Communion – Understanding Pope Francis

EDIT: At the bottom of this post, I have added some thoughts about the story Pope Francis told about a bishop he knew, a story that initially caused some confusion.

During a question round in the Lutheran church community in Rome, yesterday, Pope Francis was asked about the sensitive topic of receiving Communion as a non-Catholic. The person asking the question was a Lutheran lady with a Catholic husband, and she wondered when it was possible for them to receive Communion together. As both the Catholic and Lutheran churches have this sacrament, it is unclear if she was referring to receiving in a Catholic Mass or a Lutheran service. Basically, she could have been asking how she, a Lutheran, could receive Communion in a Catholic Mass, or how her husband, a Catholic, could receive the bread in a Lutheran service. Both are different situations, but revolve around the same problem: receiving the sacraments while not fully accepting the belief that comes with it.

pope francis lutherans

Pope Francis’ answer, provided here by Rocco Palmo*, is quite difficult to follow. The Holy Father is sometimes a challenge to understand (that’s  what you get with a man who speak from the heart, and often spontaneously – and this is not a slight against him), but now he left me scratching my head. In short, he leaves the decision to receive Communion to the woman’s conscience, but also mentions that the choice should be made “only if one is sincere with oneself and the little theological light one has”. In other words, with a formed conscience. There is no mention of the importance of truly understanding what Communion in Catholic teaching is. This could possibly be off-putting in this context, but on the other hand, we can’t  go around pretending that Communion, the receiving of the very Body and Blood of the Lord, is a matter that can be decided by people individually… With that I mean that, while every person must make an examination of conscience and decide whether or not to receive, no one can decide that he or she can receive in circumstances that another can not.

It is also interesting to note that Pope Francis immediately stated that he is not competent to decide if a non-Catholic can receive Communion in a Catholic Church. Well, if the Pope can’t, who can?

This underlines how important an issue this is: we are talking about the true Body and Blood of Jesus Christ and the honour and worship that this is due. Not allowing people to receive is neither a matter of denying a right to them, nor a punishment for sins committed. It is not rooted in human failings, but in the honour of glory of God, whom we should not receive without accepting Him fully. There are no ifs and buts in allowing the Lord to make us His own. To receive Him conditionally, which is what we do when we known that He can not fully inhabit us (because there are certain obstacles in our path towards Him), disgraces both Him and us. We are called to so much more than that.

This leaves open another question that Pope Francis asks: “To share the Lord’s banquet: is it the goal of the path or is it the viaticum [etym. “to accompany you on the journey”] for walking together?” In other words, is it a prize at the end of the road, or a support to help us walk the path? Maybe Communion is just the start of a path, of a journey with God? We all know that no one who receives Communion is automatically perfect, not even when they have made an examination of their conscience and found there is nothing to prevent them come forward and receive the Body and Blood of Christ. There are very few saints walking back to the pew afterwards. For us, in our imperfections and failings, Communion is a viaticum. But even a viaticum must be allowed to work. And, this is important, God’s mercy and support is not limited to Communion. In the debates about who should and should not receive, it often seems as if God’s mercy takes the exclusive form of consecrated bread and wine. It does not.

As a final aside, we also receive Communion as part of the community. Our coming forward and receiving, our saying “Amen” after the priest holds up the host with the words “The Body of Christ”, is an acknowledgement of our belief in that dogma and the entire faith that comes from that – the Eucharist, after all, is the source and summit of our faith. Someone who is a faithful Protestant with significant differences in belief, can’t pretend to acknowledge the Catholic faith. Neither can a Catholic acknowledge the faith of another church community with teachings that disagree fundamentally with those of the Catholic Church.

* The translation provided by Zenit offers more clarity than the one I linked to above, not least about what the Pope said about a bishop he knew: “I had a great friendship with an Episcopalian Bishop, 48, married, with two children, and he had this anxiety: his wife was Catholic, his children were Catholics, he was a Bishop. On Sundays he accompanied his wife and his children to Mass and then he went to worship with his community. It was a step of participation in the Lord’s Supper. Then he went on, the Lord called him, a righteous man.” This would then be Episcopalian Bishop Tony Palmer, who had the desire to become Catholic. He was good friends with Pope Francis and died after a motorcycle accident in 2014. Previously, it was assumed that the Holy Father was referring to Argentine Bishop Jerónimo Podestá, who married and was subsequently removed as bishop and barred from exercising his priestly ministry. On his deathbed in 2000, then-Archbishop Bergoglio reached out to him, the only Argentine prelate to do so. A friend refers to the following passages from magisterial documents that are relevant in this context: Ecclesia de Eucharistia 46 and 46, Ut Unum Sint 56 and Sacramentum Caritatis 56. These texts discuss the existing possibility for members of other church communities to receive the Eucharist, when they “greatly desire to receive these sacraments, freely request them and manifest the faith which the Catholic Church professes with regard to these sacraments. Conversely, in specific cases and in particular circumstances, Catholics too can request these same sacraments from ministers of Churches in which these sacraments are valid” (Ut Unum Sint, 46).

