It is important to set the record straight about some incorrect statements made by John Freml in his letter to the editor (December 21, 2015). He notes that Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago has said that people in “irregular” situations, such as those who are divorced and civilly remarried and those who are in same-sex government marriages, should work with a spiritual director to come to a decision “in good conscience” about receiving Holy Communion.
Of course, those who are in “irregular situations” should talk to a qualified spiritual director or a priest in the context of sacramental confession, but forming a “good conscience” means that they will recognize and repent of their sins, resolve to reform their lives in accord with Christ’s teachings and receive absolution in the Sacrament of Reconciliation before receiving Holy Communion.
According to the canon law of the Catholic Church, Canon 916 directs those “conscious of grave sin” to refrain from receiving Holy Communion. Individuals must form their consciences in accord with Church teaching. Conscience assesses how a person’s concrete action in a given situation accords with Church teaching — not to determine whether one agrees with or accepts Church teaching in the first place.
Canon 915, however, in contrast with Canon 916, directs ministers of Holy Communion to withhold the Sacrament, not from “sinners” per se (since no one can read the state of another person’s soul), but rather, from those who “obstinately persist in manifest grave sin.” In Catholic tradition, attempting marriage following a civil divorce without a declaration of nullity and entering a “same-sex marriage” are examples of the kind of gravely wrong public action that require ministers not to admit to Holy Communion those who “obstinately persist in manifest grave sin” under Canon 915.
When withholding holy Communion from those whose conduct is described in Canon 915, a minister is not assessing personal “worthiness,” but rather, is acting in accord with an age-old sacramental discipline designed to protect both the Sacrament from the risk of possible sacrilege and the faith community from the harm of scandal caused by someone’s public conduct that is contrary to the teachings of Jesus Christ.
Thus, when Mr. Freml says that people may receive Holy Communion in such cases “even when the church hierarchy says that they should not,” this is simply not true. It is true that Jesus welcomes everyone. But as Jesus said at the last supper, so we say in the Eucharistic prayer at Mass, Jesus poured out his blood “for you and for many,” since not everyone accepts what Christ offers, just as Judas did not accept what Christ offered him.