God is inexhaustible love – Bishop de Korte’s letter for the Holy Year of Mercy

Perhaps in lieu of (or, as it may turn out, in addition to) his customary letter for Advent, Bishop Gerard de Korte has written a letter about the upcoming Holy Year of Mercy to the faithful of his diocese. In it, he writes about the importance of mercy as it is a fundamental element of the identity of God. He identifies two kinds of mercy – moral and social, and further divides the latter in three constituent elements or expressions: in our own lives, in the Church and in society. He concludes his letter by underlining the message of Pope Francis, as expressed in his encyclical Laudato Si’: that, by living mercy in these three contexts, we should work with others to build a society of mercy.

Read my translation below:


“Brothers and sisters,

On 8 December, a Marian feast and also the date of the end of the Second Vatican Council fifty years ago, the Year of Mercy will begin in our Church. It is an invitation to look critically at how our parishes function, but also at our own existence. How merciful and mild do we treat one another? Do we mostly see what’s alien and strange in the other and do we mindlessly ignore the good? Do I give someone who has done wrong a new chance? Am I really willing to help when someone is in need?

Shortly after his election as bishop of Rome, Pope Francis gave an interview that was published in a number of magazines of the Jesuit Order. The Pope called himself a sinner called by the Lord. He referred to a painting by Caravaggio, depicting the calling of Matthew. Apparently our Pope recognises himself strongly in Matthew. As a tax collector, a despised collaborator of the Roman occupiers, he is invited to experience forgiveness and a new start. Christ meets him with merciful love and calls him to follow Him. Pope Francis lives from this some merciful love of Christ.

Office holders in the Church are especially invited to take a look in the mirror. Pope Francis recently quoted from an address by Church father Ambrose: “Where there is mercy, there is Christ; where there is rigidity, there are only officials”. This is an incisive word which everyone with a pastoral assignment in our faith community must consider seriously. In this context I would like to refer to the book Patience with God by the Czech priest Tomas Halik. A great number of people, within and without our Church, are like Zacchaeus in the tree from the Gospel. They are curious but also like to keep a distance. To get in touch with them requires pastoral prudence and mildness on the part of our officials.

In this letter I would like to zoom in on the word mercy, which for many of our contemporaries is probably somewhat old-fashioned and outdated. What is mercy actually? Maybe the Latin word for mercy, misericordia, can help us. A person with misericordia has a heart (‘cor‘)  for people in distress (‘miseri‘):  sinner, the poor, the grieving, the sink and lonely people. The Hebrew word for mercy is not so much concerned with the heart, but with the intestines. A person with mercy is touched to the depths of his belly by the needs of the other.

God is a merciful God

In Holy Scripture we often hear about the mercy of God. Even until today the Exodus, the departure from slavery in Egypt and the arrival in the promised land, is for the Jewish people a central topic of faith.

God has seen the misery of His people in Egypt and had compassion with His people (Exodus 3). Elsewhere in the book of Exodus we read, “God of tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in faithful love and constancy” (cf. Exodus 34,6). For Israel the Lord is supportive mercy, making life possible.

The history of ancient Israel is a history of loyalty and infidelity. The decline of the Northern Kingdom in the 8th century and of Judah and Jerusalem in the 6th century BC has been interpreted by the Jewish people as punishment for sins. The people as bride have been unfaithful to the divine bridegroom. But punishment is never God’s final word. The prophet Hosea writes that God does not come in anger (cf. Hosea 11). In God, mercy is victorious over His justice[*]. Ultimately there is forgiveness and a merciful approach.

In the letter in which he announces the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis calls Christ the face of God’s mercy (‘misericordiae vultus‘). In Him God’s great love for man (‘humanitas dei‘) (Titus 3:4) has become visible. The great Protestant theologian Oepke Noordmans published a beautiful collection in 1946, with the title “Sinner and beggar”. In it, Noordmans touches upon the two most important dimensions of God’s mercy. Not only moral mercy but also social mercy. In Christ, God is full of merciful love for both sinners and beggars.

Moral and social mercy

God’s moral mercy is depicted most impressively, as far as I can see, in the parable of the Prodigal Son. A son demands his inheritance from his father, who yet lives, and wastes the money on all sorts of things that God has forbidden, In the end he literally ends up among the pigs. To Jewish ears this is even more dramatic than to us, since in Judaism pigs are, after all, unclean animals. In this situation, there occurs a reversal. The son memorises a confession of guilt and returns to his father. In the parable we read that the father is already looking for his son and, even before the confession has been spoken, he embraces him. Here we find what Saint Paul calls the justification of the Godless man. God is as “foolish” as the father in the parable. It is the foolishness of merciful love. God is inexhaustible love and gives his son a new chance, even when he has turned away from Him (cf. Luke 5:11 etc).

