Sunday, June 29, 2008

Divorced and Remarried Catholics and Spiritual Communion

Pope rules out Berlusconi's plea for Communion
Pope Benedict XVI has called for only the "pure of heart" to receive Holy Communion.The pope spoke out just a day after Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister, joked with his local priest in Sardinia that the church should change the rules so that he could receive the Eucharist. {When we will get the rules for what constitutes a pure enough heart?}
"When are you going to change this rule that stops me taking communion?" Mr Berlusconi asked the bishop administering wafers to the faithful.The Catholic Church considers marriage to be sacrosanct and Mr Berlusconi, who has divorced and remarried, is therefore ineligible for communion.Bishop Sebastiano Sanguinetti drily replied: "You can change the law, you have friends in higher places than me", before moving on. {Friendship implies equality between the parties. I don't see any equality in the above photo.}
However, Mr Berlusconi's chances seem slim after the pope underlined the importance of approaching communion in the right way."I want to invite shepherds and the faithful to renew their attention on how they prepare to receive the Eucharist," the pope said by videolink to an audience in Montreal."Despite our weakness and our sins, Christ wants to invite us into his home and asks us to start our healing. We must do everything in our power to receive him into a pure heart, and to re-find in the sacrament of pardon a pureness that sin has stained." {There seems to be an inherent contradiction in the theology of the Eucharist. It's either healing or it isn't. It's either spiritual food for sinners or a reward for a pure heart. It can be 'both/and' but not apparently under this pope.}
However, the pope did say that even people who are ineligible to receive communion can find healing by attending the church service. Mr Berlusconi's confessor, Father Gabriele Corsani, yesterday denied that he had ever secretly given the prime minister communion."This is nonsense," he said. "He has never asked me to. He knows it is a rule and he is very attentive to it. Receiving communion is taking Jesus into your heart. However, there does exist also that which is called spiritual communion, which one can do without receiving the Eucharist."At the moment of communion, at the funeral of his mother, I saw him tranquil in prayer on his knees as if he had received it." {Here's a very interesting concept fraught with theological difficulties.}
Since the Eucharistic Congress held in Montreal last week, the concept of Spiritual Communion is making a comeback. It's an interesting concept. As far as I can tell from a limited search, St. Alphonsus de' Ligouri believed in the concept and coined this prayer:
"My Jesus, I believe that Thou art present in the Blessed Sacrament. I love Thee above all things and I desire Thee in my soul. Since I cannot now receive Thee sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. As though thou wert already there, I embrace Thee and unite myself wholly to Thee; permit not that I should ever be separated from Thee."
This was the only reference to the concept in the entire EWTN library. Most other cites I found referred you to the Ligouri prayer after saying something to the effect that Spiritual Communion is close to the real thing but not quite. Kind of a stop gap measure until one can be physically present at Mass or has reconciled themselves for some reason by recieving the sacrement of penance. Close but no cigar.
Berlusconi is serious about trying to do something with the regulation that prevents divorced and remarried Catholics from recieving communion. He sees this denial as a denial of the love with in the second marriage. Many of these marriages are far more healthy and holy than their first marriage. People do learn from their mistakes and become better people and better partners and learn to love more deeply.
Divorce and remarriage seems by Church definition to be a unique state of unforgiveable sin. Penance doesn't work unless you are willing to denounce the love for your partner, and/or refrain from sex. Technically the 'confess on Saturday recieve on Sunday and then love him/her again on Monday' approach fails to meet the test of a true desire not to repeat the sin and invalidates the confession. Which brings me to the whole annulment issue. The Church's theological loophole which has historically been arbitrarily applied.
I wonder why Berlusconi doesn't try the annulment approach. It's not as if the guy can't afford it--or maybe it is. Maybe he's taken a look at how much political pressure the Church put Spain's Zapatero under, and doesn't want to give some Church tribunal a club to force him to conform his government to Vatican whims. Maybe that price is too high. Maybe that's why he continues to advocate for change while making Spiritual Communions and maybe he's absolutely right.
The sacrament of marriage is instituted not by the priest, who is only a witness for the church, but by the couple themselves. If that's the case, why does the Church have any say in it's dissolution? The ending, like the beginning, should be between the couple and God. At most the priest would only be a witness to this truth, not a judge.
The whole annulment procedure disempowers the couple, and underlines that disempowerment by making them the a unique class further down the spiritual food chain. Even pedophile priests were allowed communion and most of them continue to retain their faculties, but then I guess this just goes to show that the further up the spiritual food chain you are the more you can get away with sacramentally. Apparently Jesus overlooks pedophilia but not remarriage. In my reading of the gospels it seems to be the other way around.
So that leaves Spiritual Communion for a whole bunch of lay Catholics. My own personal experience is that Spiritual Communion is a real deal. It's my Communion of choice until the Church changes the energy it's erected around the entrance doors to the material reception. Thank you Jesus for treating this form of communion equally with the other, since your Church is leaving many of us with no other choice. And that will continue in material fact, as well as in doctrinal fact.
Spiritual Communion will be the only choice way too many of us will have if the hierarchy insists on the current form of celibate priesthood. The flip side to this is that the more people experience the REALITY of Spiritual Communion the less reason they will have to put up with the whims of the institution. You don't need a Pope, Bishop or Priest to experience a Spiritual Communion. It's a right of Baptism.
Personally I see this renewal of relying on Spiritual Communion as a bone to divorced and remarried Catholics as a huge mistake. One that could ultimatley lead not to the dissolution of the second marriage, which is the intent of the excusionary rule, but to the dissolution of the Institutional Church itself. God sure seems to work in mysterious ways.


