Why too much access may be a bad idea

I have been musing for quite some time about how one would overcome the growing tendency to see the Holy Eucharist as a symbol of belonging, a token of inclusion rather than the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

The other idea that has taken hold is that the Eucharist is “medicine for the journey,” an aid to the imperfect, and thus should be given even to those in objective states of mortal sin because gradualism and conscience and so on.

So, I thought, hey, maybe the next pope could impose a Eucharistic moratorium, so that while people would still be required to go to Sunday Mass on pain of mortal sin, they would not come to expect to automatically receive.  Only something as radical as that would break the token of belonging and inclusion idea, where everybody, no matter what their state in life and how unrepentant they are, expects to receive the Blessed Sacrament.    Then maybe only those who had received a ticket indicating they had received absolution in Confession could go forward to the altar rail. And the tickets would change color and shape randomly so they could not be counterfeited easily.

Thus, when I came across this old post of Fr. Ray Blake’s I realized he has nailed what it is that has been bothering me.   This is an oldie but goodie that thankfully someone shared today on social media.   Enjoy this and ponder.   An excerpt:

The Second Vatican Council spoke about a ‘universal call to holiness’, what we seem to have difficulty with is coping with the fact that not everyone wants ‘holiness’, or at least wants to delay it until the last moment, or simply feels they are incapable of it. Now I wonder if we have lost that flexibility. Ronald Knox’s remark about the possibility of leaving an umbrella safely in any church, of any denomination, except a Catholic church, because in a Catholic church it was bound to be stolen, because Catholic churches are full of sinners, once contained a lot of truth. I remember certain London churches and certain continental churches that seemed to be full of ladies of certain character and men of  certain ‘exotic’ tendencies, all at the back or behind pillars or in side chapels praying with intensity, and slightly more reflectively ‘pray for us sinners, now and the hour of death’.


The older idea, still prevalent in Orthodoxy and certain declining branches of Protestantism, and amongst more ultra Traditionalists, that people should receive Communion only rarely, and then only after confession and a period of intensified fasting and penance, was the norm up until Pius X. In pre-Reformation England the norm was for Communion once a year, following Lateran IV’s precept of reception at ‘Easter or there abouts’. The confession, penance, prayer and rigorous fasting of Lent was the period of preparation. Lateran IV was trying to correct the ‘abuse’ of people never receiving Holy Communion, or doings so only once in their lives.
Though Vatican II was theologically right, was it pastorally right? What seems to have happened was that we became less tolerant of sinners. I have always wondered about the interpretation of I Cor 11:27-32:

27Therefore whosoever shall eat this bread, or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and of the blood of the Lord. 28But let a man prove himself: and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of the chalice. 29For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment to himself, not discerning the body of the Lord. 30Therefore are there many infirm and weak among you, and many sleep. 31But if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. 32But whilst we are judged, we are chastised by the Lord, that we be not condemned with this world.

What does verse 30 actually mean? ‘Therefore are there many infirm and weak among you, and many sleep’, could it be that Paul equates infirmity and weakness -and many sleep, a euphemism for death- as being something we experiencing today, that somehow a unworthy reception of Communion leads not to physical illness and death but to a spiritual one, a complete loss of those who cannot live a holy life.

And this:

I fear accommodating VII’s teaching of ‘universal holiness’, we either exclude sinners who are unable to live virtuously, which means excluding those in need of Christ or else we turn a blind eye to sin, pretending it doesn’t exist, which means excluding Christ, as some seemed to desire at the Synod.

Most interesting.

And I lift this out from the excerpts above:  “In pre-Reformation England the norm was for Communion once a year, following Lateran IV’s precept of reception at ‘Easter or there abouts’.”



9 thoughts on “Why too much access may be a bad idea

  1. Is this one of the treasures of pre-Reformation English Catholicism that AC should be bringing back to the contemporary Church? I think it will have as much appeal as the earlier custom of remaining a lifetime catechumen and being baptized on one’s deathbed, like Constantine, thus avoiding any occasion of further mortal sin after baptism had washed away a lifetime’s accumulation. The mentality of the servant who played it safe by burying his talent.


    • There are several aspects of English Catholicism from prior to, say, 1549 that are worth bringing back, but deliberately limiting how often people receive the Eucharist to once per year isn’t one of them I think. Honestly, I think the fast has become too short. Considering that most Sunday Masses are about an hour, all the current discipline requires effectively is that people not snack during Sunday Mass! For the majority of people, it is difficult to see how this amounts to any discipline at all. What is also undesirable is a discipline so strict it discourages people from going to Communion as well. Honestly, I’d say that the fast should be extended to 2 hours prior to the reception of Holy Communion to give people a time to prepare themselves that would require some thought without becoming excessive.


  2. IMHO, the problem is not with the sacrament of Eucharist, but the sacrament of Penance. I.e. it is definitely a change for the better that we can receive Eucharist not only weekly, but even daily. The problem is that in many particular Churches, especially in some West European countries, this has been separated from the frequent sacrament of Penance (e.g. on a monthly or even bi-weekly basis).
    So, much more frequent Eucharist than before the Council – great, but only if accompanied by much more freguent Penance than in the pre-VII era. Fortunately, in our country this connection has not been severed. In general, people still ‘feel’ that they cannot receive if they do not have a confession before.
    Perhaps it is because this link still exists, our bishops’ interpretation of Amore Laetitia has been fully in the spirit of continuation and in conformity with Familiaris Consortio.