Social mercy is depicted sublimely in the parable on the Good Samaritan. A man is attacked by robbers and lies on the side of the road, half dead. Several people from the temple pass by, but they do not help. Then a stranger passes, a Samaritan who many Jews look upon with a certain amount of negative feelings. But this distrusted person acts. He becomes a neighbour to the person lying on the side of the road. He treats his wounds and lets him recover in an inn, on his costs. The Church fathers, theologians from the early Church, have seen Christ himself in the person of the Samaritan. He comes with His merciful love to everyone lying at the side of the road of life. Christ has gone the way  of mercy until the end. He lives for His Father and His neighbour until the cross. In this way, Christ shows that He has a heart for people in misery: the poor, sinners, people dedicated to death (cf. Luke 10:25 etc).

Is God merciful to all?

We are all temporary people. None of us here on earth has eternal life. Sooner or later death will come and take life away. In that context we could wonder what we can hope for. Are we like rockets burning up in space or can we look forward to returning home? Over the course of Church history this has been discussed both carefully and generously. Not the most insignificant theologians, such as Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, were in the more careful camp, with the Scripture passage in mind which says that “many are called, but few are chosen”. There was also another sound in the early Church. The theologian Origen was so filled with God’s love that he could not imagine that anyone could be lost. The Church, however, based on the witness of Scripture, has denied this vision. There are too many passages in Holy Scripture which leave open the possibility of being definitively lost.

In our time, however, our Church is generally  optimistic regarding salvation. God’s  desire to save does not exclude, but include human freedom. God’s hand is and remains extended to all. Only God knows who takes this hand. Not without reason do we pray, in one of our Eucharistic prayer, for those “whose faith only You have known.” God’s mercy maintains its primacy. Christ has, after all, died for all men. God is loyal and the cross and resurrection of Christ can be a source of hope for us all. In other words: God takes our responsibility seriously, but I hope that He takes His love even more seriously.

Culture of mercy

God’s mercy requires a human answer, a culture of mercy. Here we can discern at least three dimensions: personal, ecclesiastical and social. In our personal life we are called to love God and our neighbour. But we know that cracks continue to develop in relationships. People insult and hurt each other. The Gospel then calls us to forgiveness.  Scripture even suggests we should postpone our worship when there are fractures in how we relate to our fellows (cf. Matthew 5:24).  Forgiveness can always be unilateral. But both parties involved in a conflict are necessary for reconciliation. Christ does not only ask us for merciful love for our loved ones, but also for our enemies. We realise that this can only be realised in the power of God’s  Spirit, and even then often by trial and error.

Merciful faith community

In one of our prefaces the Church is called the mirror of God’s kindness. In our time we notice a crisis in the Church. Many contemporaries have become individualists because of higher education and prosperity. This individualism also has an effect in the attitude towards the Church. Many people do believe, but in an individualistic way and think they do not need the faith community. Added to that is the fact that the Church suffers from a negative image. More thana  few see the Church as institute that restricts freedom. Many think that the Church demands much and allows nothing.

As people of the Church we should not immediately get defensive. Criticism on our faith community invites us to critical reflection of ourselves. Do we really live the truth in love? Do we really care for and serve each other? A Christian community will not restrict people but promote their development into free children of God (cf. Romans 8:21).

We can see the Eucharist as the ultimate sacrament of God’s merciful love. Time and again the outpouring love of Christ is actualised and made present in the Eucharist. About Communion, Pope Francis has said words which are cause to think. According to him, Communion is not a reward for the a holy life, but a medicine to heal wounded people. The mercy of the Church also becomes visible in the sacrament of penance and reconciliation, or confession. For many reasons this sacrament has almost been forgotten in our country. At the same time I hear that in some parishes especially young people are rediscovering this sacrament. I hope that the Year of Mercy can make a contribution to a further rediscovery of the sacrament of God’s  merciful love for people who fail.

Ecclesiastical mercy is of course also visible in all form of charity. Everywhere where Christians visit sick and prisoners, help people who are hungry or thirsty, cloth the naked or take in strangers, the ‘works of mercy’ become visible (cf. Matthew 25:31 etc).

Merciful society

After the Second World War Catholics took part in the rebuilding of a solid welfare state. After the crisis years of the 1930s and the horrors of the war, there was a broad desire among our people for the realisation of a security of existence. Catholic social thought, with the core notions of human dignity, solidarity, public good and subsidiarity, has inspired many in our Church to get to work enthusiastically. After all, although the Church is not of the world, it is for the world.