Some have said that Pope Francis only spoke about the Lutheran Last Supper, but the example of Bishop Palmer, who accompanied his wife and children to Mass (there is no mention of him receiving communion, so the Pope carefully steers clear of commenting on that). This is undoubtedly similar to the problem faced by the woman who asked the question. The Pope does not just speak about Catholics receiving sacraments in other Church communities, but just as much, if not more, about non-Catholics receiving Catholic sacraments.

Dutch translation of Pope Francis’ address to the families

I’ve made a Dutch translation of the address that Pope Francis gave to the gathering of families in Manila, yesterday. The full English text, with unscripted additions, is available via Whispers in the Loggia. The link to the text is also available in the sidebar at left.

saint joseph

Point and purpose – Whispers asks about social media

In a rare appearance of the open combox, Whispers in the Loggia asks what all this social media malarkey actually does for us:

“How do they help on the ground? When are they at their best (and, indeed, their worst)? What more could they do to live up to their highest potential? Or, conversely, what difference would it make if they all just up and vanished?”

Here’s my answer, cross-posted from the comments thread in Rocco Palmo’s exemplary blog:

“I’m a 33-year-old lay Catholic blogger from the Netherlands, have been blogging for little over two years now (well, on Catholic topics at least), and I also use Twitter and Facebook. That’s really it for social media, but I find that not jumping into every new experiment, network or what have you, helps to keep things focussed. The blog is the main thing for me.

I use social media, in the first place, privately. I like blogging and if others find what I write interesting; all the better. It’s tool to keep myself up to date on developments in the Church, and it also challenges me to keep thinking. Blogging’s no passive thing!

Generally speaking, social media on Catholic stuff shows me that I am a part of something big, practically and spiritually. I am not very much limited to my parish or even diocese: there is so much out there, in other dioceses, countries, Rome, elsewhere, that affects us and that we should be aware of and act on or against.

I would not want to miss it, because it serves a great purpose in my neck of the woods, especially when the official Church channels are cutting their budgets when it comes to communication. In that sense, I also feel a responsibility to communicate about faith and Church: if the ‘officials’ can’t do it, it falls to us. We can’t fall silent about our faith.”

Social media is an important frontier in the communication of our faith. The Church is slowly getting to grips with it, as are many faithful (many have been in the business for years already). It’s important to keep up the good work, but also to, every now and then, think about why we do it.

Shepherding the Synod

As next year major Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelisation slowly creeps closer, the Holy See appoints prelates to make sure the entire affair proceeds smoothly. One of the more important jobs, certainly the most visible, is that of Relator-General, in essence the spokesman for the Synod.

The Relator-General is responsible for the main opening address, and also for collecting the conclusions and results of the Synod for its final message and ultimately the ultimate papal document, today still some three or four years away.

For past Synods, the Holy Father has appointed prelates which subsequently received high postings in Rome, prelates held in high esteem by the pope. Among these illustrious names are those of Cardinal Angelo Scola (who was moved from Venice to Milan this year), Cardinal Peter Turkson (called to Rome to head the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace), and Cardinal Marc Ouellet (now heading the Congregation of Bishops).

The latest name on this list, appointed to be the Relator-General for the 2012 Synod, is that of Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington DC, United States (pictured at right having a laugh shortly before his elevation to cardinal last November). Rocco Palmo has more on the cardinal, who received the red hat last November.

Another important role in the Synod is that of the Secretary, who records the goings-on of the Synod and as such plays a vital role for the Relator-General too. Appointed for that job is Msgr. Pierre-Marie Carré (left), the archbishop of Montpellier, France. Msgr. Carré has been an archbishop since 2000, first of Albi, and since May 2010 as Coadjutor Archbishop of Montpellier. In June of this year he took over the reins from Archbishop Guy Thomazeau.

