in effect since the first days of the Church.

St. Paul himself said, “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself” (1 Corinthians 11:27-29).

Those safeguards have been reiterated time and time again in the history of the Church.

“In line with this admonition of St. Paul,” Pope John Paul II said in his 2002 Letter to Priests, “is the principle that states that ‘anyone conscious of a grave sin must receive the sacrament of reconciliation before coming to Communion.’” Those last words are the Catechism's.

In one passage of his 2003 encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia (The Eucharist in Relation to the Church), the Pope restates the rule with both poetry and authority:

“St. John Chrysostom, with his stirring eloquence, exhorted the faithful: ‘I, too, raise my voice, I beseech, beg and implore that no one draw near to this sacred table with a sullied and corrupt conscience. Such an act, in fact, can never be called communion, not even were we to touch the Lord's body a thousand times over, but condemnation, torment and increase of punishment’ … I therefore desire to reaffirm that in the Church there remains in force, now and in the future, the rule by which the Council of Trent gave concrete expression to the Apostle Paul's stern warning when it affirmed that, in order to receive the Eucharist in a worthy manner, ‘one must first confess one's sins, when one is aware of mortal sin.’”

These safeguards first of all should cause us to look inward. Forget for a moment the question of which politicians are able to receive Communion. How about ourselves?

But then the Holy Father's words should inspire us with amazement at the great, undeserved gift of the Eucharist — and with horror that we would ever treat it as anyone's right.