The Roman Catholic Battle Over Holy Communion
REV. PHILIP MEYER, PASTOR EMERITUS
06 July 2021
For more than a month a public battle over who may receive Holy Communion in the Roman Catholic Church has been waged in the media. All sorts of media persons have weighed in, mostly those who have no clue about Christian doctrine. [Ed. While most sources simply use the term Catholic without the Roman modifier, I will use the correct Roman Catholic proper name. Actually, the proper name of that denomination is the Holy Roman Apostolic Church.] Columnist John Daniel Davidson of The Federalist summarized the media’s shortcomings:
” . . . despite the media’s mischaracterizations, there are no ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal ‘ bishops, only faithful and unfaithful ones.”
Fellow columnist Christopher Bedford went on to comment on Davidson’s observation:
” . . . but don’t bother explaining that to the Times [Ed. The New York Times, aka, The Gray Lady]; its writers don’t have the faintest understanding of the Catholic Church, and how could they? It’s impossible to understand a 2,000 year old religion in terms of American political parties.”
All of this has come about because of our nation’s second Roman Catholic President, Joe Biden. Because of his strident support for abortion at any time, he has violated Roman Catholic doctrine by his unquestioning support for a practice that is a mortal sin. One guilty of a mortal sin may not receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion in the Roman Catholic Church.
President Biden has openly proclaimed, “I am a devout Catholic!” With that he has not only incurred the attention of many lay Roman Catholics, but he has awakened the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCHB), which has drafted a document which teaches what the RCC confesses about the Sacrament in light of abortion. There was immediate pushback from Democrat politicians, including a threat from one who threatened the Church’s tax-exempt status. Former presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke promised to tax denominations that didn’t celebrate same sex marriages. Congressman Te Liu of California [Jesuit educated no less!] Tweeted:
“Dear USCCB, I’m Catholic and I support contraception, a woman’s right to choose, treatments for infertility, the right for people to get a divorce, the right of same sex marriage. Next time I go to Church, I dare you to deny me Communion,”
According to Roman Catholic theology and practice no person should present himself/herself [Ed. I refuse to use the now accepted “they” as a way to avoid masculine and feminine!] for Holy Communion. This is being in a state of mortal sin and puts one in danger of excommunication. Aside from the debate over which sins are “mortal” and which are not, I think it best to understand this distinction of “mortal sin” as being in a state of impenitence.
Lutherans are catechized to conduct a self-examination before presenting themselves for the Sacrament. Sadly, I suspect that few do. Yet there is the General Confession of Sins in the opening rite of the Divine Service. Private Absolution is always available from your Pastor.
In Lutheranism as well as in the Roman Catholic Church the pastor is the gatekeeper for the Sacrament. We practice Closed Communion, that is, no one is permitted to receive the Sacrament unless he or she has been vetted by the Pastor, lest one receive it to one’s condemnation. That is why the Pastor is the first one to see who is communing and guards against those who should not receive it. A couple of articles by Roman Catholic writers cited St. Paul on this matter [see 1 Corinthians 11. 27-31!!!]. Paul writes:
“But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged.” [v. 31].
Unworthy communing brings down the judgment of God on such persons.
Sadly, many even in our LCMS believe that communing is a right. Such could be a fatal error. To say that one may not receive the Sacrament because of an unrepentant sin is an act of love, not hate. We must also hasten to add that receiving the Sacrament in a denomination of a differing confession breaks the unity of the faith. That is another topic which is not included in this dispute.
One interesting article was written by Larry O’Connor entitled, “I Deny Myself Communion, So Should Joe Biden.” He wrote: “And the answer, if one is to take the teachings of our Church seriously, is an emphatic ‘yes.'” He goes on to say why he has denied himself Communion. It’s not that he disagrees with the RCC’s doctrine. He does. The sad fact that he denies himself Communion is that he is divorced and remarried outside the RCC, without the benefit of an annulment. That, he says, puts him outside of communion with the Church. Note that he “gets” the fellowship part of this. Getting into the whole matter of his divorce and remarriage is an issue which he can never reconcile. He sees that there is no forgiveness for his sin because it cannot be reversed. That’s fodder for another discussion and I’ll leave it at that. Yet, he faithfully attends Mass. He prays. He will not put his priest in an awkward situation by presenting himself for the Sacrament. There is something to admire about his honesty even if it is misdirected. I find it sad and admirable at the same time.
The battle is that these lay people are trying to force a change in RCC doctrine. They are playing politics with doctrine. According to O’Connor, President Biden “is creating a scandal, and he is damaging the Church he claims to love. . . It is lamentable, and it is infuriating. If I can deny myself, Biden can and should deny himself. It’s that simple.”
On her old website Get Religion, Molly Hemingway [a faithful member of the LCMS], pointed out that the media just don’t get religion in general and Christianity in particular. It is as our Lord said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.” [John 15.18]. On this side of eternity some things will never change.