  1. There are just a few things that the Church need not interfere in: 1) who people vote for 2) who people marry 3) who people divorce 4) people who remarry. But, since the Church is on such a power trip of late, needs to blame others for the various failures in the world and so much "sexual scandal" and it sees a failure in secular government to rule correctly, why not harass people who have divorced and remarried outside the Church and play politics with them, deny them Communion?

    It is in my view blatant hypocrisy (and not hospitable, as well as very rude) to invite someone to a dinner, but to divide the table up into those who can eat the dinner from those who can not!

    If anything messes up one's faith, in my opinion, it is when someone comes along and tries to tell you how you "have to" live your faith, and this seems to be what the Church wants to insist on from its "flock" of believers. It says that you must "repent" and the only way they can judge your full repentance is by submitting to their processes, one being the annulment process. Why is the Church in the judgement business? Who are those people who make up a Tribunal? Why do they feel they must judge and determine one's former marriage as being valid or invalid? If the marriage no longer exists and they are no longer together, the marriage is not valid. There is no necessity to determine anything. Who do they base their decisions on-the one seeking the annulment or the the ex-partner, other family members? Why do they want to know so much information about why the marriage no longer exists?

    In my view, it is really nobody's business, and least of all a body of people who make up a Tribunal to judge one's "case." These tribunals are a form of repression in the Church and the source of much contention for many families. No body of people has the right to "judge" someone else's personal relationships.

    The theology of the Eucharist remains for many as a very confusing mush-mash of ideas about our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The protestant evangelists have a better chance of bringing people to the Word of God and to Jesus Christ than the Catholic Church does since the Reformation period.

    The Catholic Church under Benedict is becoming a source for only more confusion, division and schism than at any other time in history. I can only pray that priests who are truly holy will come forward and not let the gavel of judgers destroy what beauty is left in the Church, which doesn't seem to be all that much or anymore than any protestant Church has to offer at this time.

  2. I'm confused....I thought Christ was already present within me by virtue of my baptism. Isn't Eucharist also a celebration of what already exists? Much like forgiveness is already given and the sacrament of reconciliation is a celebration of that which already exists?????

  3. Both of you have made great points. First the annulment process is invasive and does stir up interesting stuff in families. Too many tribunals are composed of laity and clergy with little or no background in marital counseling and the application of the process is very uneven from diocese to diocese. I suspect the Diocese of St Louis doesns't approve the same percentage of applications as some other dioceses.

    Butterfly I loved the line about how inhospitable it is to invite everyone to dinner and then separate those who can eat the meal from those who can't.

    Margie I don't know what to tell you. This papacy is certainly emphasising a sacramental theology which is more in line with Trent than with Vatican II. By the way there's an hysterical conversation betweeen a couple of priests on Catholica Australia about the 'joys' of giving communion on the tongue from the perspective of a priest. I'd never actually considered the process from their point of view, but can now see why they aren't particularly enthusiastic about the new norms for Papal Masses. As one mentioned, "I don't know that the New Testament says anything about Jesus hand feeding the Apostles."

    I guess the whole idea is to remind us that our relationship with Jesus is only as permanent as they tell us it is. Someone should tell Jesus about this state of affairs.

  4. Margie, one of the few things I have problems with in the mass is the "i am not worthy ..." Truth is, if we were not worthy, we simply would not be there, we would be somewhere else. A more accurate statement would be something like "I am worthy because you have ..."

    I'll add that to my wish list on

  5. Butterfly:
    you wrote:

    why not harass people who have divorced and remarried outside the Church and play politics with them, deny them Communion?

    I'm confused, isnt that what they are already doing?

    Has anyone noticed how bloated most of the magisterium appears to be? Do you think perhaps the wine and host the consume might be giving them gas?

  6. I've noticed that trend myself. but I kind of doubt it's the ceremonial wine and bread.

  7. My wife left me. Years later I repartnered and am likely to soon marry. I won't seek an annulment, as it's purpose is to establish I was not ready for marriage in the first instance, or was coerced. Why should I lie to a panel? The church excludes very easily. I'm likely to walk away and reinvent my faith elsewhere. I expect to find many like myself.

  8. This is why I now go to the Methodist church and am in the process of converting to being a Methodist. After crying at every Mass during communion, I had enough and decided to seek God elsewhere. Jesus ate with theives, prostitues, and pagans. I hardly think he would deny a remarried Catholic a place at his table.