Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The US Catholic Bishops' Fall 2006 Policy Statements

The outcome of the US Catholic Bishops' Fall meeting could be summarized as follows:
  1. If you are a sexually-active homosexual, you cannot take communion.
  2. If you are an unmarried sexually-active heterosexual (or someone who is remarried without annulment of your first marriage), you cannot take communion.
  3. If you are a married heterosexual who uses artificial contraception, you cannot take communion.
  4. If you are a generally faithful Catholic who disagrees with the Church in some areas of Catholic doctrine like the above-mentioned policies, or whether married men and/or women can be priests, you also should refrain from taking communion.

We know that the Bishops are just restating existing policy in these three documents (Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination, Married Love and the Gift of Life, and "Happy Are those Who Are Called to His Supper") but if you do the math, the Bishops are really reminding us that in their opinion very few of the faithful are welcome at the Lord's Table.

It's sad and self-defeating. Sad, because we learn in catechism that the institution of the sacrament of the Eucharist was the Lord's Supper where Jesus offered the Bread of Life (His Body) and the Cup (His Blood) to all who were present, including the man who would betray Him (Judas) and the one who would initially deny him (Peter). The Communion Table was open to all -- sinners and saints. How far our shepherds have strayed from the Master's example!

I worship in a Latino community and there the self-defeating aspect of the policy is most apparent. Latino and Anglo Catholics differ significantly in their approach to the Eucharist. Most Anglo Catholics take Communion automatically, whether they are really prepared to receive it worthily or not (I'm thinking here of the low percentage of Catholics who comply even with the annual Confession guidelines). Most Latino Catholics assume that they are not entitled to take Communion but do not or cannot take steps to restore their status. In both cases, the end result is cynical indifference and loss of the centrality of the Eucharist in our faith. Once the centrality of the Eucharist is lost, it becomes very easy for evangelical churches to lure Latino Catholics away from the fold. Music and preaching become the center of the liturgical experience and your typical Latino evangelical pastor can outpreach your typical priest just about any day of the week!

So, what is the faithful response? Do we keep on taking Communion in spite of the guidelines because these guidelines do not reflect the spirit in which Jesus instituted the sacrament of the Eucharist? Do we simply dismiss the Bishops as irrelevant and grasp the Eucharist as our birthright?

Or do we stop taking Communion as a gesture of protest and/or solidarity with the millions of Catholics who are excluded from the Lord's table? Do we have to reach a point where only a handful of faithful commune every Sunday for the Church to wake up and realize it has sacrificed its Center on the altar of self-righteousness and intolerance?

With that, let the debate begin!


Fr. Rich Hasselbach said...

The debate you call for is essential, and goes to the very heat of the Church - the nature of the Eucharist.

The Lord never turned anyone away from his table. If we know anything about Jesus, it's that he ate and drank with sinners, so much so that he was criticized for it by the Pharisees. All were welcome at his table - zealots, tax collectors, prostitutes, public sinners, women, Samaritans... Despte the criticism, the Lord continued to welcome all comers. That was, after all, the way of his Father in Heaven, whose rain fell on the just and the unjust alike.

Now, the bishops of the church that gathers in His name are turning people AWAY from the His table! Because they're unworthy!?! Because they don't believe the right doctrines? Because they're "sinners!" How unlike their Christ they are!

The US Bishops' recent pronouncemets on the Eucharist make no sense to me - pastorally or theologically. It is a betrayal of the Gospel in the name of orthodoxy.

I don't believe that the Lord would invite anyone to dinner, and then ask them not to eat! Whether they are Catholics and non-Catholics, whether they feel close to God, or quite far from Him, everyone present at the Eucharistic meal has an invitation from the Lord of banquet. They are there for God's good reasons, they been invited to dinner, and they should be and feel welcome at the table.

The bishops pastoral response to gay Catholics doesn't overwhelm me with its compassion either.
It really says nothing new, just reiterates the same old stuff they've been telling the gay community for years.

One of my friends, a gay priest (now resigned and working with CITI Ministries) tells a story of a gay man, dying of AIDS, who said, a week before his death: "I hate your church - it's what really killed me. If I could have had a path of holiness within the church, I would never have been looking for love in all the wrong places."

Far from creating a path of holiness, the bishops place a heavy burden on others' shoulders without lifting a finger to help they carry it.

The institution doesn't own and can't control God'd grace. They don't own the Eucharist. The Eucharist, belongs to all Christians who gather in the Lord's name and in His spirit, break bread and remember Him!

We need to reclaim the Eucharist - by creating our own communities of faith and fellowship; by gathering around the table for the Eucharist as the Church in exile, with presiders called right from the community, or called from among the 'priests in exile' - as I think of married priests, and the ordained women priests who are very bravely out there working for change by living the future now.

The only way to change the Church as its currently constituted is to begin to ignore the hierarchy - the church only change when we change the way we interact with the structures of power within the institution.

We can begin to create small communities of vibrant faith - communities that are welcoming, loving, healing, and vibrantly alive; places of faith and friendship. That is where we can reclaim the Eucharist as something that unites us to the Lord and to each other, and to our deepest selves. And we can reclaim the church, too, as a sacrament of Christ.

The loss of the Eucharist is at the heart of the problem -the hierarchy are part of the problem. Lets treat the bishops as the irrelevancies that they are, and move on. They can catch up once they catch on.

Rebel Girl said...

I'm glad you posted these comments, Rich. My Latino priest friend had a lovely reflection on this issue which I finally translated from the original Spanish:
In my opinion, EVERYONE should be able to receive communion. I don't understand how anyone participating in our celebration could not receive communion. It would be like sitting down at a table and some eat and others don't. I don't undertand it. When only a few people take communion, I feel like you would if you were sitting at table and you were eating but most people were just watching you. That would be horrible, wouldn't it? Communion should not be an instrument of punishment... It is bread broken and shared.

Mark Bosse said...

I am only 24 years old and would expect men who had lived as priests for so many years to know better than I. But even I can see the obvious flaws in your logic. Your example of Peter and Judas at the last supper receiving the Eucharist in no way contradicts the Church's teachings. They were then, not in the state of mortal sin. You said yourself that they're sins had not yet taken place, and so while still in the state of grace still free to receive the Sacrament. Also, to tell people they should not receive the Eucharist while in sin is not unlike Christ as you say. In fact it is incredibly loving. Remember what Christ said about those who eat of His body unworthily... They eat upon themselves a damnation. How LOVING of the Church it is to keep those who would do this from further harm. And finally to you who said leave the bishops and the Church. Christ is the head and the Church is His body. To say yes to the head and no to the body, in the words of the ever-inciteful Peter Kreeft, is to "will a spiritual decapitation." This is quoted beautifully in his wonderfully explained speach on priestesses, available free for download off his website. Which as it sounds may clear up some of your other issues with Christ's Bride as well. May God bless you all and the Holy Spirit fill you with the gifts of wisdom and understanding and lead you home to Rome.