Jul 3, 2008

John Allen Comments on Archbishop Burke and his Promotion

Awesome article today from our esteemed colleague John Allen on the promotion of Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis as Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura--essentially the highest Court of the Catholic Church.

Burke is the Archbishop who has taken the lead amongst U.S. Bishops in showing pro-choice politicians the door when it comes to having them receive communion in the Catholic Church. The rumor that began to swirl is that the Vatican may have agreed with his stance but not his methods of implementing the punishment. Many within the Church, even amongst traditionalists, state that they don't like politicizing the Eucharist.

I agree with that sentiment--but I do think that the politicians themselves should in good conscience not put their priests in that uncomfortable position and abstain themselves from taking communion when their opinions and voting records do not reflect being in full communion with the church.

Secondly, and this will sound cranky...but as a Eucharistic Minister the thing that appauls me most is the number of people who come up to the communion line and after hearing me state "The Body of Christ" they, in turn, say nothing.

I've started waiting for a response in some instances--usually adults who I think should know better or who simply just might be having a tough day and are blinded by that and are going through the motions. I often prompt children..."Amen, right?" And they usually smile and say "AMEN!" in a very loud tone.

I've also heard many variations on "Amen" from people.

Here are some of my favorite "answers" to "The Body of Christ."

1) "Yes" --Ok close but not quite there. At least that's the right sentiment.

2) "Thank you" -- Which I believe is said by the Episcopalians. And thus places you in the awkward position of telling me that you really believe in consubstatiation (the bread and wine are symbols--but not the essence of Christ) and not transubstatiation (that Christ is truly present in the "accidents" of the bread and wine. The essence of the material you are receiving is Christ--not bread and/or wine--although they look and taste like bread and wine).

3) "We are." A nice sentiment but not really on the mark. We must become what we receive and we can't become the Body of Christ without believing that what we are receiving IS in fact the Body of Christ. So you are one step ahead of the crowd and in this case that doesn't gain you special merits.

4) My friend once said in his best Southern accent: "What if I said "sho 'nuff?" (sure enough for those who can't translate 'hick'). I said I'd probably laugh but would probably also think you're a lot closer to those who say "Thank you."

5) Silence. Some people just stare at you.

I think that when talking about who gets to receive communion and who doesn't we need to turn to Canon Law and there seems to be a conflict which I will try to resolve here as best as I can muster--although I am certainly not a Canon Lawyer.

Here are the two Canons that are most often pointed to:

Can. 915 Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion. (emphasis mine)

Can. 916 A person who is conscious of grave sin is not to celebrate Mass or receive the body of the Lord without previous sacramental confession unless there is a grave reason and there is no opportunity to confess; in this case the person is to remember the obligation to make an act of perfect contrition which includes the resolution of confessing as soon as possible.

So this seems to say that Eucharistic Ministers of any type should not admit people who are known to be holding positions contrary to the Church but then it also says that people of the same ilk should abstain themselves. So what's the deal?

I think the answer may be both:

If it is so widely held by the public that the person in question is not "in communion" with what the church teaches, than to offer that person communion indeed woould be the equivalent of THE RECIPIENT telling a devious lie. To a lesser extent the minister of communion would be complicit in that lie as well, since they have knowledge of their intentions.

However, the initial movement here really always must be with the communion recipient. They must decide if they are going to at least attempt to commit a sacralige and in that vein, does that impel the minister to "defend the Eucharist" from such.

I'm of two minds:

I think first and foremost CONVERSATION must take place in which the priest, bishop or minister has a talk with the person in question and asks them their intentions and thereby can also ask them to refrain from communion so as not to bring the matter of scandal to a heightened nature.

Secondly, I think Jesus can take care of Himself pretty well and doesn't really need us to make such demonstrative defenses of Him. That doesn't mean that we need to do nothing here (see above) but I think that turning the sacrament of Jesus' Body and Blood into a political side show also is a sacralige that demeans the unity of the sacrament to begin with.

So while I think Archbishop Burke is right in his intention to call those who are not in communion with us to refrain from the sacrament--I question if his methods of publicly and vociferiously scathing politicians is neccessary to achieve the goal.

Perhaps in his new position where he is forced to listen to cases and then to determine if the law of the church has been violated might be an opportunity for him to "listen someone into communion" once again with the Lord and with the Church.

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