He who learns must suffer, and, even in our sleep, pain that we cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God. - Aeschylus

Monday, December 7, 2015

Fair Questions: Why is there such a high standard for receiving Holy Communion in the Catholic Church?

There has been a lot of discussion recently over who should be able to receive Holy Communion in the Roman Catholic Church, specifically for the divorced and remarried.  About that more specific question, I have written fairly extensively as to whether or not it might be a good thing for families.  But at this juncture, I want to take a step back and look at the general situation to see if it might help to elucidate the general principles by which we might examine the specific cases.

For all of us, relationships have boundaries.  While our love may be unconditional, our relationships are always conditional to some extent, and that applies even in romantic relationships.  For example, we might set a boundary in our relationships that we have been on at least 7 (plus or minus 2) dates before introducing them to our family.  We might set a boundary in our relationships that we have been on a certain number of dates before we have sex.  We might set a boundary on our relationships that we don't share certain details of abusive treatment until a certain level of trust is established, which may take years.

These boundaries can be driven by unhealthy or healthy reasons; when the reasons are unhealthy, the rules we set to demarcate those relationship boundaries come out of a love of rules, grounded in a disordered fear which grows out of trauma if left untreated.  When the reasons are healthy, the rules we set to demarcate those relationship boundaries are the rules of love, a proper ordering of the relationship to its highest end and greatest fruitfulness.

Like many rules of love, which often frustrate the lover who wants to quickly overcome all distance between himself and his beloved, the rules regarding the reception of Holy Communion are often frustrating to those who want to eat at the table of divine love as a member of the divine household here on Earth.  Those who love Christ want to receive His Body and Blood which He commanded us to eat and drink.  And as any healthy person who is desired by a lover knows, it is important that the relationship and the physical signs of that relationship develop in order with one another, that we prevent the physical intimacy from overtaking the emotional intimacy or the intellectual intimacy.

This is of course because physical intimacy often becomes a substitute for the deeper forms of intimacy, becoming merely a useful way of satisfying our desire for intimacy without the risk of deeper intimacy made possible by the baring of the heart and mind in all their weakness and suffering to the beloved.  And so we have the rules of love to keep our physical relationship in right order with the other dimensions of our relationship with Christ, so that we do not reduce our relationship with Christ to a mere cursory reception of His Body in the Eucharist, so that we make sure to also bare our hearts and minds in all their weaknesses to Him and to His Body, the Church.

Thus we accept the grace of Baptism when we are ready to accept His call to the repentance of love.  We accept the grace of Confirmation when we are ready to be strengthened far beyond our own strength by His Passion on the Cross, to be healed by the wounds of love.  We accept the grace of Holy Communion when we can discern the Body of Christ in the Eucharist and avoid eating and drinking of the Precious Body and Precious Blood unworthily.  And who among us who loves deeply does not want to be worthy of our beloved, our beloved who can make us worthy if we but repent and accept His grace?

We should do this not just because Sacred Scripture warns us that our eternal soul is on the line, but also because we respect our Beloved so much that we would repent and strengthen ourselves by laying down our lives for Him in obedience as He did for us out of obedience to the Father, practicing the obedience of love which He gave us as an example when He offered His Body and Blood for our redemption.  Christ's obedience to the Father preceded our redemption by His Holy Sacrifice on the Cross, and in the same way, our obedience to Him should precede our acceptance of the profound gift of His Body which is present in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

The Church is the Body of Christ, and the Eucharistic feast is the Body of Christ.  One cannot be in full relationship with the Body of Christ in the Eucharist without also being in full relationship with the Body of Christ as manifested in the Church.  One cannot be fully obedient to Christ while being disobedient to His Church.  And so too one should not receive Holy Communion which is truly the Body and Blood of Christ without being in full communion with His Holy Church in the spirit of obedience He has shown to us.

This full communion is the highest end and most fruitful relationship which is extended to us by the divine love of the Father, He who would welcome us into the divine household if we are but willing to accept that all parts of us which are not in full communion with His Body must be burned away in the fire and light of His glory, He who draws us ever closer to adoption into the divine household if we but show Him our love by obeying His commands, He who is eternally inviting us into the eternal home in which we can find our final rest whose hearts are restless until they rest in Him.

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