But in our days there is much talk of converting the welfare state into a participation state. Of course it is important that people are stimulated optimally to contribute to the building of society. But at the same time government should maintain special attention for the needs of the margins of society. Not without reason does Christian social thought call government a “shield for the weak”.

In June Pope Francis published his encyclical Laudato Si’. Here, the Pope ask attention for our earth as our common home. Catholics are asked to cooperate with other Christians, people of other faiths and all “people of good will”. The Pope urges us to join our religious and ethical forces to realise a more just and sustainable world. With a reference to St. Francis’ Canticle of the Sun our Pope pleads for a new ecological spirituality in which our connection with the Creator not only leads to a mild and merciful relation with our fellow men, but also with other creatures.

In closing

We all live from the inexhaustible merciful love of our God, as has become visible in Jesus Christ. Let us in our turn, in the power of God’s Spirit, give form to this love in our relationships with each other, in our faith communities and in our society. In this way we can make an important contribution to the building of a “culture of mercy”.

Groningen, 22 November 2015
Solemnity of Christ, King of the Universe

+ Msgr. Dr. Gerard De Korte
Bishop of Groningen-Leeuwarden”

*As an aside, not to distract from the overall message of the bishop’s letter: I am sorry to see this line here in such a way, as if there is a conflict between mercy and justice, in which one should be victorious over the other. Mercy without justice is no mercy at all, as it is deceitful. How can be kind and merciful to others if we keep the truth from them? The truth and its consequences must be acknowledged and accepted in mercy, so that we can help others living in that truth, even if they sometimes fail (as we eventually all do).

Building up from reality – Bishop Bode’s intervention

It’s almost a week ago, but here is the translation of the intervention by Bishop Franz-Josef Bode. Reading it, it becomes clear that some of his points have been used in the German language groups’ report on Part II, which I shared in translation earlier.

Like Archbishop Koch before him, Bishop Bode bases his thought on his experiences as bishop and official in the German Bishops’ Conference, as he makes clear in his opening paragraph. While not averse to theology, he underlines that the Church must meet the people where they are, in their less-than-perfect situations and with their experiences, questions and feelings.

Bishop Bode has been criticised heavily, and while I share some of that criticism, it is important to recognise what he is doing here: asking questions about what the Church is doing. Is it really effective, he wonders, and do we achieve what we set out to do?

Read the German text here, and my translation below:

bode_purpur_240I have been a bishop now for four decades, and for 20 years of those I have been ordinary of Osnabrück. Since 2010 I have also been leading the pastoral commission of the German Bishops’ Conference, and before that I was the chairman of the youth commission for fourteen years. In that capacity I speak to you:

It is a great challenge for the Church to convey her high esteem of marriage, which as sacrament is a life fulfilment of the Church, to the people of our time. There where marriage succeeds as a lifelong Union, where this “eminently human” love is experienced “from one person to another through an affection of the will” (Gaudium et Spes, 49), where spouses remain faithful, remain inclined to one another, give life to and raise children and pass on the love received, there the Church is ever new and something more than the salt of the earth and the city on the mountain. “The Church is a blessing for the family and the family is blessing for the Church”, says the Instrumentum laboris (59).

In order to bring the Catholic understanding of marriage closer to the faithful and in extension to all people of good will, and convince them in a lasting way, it is crucial to respond to each person’s individual life story, to the realities of life and their histories. Man is a historical being. He always relates to us as formed by experience, never als a neutral recipient of a message that he needs to align to. This acknowledgement of his biography is not a pastoral strategy or a methodical trick. Rather, the acknowledgement of individual life histories is itself part of Catholic teaching. The Second Vatican Council, in the opening words of Gaudium et Spes speaks of it, that there is nothing genuinely human which does not raise an echo in their hearts (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 1). The Instrumentum laboris of this Synod takes on this thought when it speaks of “divine pedagogy” (39). Relating ever anew to the biography of people is an essential task, if the general and basic principles of a doctrine – especially the doctrines of marriage and family – want to have space and form in human lives. Thomas Aquinas explained the necessity of a concrete application, for example when he says, “To prudence belongs not only the consideration of reason, but also the application to action, which is the goal of practical reason” (STh II-II-47, 3: “ad prudentiam pertinet non solum consideratio rationis, sed etiam applicatio ad opus, quae est finis practicae rationis“). This application can, however, not succeed without including the circumstances in the concrete action.

