Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Update: On Sharing Communion

I'm not sure exactly how this happened, by almost all of my post the other day about the "boy shares communion with his divorced parents" post got trimmed off. I've gone and added it back on to the original post but since the post is now several days in the past here's an update with my commentary that got cut. If it was there when you originally read it and got trimmed since, I'm sorry for the repetition:

The boy's action itself, I would assume, was fairly unstudied. A seven year old can pick up some pretty strong opinions on religious issues due to hearing about them from parents and other figures of authority, but while young age sometimes creates a willingness to act dramatically when adults would not do so, someone that age isn't likely to have the forethought to put together his own plan of liturgical protest. So I would assume that the origin of this was something along the lines of the boy having been told repeatedly that the priest wouldn't give his parents communion because they were married outside the Church, and so he decided to take things into his own hands. However, the fact that things went down this way suggests some incredibly bad formation of this child. His parents' exclusion from communion was clearly presented to him as an injustice in need of solution. It's not a surprise that a seven year old boy would try to right and injustice when he thought it was in his hands to do so, but this means that the Church's teachings about marriage here were presented to him completely wrong -- probably a result of his parents and/or others themselves not at all agreeing with Church teaching. Further, that this boy thought it was okay to break a consecrated host in half and give it to others shows that there was a huge lack in training about the reverence due to the Eucharist. One thing that was very successfully conveyed to us as kids in preparation for First Communion was the importance to treating the host with reverence: You don't take it back to your pew. You don't break it or do anything to it that would cause crumbs to break off. If you receive it in the hand, you put it straight into your mouth. The idea of breaking up and re-distributing a host outrages everything I learned at that very young age. That a bishop related the story with the boy held up as an example, and that others were deeply moved by it, seems to me to suggest all sorts of things wrong with how children are being prepared to receive Our Lord in the Eucharist.

Shadle's piece takes a more intellectual tack, one which although it is based on the idea that we should observe the wisdom of "the little children" is not actually much like how children think. While he doesn't actually make an argument that it is wrong for the Church to say that those living in unconfessed mortal sin should not receive communion, he argues that what the boy senses is that our communion is incomplete when not everyone is united in receiving it.

This strikes me as a problematic understanding.

What, after all, is the Eucharist? In the mass we participate in the unbloody sacrifice of Christ on the cross, and we experience the real presence of Christ, coming to us in the Eucharist. This is why there is real benefit in being present at mass, or present before the Eucharist, even when we are not receiving. Even if I am not able to receive communion because I haven't observed the fast or because of consciousness of sin, going to mass puts me in the presence of Christ. Similarly, going to Eucharistic adoration puts me in the presence of Christ even though it is not a time for receiving the Eucharist.

The communion which we experience in receiving the Eucharist is primarily a communion with God through receiving His body and blood. It is not primarily a communion with those around us in the church or the world. When I receive the Eucharist, my communion is not incomplete because others are not at that particular mass, receiving at that particular time. Nor is it incomplete because some people are in a state of disunion with the Body of Christ because of sin or because they do not recognize the Church or recognize Christ as necessary for their salvation.

This doesn't mean that our union with Christ is perfect in our reception of the Eucharist. Our union is imperfect because of attachments to sin, because of imperfect faith, because we are not in the beatific vision which can come only after this world. And yet these imperfections do not defeat the Eucharist and Christ's real presence to us in it. Christ's presence is not made less because some people are living in sin or living in unbelief. If the Eucharist is incomplete until everyone can receive, then it will always be incomplete. Until the end of this world there will always be people who are in sin or who are not in the faith. If their absence defeats Christ than Christ is defeated.

In a sense this line of thinking is similar to the idea that unless we believe that every soul will one day be united with God in heaven, then Christ's work of salvation is defeated. But although Christ's grace makes it possible for us to be saved, it is not rendered imperfect when some souls refuse to accept that freely offered salvation. Heaven will not be incomplete because not every human soul is in it, because heaven is complete in God.


Agnes said...

Well, I wondered that you didn't include a few choice thoughts of your own! :-)

Thanks for calling attention to the fact that being in the presence of the Eucharist and being present at the celebration/actualisation (I seem to lack the theological vocabulary in English) of the death and resurrection of Christ is still important even without taking part of the Communion.

There are more aspects to receiving the Eucharist. Communion is only one (and, as you say, being in communion with others is rather secondary to that with God), and it should not be made absolute (just as the meaning ofthe name "Eucharist" doesn't make the Holy Mass into a Thanksgiving dinner.)

Kelly said...

Do we know which country this tale originated in? When I was in Germany in college it was common practice for the priest to give one host to a married couple who broke it in half to share. It is interesting to consider that if the boy was raised with that practice then he might have been underscoring that his parents were still married to each other.

Darwin said...


The only detail that I heard was that it originated in one of the Spanish language small discussion groups, but I do not know where in the Spanish-speaking world the bishop who recounted the story was from.