Two fairly recent appointments, a recently-created cardinal and a fairly recently-appointed archbishop, given high-profile duties at a Synod of Bishops from the entire worldwide Church. Ones to watch, I would say.

Photo credit: [1] Alex Wong/Getty Images,  [2] Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images

A colourful nuncio for a colourful nation

With sadness I read the news of the passing of the papal nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, after complications following lung surgery. Although I have never written about or ben involved with the archbishop, either personally or through the medium of this blog, from other writers I get the unmistakable impression that he was a colourful character, a perfect fit for such a large and dynamic nation as the United States, and he will be sorely missed.

Whispers has a full report with all the details, including the great quote below, given by Archbishop Sambi in 2007 at an education convention:

[A] young man, 22 years old, once took a piece of marble and sculpted in  it two of the most deep human sentiments: suffering accepted from the  hand of God does not diminish the beauty of the human person but  increases it, and — second sentiment — even in death, a son continues  to have full confidence in his mother.

This is the Pietá of Michelangelo, that you can see everytime you enter in the Basilica of St Peter in Rome.

Michelangelo, the author of the Pietá, is considered one of the greatest artists in the world. I don’t believe it! The greatest artists are the educators — are you– because you try to sculpt the best of yourselves, of who you are and  what you know, not in a piece of marble, but in living, breathing human  beings, who are the glory of God.

Also be sure to read the touching words written by Bishop Robert Lynch of Saint Petersburg, Florida.

Even a cursory glance at the rota of bishop appointments overt he ast few years will reveal the good that Archbishop Sambi has done. Even in the final weeks, his work led to the appointment of Archbishop Charles Chaput to Philadelphia: a sign of promise and hope for the future, and an indication of the nuncio’s good nose for prelatial transfers.

Beatification information

What with the celebration of Queen’s Day here in the Netherlands and the assorted social engagements that accompany it, I find little time to write something substantial about tomorrow’s big event: the beatification of Pope John Paul II, whom we may from then on call Blessed John Paul II. Luckily, several other bloggers and reporters are in Rome to share the amazing atmosphere in the eternal city with their readers. I happily link to them.

Father Roderick and Steve Nelson are in Rome for SQPN. They give a foretaste of the excitement and the crowds here. Anna Arco of the Catholic Herald shares her first Roman blog post to give an excellent overview of the events of today, including the closure of St. Peter’s Square at 1 this afternoon until 5:30 tomorrow. Finally, Rocco Palmo, of the excellent Whispers in the Loggia, offers several detailed posts about the preparations as well.

I will spend tomorrow morning in front of the tv. Dutch Catholic broadcaster RKK will start live coverage at 10 in the morning.

Fr. Michel Remery celebrated Mass for the Dutch pilgrims in Rome's church of the Frisians today

Photo credit: Louis Runhaar/RKK

Stats for February (and a bit of March) 2011

A return to the monthly stats reports, this one includes February and a tiny bit of March, a period which saw 4,154 visits to my blog, a pretty average number. In the top 10, it is striking to note a number of old posts (numbers 6, 8 and 9) as well as a very recent one at number 4. The situation around Bishop Schilder is of interest to many, it would seem.

I have noticed that a growing number of my blog posts tend to discuss hierarchical topics. In other words, the accusation leveled against me from some corners, that I am a bishop worshipper (or, in the words of a commenter here, an episcopolatrist), seems to develop some basis in fact. Of course I don’t worship bishops, but I do acknowledge their important role in the world Church. In many ways, I consider myself inspired by a blog like Whispers in the Loggia which discusses news topics about the hierarchy in the American Church. In my own small and inadequate way, I would like to offer something similar for the Church in northwestern Europe.

Anyway, on to the top 10:

1: A real church, “not one of those multifunctional things” 145
2: Another blogging bishop 80
3: Berlin is vacant, herald of things to come? 72
4: Dutch missionary bishop in the dock, Saint Valentine the Unknown 63
5: The archbishop gets his wish, Saint Paul’s prophetic words and Peter Seewald on the attack 56
6: The Stations of the Cross 52
7: Facing a difficult situation with “good humour” – Belgium veruss the archbishop 50
8: Another timely reminder, Het probleem Medjugorje 39
9: A poignant photo 34
10: Anti-life proposals questioned by its ‘target audience’ 31