Tying onto the history and form of life is in that regard not possible without going to the persons, to the people, understanding their thoughts and motives, and not without concretisation of the general guiding principles to the particular life situation as far as possible. That is also a service to the truth. “The faithful’s attitude towards people who have not yet come to an understanding of the importance of the Sacrament of Marriage is expressed primarily in a personal, friendly relationship which accepts another as he/she is, without judging, and seeks to meet his/her basic needs and, at the same time, witnessing to God’s love and mercy. It is important to be clearly aware that everyone is weak and that each person is a sinner like everyone else, yet not failing to affirm the blessings and values of a Christian marriage. Moreover, people need to become aware that in God’s plan the family is not a duty but a gift, and that today the decision to enter into the Sacrament of Marriage is not a foregone conclusion but something to be developed and a goal to be achieved” (Instrumentum laboris, 61). And it is always good to take particular aspects into account and deal with material conflicts. Often enough, it is a search for the “minus malum“, the lesser evil.

Not in the last place, we should see people as being on the road to something better, for the sake of a “joyful and optimistic proclamation of the truths of the faith concerning the family” (Instrumentum laboris, 79). So questions regarding the pastoral approach to marriage and family such as the following were raised:

  • Can we really convince couples who – not only in Germany – usually first live together outside of the marriage bond, of the value of marriage, when we uphold to them: You are living in grave sin?
  • Are we sufficiently aware of the chances which are there, when couples return to the Church after a long time, with the desire for a Church wedding? Do we maintain an “open doors” culture (cf. Evangelii gaudium, 47)? Do we offer them good and long marriage preparation, a path we travel together with them?
  • Do we offer sustained spiritual help and guidance to couples and families who, for various reasons, have a hard time integrating the Good News and the faith in their lives?
  • How do meet couples in relationship crises and breaking relationships? Do we accompany these people unconditionally or do we only exert additional pressure through moral teachings?
  • And not in the least: Do we show our sisters and brothers in Christ who have entered into a new relationship after the previous one ended that they too belong to the Church? A Church with open doors, a mother with an open heart (cf. Evangelii gaudium, 46)?
  • Do we actually see the individual cases sufficiently differentiated enough? Can access to the sacraments of Confession and Eucharist really be categorically denied in every case?

From this Synod, I especially hope that the results of our discussions will send out a clear signal of support for the beneficial efforts of the Holy Father and the salvation of people.

I thank all Synod father as well the auditors for what they have already done in this regard.

Rome, 10 October 2015

Franz-Josef Bode
Bishop of Osnabrück

Germanicus 2 – the German language group digs into mercy and truth

The language groups have published their second summaries of their discussions about the second part of the Instrumentum laboris. The German group gets decidedly more theological in theirs, as they discuss the false opposition between mercy and truth, grace and justice, graduality, and the practical consequences of understanding sacramental marriage in a historical and biographical way.

In today’s press conference, Cardinal Vincent Nichols recommended the German contribution as the most theologically sound.

This is my translation of the German original that was, once again, composed by Archbishop Heiner Koch:

synod german circle“We have extensively discussed the concepts of mercy and truth, grace and justice, which are constantly treated as being in opposition to one another, and their theological relationships. In God they are certainly not in opposition: as God is love, justice and mercy come together in Him. The mercy of God is the fundamental truth of revelation, which is not opposed to other truths of revelation. It rather reveals to us the deepest reason, as it tells us why God empties Himself in His Son and why Jesus Christ remains present in His Church through His word and His sacraments. The mercy of God reveals to us in this way the reason and the entire purpose of the work of salvation. The justice of God is His mercy, with which He justifies us.

We have also discussed what the consequences of this are for our accompaniment of married couples and families. It excludes a one-sided deductive hermeneutic which subsumes concrete situations under a general principle. For Thomas Aquinas as well as the Council of Trent, the implimentation of basic principles of prudence and wisdom to the particular and often complicated situations, is pending. This is not about exceptions to which the word of God does not apply, but about the question of a fair and reasonable application of the words of Jesus – such as the words about ithe indissolubility of marriage – in prudence and wisdom. Thomas Aquinas explained the necessity of a concrete application, for example when he says, “To prudence belongs not only the consideration of reason, but also the application to action, which is the goal of practical reason (STh II-II-47, 3: “ad prudentiam pertinet non solum consideratio rationis, sed etiam applicatio ad opus, quae est finis practicae rationis“).

Another aspect of our discussion was in the first place the gradual introduction of people to the sacrament of marriage, beginning with non-binding relationships, via couples cohabitating or only civilly married couples to valid and sacramental marriage, as frequently mentioned in Chapter 3 of the second part, Accompanying these people pastorally in the various steps is a great pastoral task, but also a joy.