  3. But the Eucharist IS a “symbol of belonging.” It is an effective sign of being incorporated into the Church as the Body of Christ (i.e. it effects what it signifies). The Eucharist makes the Church just as much as the Church makes the Eucharist.

    And it IS also “medicine for our journey” — it indeed strengthens us, imparts grace and participation in the Divine life, and washes away venial sins. Sounds like pretty powerful medicine to me!

    None of that takes away from the necessity of receiving “worthily” — not being worthy through works of the law, but by humbly cooperating with God’s gift of grace through our repentance, contrition and sacramental confession. But just because some people misappropriate and misrepresent those legitimate and quite Patristic images of the Holy Eucharist, doesn’t mean those images and concepts are illegitimate. And perish the thought that we should go back to that historical aberration of not actually feeding on the real Body and Blood of the Lord or only doing so very rarely.


    • I don’t think we in the Ordinariate parishes have problems with this. The bar was set so high for us to come into the Catholic Church that i doubt there are many people in Ordinariate parishes who are receiving the Holy Eucharist while divorced and civilly remarried without having obtained an annulment, or other common reasons.


      • I sympathize with your concerns, Deborah. In fact, I make it a point in RCIA prep as well as to tell my parishioners: “You’re not obligated to receive the Eucharist at every Mass, so don’t be ashamed to stay in the pew at communion time if you’re not in a state of grace. Also, be happy for someone who chooses to do this and show them proper respect; it means they revere the sacrament enough to wait and deal with their sin first.”


      • Presumably once a parish has been around for 20+ years, like St Mary the Virgin, Arlington, and has a significant number of members who are “cradle Catholics” raised there or elsewhere, it starts to resemble a more typical Catholic parish in its level of acceptance of Catholic moral teaching. At the moment you are like new immigrants who have passed a citizenship test that many natives would flunk.


      • AS my old Scripture Teacher use to say—-“READ and STUDY St. Johns Gospel, if you want to get to know the Eucharist.then live for the Eucharist—The Body and Blood of Jesus Christ” A most wonderful and humble Scripture Professor, May he Rest in Peace with the Eucharist Lord.


  4. Hmmm… Where to begin?

    The “Precepts of the Church” are fundamentally flawed, as they came into being as the answer to a rather pernicious question: “What is the least that I must do to be a good Christian?” This question is the hallmark of a completely wrong orientation — that of putting other aspects of one’s life before God rather than putting God first in one’s life. If that is one’s orientation, one needs to repent — literally, to turn around and go the other way — by inviting our Lord to reign over one’s life from the throne of one’s heart and by submitting one’s life to his Lordship!

    Some years ago, I attended a “day of recollection” at a Benedictine archabbey. The presenter, a sage elder statesman of the monastic community, pointed out that

    >> (1) it is not possible to sin while we are living in submission to our Lord because our Lord will not lead us to sin, and, conversely,

    >> (2) whatever we do while not living in submission to our Lord always constitutes sin because it is NOT what our Lord is leading us to do.

    The bottom line here is that those who really are Christians fall into serious, or “mortal,” sin very rarely because they are living their lives in complete submission to the Lord. Since confession before receiving communion is necessary only if the communicant is conscious of mortal sin, there is positively no reason to exclude those who take their faith seriously and strive to live it to the full from the sacrament. Rather, the norm for the true believer ought to be reception of communion whenever one assists in the celebration of mass, regardless of whether the true believer received sacramental absolution immediately beforehand or not. Thus assisting at mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation naturally includes reception of communion at least on those occasions.

    Many Traditionalists have fallen into the trap of claiming serious, or “mortal,” sin at every turn, and thus insist that one must always confess before going to communion. This actually is a heresy known as Jansenism, condemned as such by the magisterium of the Catholic Church in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but it seems to persevere in some corners. But, historically how did this play out in practice? When I was a lad (before it was permissible to fulfill the obligation to Sunday mass on Saturday evening), my home parish offered confessions on Saturday afternoon. Thus, the dear Sisters of St. Joseph carefully instructed us, in our catechetical classes, that we should go to confession on Saturday to ensure that we could receive communion worthily on Sunday — but what transpired if one had a “hot date” on Saturday night? Ah, yes — MORTAL SIN, or at least any “petting” or “making out” during the date was so presumed.

    Well, maybe and maybe not. Let us not forget that there are three necessary conditions for a sin to be “mortal.”

    >> 1. Objectively, the act (or omission) must be egregiously evil.

    >> 2. Subjectively, the sinner must know that the act is egregiously evil at the time of the act.

    >> 3. Also subjectively, the sinner must freely choose the act over a plausible alternative.

    In this context, the term “objective mortal sin” makes little sense because two of these three conditions are entirely subjective. After decades of rampant “social promotion” in the catechetical programs of many parishes, there are many adults who are badly confused regarding the fact that certain acts intrinsically constitute egregious evil, so their acts fail to meet the second of these conditions. And there are also many instances in which adults lack clear judgement due to inebriation, exhaustion, or even habit, or in which socio-economic circumstances pose major obstacles to undoing a living (or other) arrangement that has become a “near occasion of sin” (that is, a source of seemingly irresistible temptation). By way of example, high rents in many areas may effectively deprive couples who are “shacking up” of the ability to afford separate housing. Of course, such situations are properly discerned in the confessional, by the penitent in consultation with the confessor, and NOT in the public forum.



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