Worthy Communion

The most precious gift of the Church is the Eucharist, source and summit of the whole Christian life (Lumen Gentium, 11). In the communion, we receive “the bread of heaven” and “the cup of salvation,” the body and blood of Christ who offered himself “for the life of the world” (John 6:51), as the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it (1355). A footnote refers to Saint Justin, who wrote, n the middle of the second century: “[N]o one is allowed to partake [of the Eucharist] but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined” (Justin, Apol. I, 66).

Several years ago, the Dutch bishops indicated, in three letters, the meaning of the Eucharist and specific points of attention for the liturgical praxis. These were the cover letter to the instruction Redemptionis sacramentum of 24 June 2004, the Advent letter of 2007 and the letter for Corpus Christi of 2008.

We have to conclude that, in our time, the faith of the Roman Catholic Church in the Eucharist and the requirements flowing from it are not shared by the majority of baptised faithful. The bishops of the Netherlands therefore feel obliged to provide clarity about some points, especially related to Communion.

The reception of Holy Communion requires the right disposition [1]; belonging to the Catholic Church through baptism, fully sharing the faith of the Church in the Eucharist, and a way of life which is not contrary to the sanctity of the Sacrament. This last point means: to not have incurred a serious ecclesiastical penalty, nor stubbornly insisting in a serious sin which is known (see CIC 915).

In addition, a person who is aware of something that, according to the Church’s teaching, is a serious sin, that is to say when the personal relationship with God and the Church is seriously disrupted, may not communicate without a prior sacramental confession (see CIC 916). In this situation the close relationship with Christ and the partaking in the one body of the Church through Communion would only be deceptive pretense: “Therefore anyone who eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily is answerable for the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:27). Receiving Holy Communion does not only establish a unity with Christ and the Church, but also presumes it.

There are certain situations in which a celebration of the word of God, without the distribution of Communion, should be considered instead of a celebration of the Eucharist. We wish to recall what Pope Benedict XVI wrote about this in his Post-Synodal Exhortation Sacramentum caritatis, of 22 February 2007 (n. 50):

“I would like to call attention to a pastoral problem frequently encountered nowadays. I am referring to the fact that on certain occasions – for example, wedding Masses, funerals and the like – in addition to practising Catholics there may be others present who have long since ceased to attend Mass or are living in a situation which does not permit them to receive the sacraments. At other times members of other Christian confessions and even other religions may be present. Similar situations can occur in churches that are frequently visited, especially in tourist areas. In these cases, there is a need to find a brief and clear way to remind those present of the meaning of sacramental communion and the conditions required for its reception. Wherever circumstances make it impossible to ensure that the meaning of the Eucharist is duly appreciated, the appropriateness of replacing the celebration of the Mass with a celebration of the word of God should be considered.”

In such circumstances it would in many cases indeed seem better to have a celebration of the Word without Communion, instead of the Eucharist – except for Sundays.

If in certain situations there can be no Communion of the faithful during the Eucharist, faithful churchgoers will no doubt understand that preference is given to a spiritual Communion, a silent unity with the Lord in prayer. If Communion is handed out in these situations, we recommend the use of a short explanation prior to Communion, as given in the textual models attached to our letter for Corpus Christi 2008.

There is a particular situation when people present themselves for Communion for inappropriate purposes, especially for demonstrative reasons. When groups or representatives of groups are present in the celebration for this reason, Communion may not be distributed. To want to receive Communion for demonstrative reasons indicates a lack of respect for and acknowledgement of the sanctity of this sacrament. Church Father St. Augustine already wrote about receiving Communion or not: “The only thing that this bread does not tolerate, is contempt” (Augustine, De sermone Domini in Monte. II. 7, 26). “It is unacceptable that persons or groups wish to receive Communion for demonstrative reasons,” says a prior statement from the Dutch bishops from 1987 [2].

Sometimes we should, out of respect, refrain from the sacrament of the Eucharist. Someone who can’t receive Communion, can still come to the Church to celebrate the faith in communal prayer and the word of God.

The respect and care for the Body of Christ require that we do everything to ensure that the community of faithful can reverently receive the Lord of life. Or, in the words of our letter from 2004: “As the source of being Church, we need to keep the Eucharist pure and clear. Not only with an eye to the Church of today, but also to later generations. The Eucharist is after all not our property, but a gift entrusted to us by the Lord. If we treat this gift of the Lord carelessly, we mortgage the future.”

Let us pray that every Catholic is always able to receive the Body of Christ with deep faith and a corresponding way of life.

The bishops of the Netherlands,

10 June 2012


[1] Pius X, Sacra Tridentina Synodus, 16 December 1905: “…no one who is in the state of grace, and who approaches the Holy Table with a right and devout intention (recta piaque mente) can be prohibited therefrom. A right intention consists in this: that he who approaches the Holy Table should do so, not out of routine, or vain glory, or human respect, but that he wish to please God, to be more closely united with Him by charity, and to have recourse to this divine remedy for his weakness and defects.”

[2] Press office Archdiocese of Utrecht, 1987: “There should be no doubt that the bishops of the Netherlands fully reject any action of whichever interest group that abuses the celebration of the holy liturgy, and especially the reception of Holy Communion, to realise their own objectives. The holy liturgy is denied as worship to God if it is used as an instrument in a strategy. Not only out of respect that the Eucharist is due, such actions should also be rejected out of respect for the parishes which are overtaken by actions that they did not ask for, in which they do not participate and which disrupt their liturgical celebration.”

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