It also became clear to us that we are too static and not biographical-historical in many debates and observations. The Church’s  doctrine of marriage was developed and deepened in history. First it was about the humanisation of marriage, which condensed into the conviction of monogamy. In light of the Christian faith the personal dignity of the spouses was recognised more deeply and the divine likeness was perceived more deeply in the relationship of husband and wife. In a further step the ecclesiality of marriage was deepened and it was understood as a house church. Subsequently, the Church became more aware of the sacramentality of marriage. This historical path of deeper understanding is today also visible in the biography of many people. They are first touched by the human dimension of marriage, in the environment of the Church they become convinced of the Christian view on marriage and from there they find their way to the celebration of sacramental marriage. As the historical development of the Church’s teaching has taken time, so her pastoral care must also accord the people on their path to sacramental marriage a time of maturing and not act according to the principle of “all or nothing”. Here the thought of  a “growth process” (Familiaris Consortio, 9) can be developed further, as John Paul II already established in Familiaris Consortio: “The Church’s pastoral concern will not be limited only to the Christian families closest at hand; it will extend its horizons in harmony with the Heart of Christ, and will show itself to be even more lively for families in general and for those families in particular which are in difficult or irregular situations” (FC 65). Here the Church inevitably stands in the conflict between a necessary clarity in teaching about marriage and family on the one hand, and the specific pastoral task to accompany and convince those people whose lives only comform in part with the principles of the Church on the other. It is important to take steps with them on the road to the fullness of life in marriage and family, as the Gospel of the family promises.

Personally oriented pastoral care, which equally includes the normativity of doctrine and the personality of the person, keeps his ability to be conscientious in mind and strengthens his responsibility, is necessary in this regard. “For man has in his heart a law written by God; to obey it is the very dignity of man; according to it he will be judged. Conscience is the most secret core and sanctuary of a man. There he is alone with God, Whose voice echoes in his depths” (Gaudium et Spes, 16).

We ask to consider to more aspects for the final text:

Every impression should be avoided that Scripture is used only as a source of quotations for dogmatic, legal or ethical convictions. The law of the New Covenant is the work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of the faithful (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, N. 1965-1966). The written word must be integrated into the living Word that resides in the hearts of people through the Holy Spirit. This gives Scripture a broad spiritual power.

Lastly, we have struggled with the concept of natural marriage. In the history of mankind natural marriage is always shaped culturally. The concept of natural marriage can imply that there is a natural way of living of people without a cultural imprint. We therefore pro[pose to formulate: “Marriage justified in Creation”.”

Saint of the year

So who’s your saint for the new year?

Blogger Jennifer Fulwiler’s Saints Name Generator has been quite popular in recent weeks. It is an easy tool to select a specific saint for basically any period of time, project or intention you’d care to mention. It is somewhat random, of course, by its very nature, but choosing a saint to ask to intercede for you is never a bad idea. This choice is not made effective by the tool, but by the prayer, but ours and theirs.

pennafort7-11The saint that was selected for me is Saint Raymond of Peñafort. In an almost eerie coincidence (or is it) his feast is in three days time. And in another example of debatable coincidence, I have written about this saint in the very early days of my blog. At that time I was still trying to find this blog’s focus, and I tried for a while to write weekly blog posts about a specific saint whose feast day fell in that week. For the first week of January, I chose… Saint Raymond of Peñafort.

SQPN’s Saints Page has the following information on him:

“Born to the Aragonian nobility. Educated at the cathedral school in Barcelona, Spain. Philosophy teacher around age 20. Priest. Graduated law school in Bologna, Italy. Joined the Dominicans in 1218. Summoned to Rome, Italy in 1230 by Pope Gregory IX. Assigned to collect all official letters of the popes since 1150. Raymond gathered and published five volumes, and helped write Church law.

Chosen master general of the Dominicans in 1238. Reviewed the Order‘s Rule, made sure everything was legally correct, then resigned his position in 1240 to dedicate himself to parish work. He was offered and archbishopric, but he declined, instead returning to Spain and the parish work he loved. His compassion helped many people return to God through Reconciliation.

During his years in Rome, Raymond heard of the difficulties missionaries faced trying to reach non-Christians of Northern Africa and Spain. Raymond started a school to teach the language and culture of the people to be evangelized. With Saint Thomas Aquinas, he wrote a booklet to explain the truths of faith in a way that non-believers could understand. His great influence on Church law led to his patronage of lawyers.”

A writer, philosopher, lawyer, teacher, evangeliser, and communicator. There are less suitable patron saints to think of for a Catholic blogger.

Of gratitude

Blessings sometimes work to get great things done. And sometimes they are akin to a father’s comfort, and reason for profound gratitude.

My parish priest is on a role with a series of homilies on the Eucharist and Communion. Yesterday, he spent time on St. Thomas Aquinas and some of his hymns. One of these is the Pangue Lingua, as sung below y the  Choeur Gregorien de Paris.

Down in adoration falling,
This great Sacrament we hail,
O’er ancient forms of worship
Newer rites of grace prevail;
Faith will tell us Christ is present,
When our human senses fail.

Communion preparation, courtesy of the bishops of Roermond

For today’s Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Corpus Christi for short, the Diocese of Roermond has published a brochure about Communion. After a description of who Jesus Christ is and what He has done for us, the brochure delves into the Eucharist, its celebration an, most notably, the proper disposition for receiving that sacrament, Jesus Himself, in the Communion.

In their foreword, Bishops Frans Wiertz and Everard de Jong write:

“The attention for the Sacrament of the Eucharist, the Sacrament of faith, the most precious gift that the Lord has left His Church, could use an extra impulse in our days. Not only because of the Year of Faith that the pope has announced, but most of all because of the graces that participation in this beneficial Sacrament can give the faithful. Does our time not have a great need for spiritual food which can lessen the soul’s thirst?”

I won’t be analysing the entire brochure, which offers a handy introduction to the source and summit of our faith, but I will share what in my opinion is the most significant chapter in it: an explanation of the proper disposition for receiving Communion. This is especially necessary in the Netherlands, where Communion is often considered a right or “just something that everybody does, so why shouldnt I?”.

  • Certain texts seem to imply restraint when receiving Communion is concerned: We hear Jesus Himself say, “‘Do not give dogs what is holy; and do not throw your pearls in front of pigs, or they may trample them and then turn on you and tear you to pieces (Matthew 7:6). Saint Paul also writes in his letter to Timothy:

“You may be quite sure that in the last days there will be some difficult times. People will be self-centred and avaricious, boastful, arrogant and rude; disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, irreligious; heartless and intractable; they will be slanderers, profligates, savages and enemies of everything that is good; they will be treacherous and reckless and demented by pride, preferring their own pleasure to God. They will keep up the outward appearance of religion but will have rejected the inner power of it. Keep away from people like that” (2 Timothy 3:1-5).

And the same Apostle claims:

“What does this mean? That the dedication of food to false gods amounts to anything? Or that false gods themselves amount to anything? No, it does not; simply that when pagans sacrifice, what is sacrificed by them is sacrificed to demons who are not God. I do not want you to share with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons as well; you cannot have a share at the Lord’s table and the demons’ table as well. Do we really want to arouse the Lord’s jealousy; are we stronger than he is?” (1 Corinthians 10:19-22).

He then opines:

“Whenever you eat this bread, then, and drink this cup, you are proclaiming the Lord’s death until he comes. Therefore anyone who eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily is answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Everyone is to examine himself and only then eat of the bread or drink from the cup; because a person who eats and drinks without recognising the body is eating and drinking his own condemnation. That is why many of you are weak and ill and a good number have died. If we were critical of ourselves we would not be condemned, but when we are judged by the Lord, we are corrected by the Lord to save us from being condemned along with the world” (1 Corinthians 11:26-32).

It is then clear that Communion is not for just everyone.

  • Yet this question about the reasons to not receive Communion can, on second thought, seem like a strange question. After all, we are sinners and we need Him. Yes, exactly because we are sinners, we need Him. The more we sin, the more we need Him. Not without reason do we say,  “Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof, but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed” (vg. Luke 7:6).
  • This unsuitability to receive Communion tells us, on further examination, what we have just said [in previous chapters] about  the will to be converted, the openness to healing and the unity in love. There are actions which, as it were, lock us so tightly within ourselves, which block us from experiencing Jesus’ love and active healing power in the Communion in such a way that we can’t experience this meeting with Him in a fruitful manner without some preparation. There are actions or omissions which have shut the door to Jesus in such a way that it won’t open without a special help. They cause such hardness in our hearts that a ‘softener’ and a strong purification are needed to receive Him properly. Jesus offers those too, but not in the sacrament of the Eucharist. For that reason He, as we saw, instituted the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation: Confession. We must therefore distinguish between the need  to being saved by Christ, and the way in which this can occur. The encounter with Him in the Communion is so sensitive and tender that Communion can’t work without a prior big cleaning, ie. a verbal confession of our sins. It is like a communal meal, or even a marital physical union, which also can’t happen if there are major issues between man and wife. General apologies do not suffice here, as in the penitential rite [1], but specific and honest regret must be shown. In other words, the road to unity with the Lord only goes via the road of purification. The sacrament of penance and reconciliation is in this way complementary. Saint Thomas Aquinas summarised  these arguments in this way: because of mortal sin we no longer have spiritual life within us, while the Eucharist is food for the living; and because of our attachment to mortal sin we have removed ourselves so far from Christ that we can’t become one with Him through Communion [2].
  • Do not be afraid of this sacrament of penance and reconciliation… As the Apostle Saint John writes in his first letter, “If we say, ‘We have no sin,’ we are deceiving ourselves, and truth has no place in us; if we acknowledge our sins, he is trustworthy and upright, so that he will forgive our sins and will cleanse us from all evil. If we say, ‘We have never sinned,’ we make him a liar, and his word has no place in us” (1 John 1:8-10).
  • What are mortal sins? According to the Church you can only sin mortally if you go against God’s commandments in a serious matter (materia gravis) with full knowledge and in free will. What is exactly a serious matte is not always clear, but they often have to do with life and death, the beginning and end of physical and spiritual life. They may be things against God, your neighbour, or yourself.
  • In judging the sin, there are a number of aspects which involved. Three aspects of an action count. 1: That what you do, the action itself. 2: The motivation, by which you act. 3: The circumstances of the act. All three aspects must be good to speak of a good act. So only one of these three has to be bad, for the entire act to be bad. All three aspects can also independently lead to a mortal sin. [3]
  • Some acts, regardless of their result, intention or circumstance, are always bad, because the act is intrinsically, in itself, bad.  These human actions or omission have to do with what seriously affects and damages our deepest personality or that of another. The killing of an innocent person, for example, in whatever phase of life, regardless of motivation or circumstance, is never justified. But all other forms of damage to human dignity and human integrity, such as torture, psychological terror, slavery, human trafficking and so on [4] are always reprehensible. For the Church, sexuality is a sacred event, and man is very vulnerable in that area: it affects the heart of his person and God’s creative power. If it does not take place within a marriage between a man and a women, or when the openness to new life of consciously blocked, it is, in principle, always a mortal sin. Not without reason does Jesus tell us, “But I say this to you, if a man looks at a woman lustfully, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart”(Matthew 5:28).
  • Who decides how serious a sin is? And so if you need to confess it before receive Communion? As long as they are acts which happened in secret, it is primarily the sinner’s, conscience, formed by the Church, which indicates what should be done. Of course, a priest may always be asked for advice. With acts that are presented to the priest in confession, or which are public, the Church will always judge the nature and the consequences. We already see this in the early Church:

“If your brother does something wrong, go and have it out with him alone, between your two selves. If he listens to you, you have won back your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you: whatever the misdemeanour, the evidence of two or three witnesses is required to sustain the charge. But if he refuses to listen to these, report it to the community; and if he refuses to listen to the community, treat him like a gentile or a tax collector. ‘In truth I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 18:15-18).

  • When in doubt about receiving Communion, you may always entrust your own judgements to a good spiritual counselor.
  • Of course, Communion also has a social aspect. Saint Paul says that he will eat certain kinds of meat, but does not does so to avoid giving scandal to the weaker (Romans 14:20, 2 Corinthians 6:3). It could happen that one has permission from the Church to receive Communion, but would cause public scandal with it. It is then wise to avoid receiving Communion in a church where one is known. One can receive Communion in a place where one is unknown.
  • But priests have their own responsibility. About this, the Second Vatican Council says, in a positive way, “But in order that the liturgy may be able to produce its full effects, it is necessary that the faithful come to it with proper dispositions, that their minds should be attuned to their voices, and that they should cooperate with divine grace lest they receive it in vain. Pastors of souls must therefore realize that, when the liturgy is celebrated, something more is required than the mere observation of the laws governing valid and licit celebration; it is their duty also to ensure that the faithful take part fully aware of what they are doing, actively engaged in the rite, and enriched by its effects.”[5]
  • The public aspect of sin and the scandal it may possibly cause can also mean that the priest, or the person distributing Communion, and who is therefore “entrusted with the mysteries of God” (1 Corinthians 4:1), may have to prudently take his own responsibility. “I ask everyone, especially ordained ministers and those who, after adequate preparation and in cases of genuine need, are authorized to exercise the ministry of distributing the Eucharist, to make every effort to ensure that this simple act preserves its importance as a personal encounter with the Lord Jesus in the sacrament” [6]. A minister of Holy Communion therefore has his own responsibility and will not randomly refuse someone Communion, without any prior knowledge. If a person’s way of life is clearly contrary to Catholic faith and morals he can’t allow that person’s to receive Communion. In certain public cases of serious scandal, in which the meaning of the sacrament is seriously undermined, he will then have to warn a person, prior to the celebration, to not come forward for Communion, and in special cases will even have to refuse Communion [7].
  • And what if there is no minister of the sacrament of penance and reconciliation, and the serious sin is not publicly known? Then you can receive Communion, provided you have prayed a personal act of contrition and have the intention to receive the sacrament of penance and reconciliation at the earliest occasion.
  • It is important to realise, even if you know that you can’t receive Communion, that there are ways to unite yourself to Christ. There is the option to come forward with the other people as the Communion is handed out and then, with arms crossed over your chest, receive a blessing. One can also unite oneself spiritually with Christ and so receive spiritual Communion. It is not shameful to not come forward… on the contrary, it shows your appreciation and respect for the Holy One among us.


[1] Cf. Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Instruction Redemptionis sacramentum (2005), n. 80: “As for the Penitential Act placed at the beginning of Mass, it has the purpose of preparing all to be ready to celebrate the sacred mysteries; even so, “it lacks the efficacy of the Sacrament of Penance”,[162] and cannot be regarded as a substitute for the Sacrament of Penance in remission of graver sins.”

[2] Cf. Summa Theologica, III, 89,3

[3] Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, nr. 1755

[4] Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1756, identifies blasphemy, perjury, murder and adultery as intrinsically evil. The Second Vatican Council says the following: “Furthermore, whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or wilful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where men are treated as mere tools for profit, rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others of their like are infamies indeed” (Gaudium et spes, n. 27; cf. Evangelium Vitae, n 80).

[5] Sacrosanctum concilium, n. 11.

[6] Cf. Sacramentum caritatis, n. 50.

[7] Cf. Redemptionis Sacramentum, n. 84: “Furthermore when Holy Mass is celebrated for a large crowd – for example, in large cities – care should be taken lest out of ignorance non-Catholics or even non-Christians come forward for Holy Communion, without taking into account the Church’s Magisterium in matters pertaining to doctrine and discipline. It is the duty of Pastors at an opportune moment to inform those present of the authenticity and the discipline that are strictly to be observed.”

Adoro te devote, two versions and a translation

Apparently there are some lyrical changes to be made to the beautiful hymn Adoro te devote. That is what Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university explains in Zenit.

The Adoro te devote is a Eucharistic hymn which directly refers to the Eucharistic lord. It is usually prayed or sung in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament or in thanksgiving to having received Him.

The changes are limited to the first two verses:

The first verse goes as follows: “Adóro te devóte, latens Déitas, quae sub his figúris vere látitas: tibi se cor meum totum súbicit, quia te contémplans totum déficit.” The alternative version would be: “Adóro devóte latens véritas / Te quae sub his formis vere látitas …”

And in the second verse: “Visus, tactus, gustus in te fállitur, sed audítu solo tuto créditur. Credo quidquid dixit Dei Fílius; nil hoc verbo veritátis vérius”  becomes “Visus, tactus, gustus in te fállitur, sed solus audítus tute créditur. Credo quidquid dixit Dei Fílius; nihil Veritátis verbo vérius.”

Fr. McNamara goes on the explain the differences and their theological meaning, but concludes that both versions are equally valid for use. Check the piece in Zenit for his further comments.

Perhaps even more interesting to me, as a former student of English literature, is the reference to an English translation of the Adoro te devote by none other than Gerard Manley Hopkins, perhaps the most interesting Victorian poet (and a Jesuit priest). Titled Lost, All Lost In Wonder, it can be sung to the same melody as St. Thomas Aquinas’ original.

Lost, All Lost In Wonder

Godhead here in hiding, whom I do adore,
Masked by these bare shadows, shape and nothing more,
See, Lord, at thy service low lies here a heart
Lost, all lost in wonder at the God thou art.

Seeing, touching, tasting are in thee deceived:
How says trusty hearing? that shall be believed;
What God’s Son has told me, take for truth I do;
Truth himself speaks truly or there’s nothing true.

On the cross thy godhead made no sign to men,
Here thy very manhood steals from human ken:
Both are my confession, both are my belief,
And I pray the prayer of the dying thief.

I am not like Thomas, wounds I cannot see,
But can plainly call thee Lord and God as he;
Let me to a deeper faith daily nearer move,
Daily make me harder hope and dearer love.

O thou our reminder of Christ crucified,
Living Bread, the life of us for whom he died,
Lend this life to me then: feed and feast my mind,
There be thou the sweetness man was meant to find.

Bring the tender tale true of the Pelican;
Bathe me, Jesu Lord, in what thy bosom ran—
Blood whereof a single drop has power to win
All the world forgiveness of its world of sin.

Jesu, whom I look at shrouded here below,
I beseech thee send me what I thirst for so,
Some day to gaze on thee face to face in light
And be blest for ever with thy glory’s sight. Amen.