Dear father Angelo,
With reference to the question of yesterday 2 May 2020, you rightly replied by mentioning 1Corinthians 11: 27-30 in which we were warned by St. Paul not to approach Holy Communion without having made a deep examination of conscience in order not to irrevocably condemn ourselves. You rightly referred it to the case in which we live in mortal sin whilst approaching the Eucharist without previous sacramental confession. This seems to me the interpretation that the Church in Her Magisterium has always highlighted in its deepest meaning.
That is why the following passages of Amoris Laetitia made me feel bewildered:
“185. Along these same lines, we do well to take seriously a biblical text usually interpreted outside of its context or in a generic sense, with the risk of overlooking its immediate and direct meaning, which is markedly social. I am speaking of 1 Cor 11:17-34, where Saint Paul faces a shameful situation in the community. The wealthier members tended to discriminate against the poorer ones, and this carried over even to the agape meal that accompanied the celebration of the Eucharist. While the rich enjoyed their food, the poor looked on and went hungry: “One is hungry and another is drunk. Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the Church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?” (vv. 21-22).
186. The Eucharist demands that we be members of the one body of the Church. Those who approach the Body and Blood of Christ may not wound that same Body by creating scandalous distinctions and divisions among its members. This is what it means to “discern” the body of the Lord, to acknowledge it with faith and charity both in the sacramental signs and in the community; those who fail to do so eat and drink judgement against themselves (cf. v. 29). The celebration of the Eucharist thus becomes a constant summons for everyone “to examine himself or herself” (v. 28), to open the doors of the family to greater fellowship with the underprivileged, and in this way to receive the sacrament of that eucharistic love which makes us one body. We must not forget that “the ‘mysticism’ of the sacrament has a social character”. When those who receive it turn a blind eye to the poor and suffering, or consent to various forms of division, contempt and inequality, the Eucharist is received unworthily. On the other hand, families who are properly disposed and receive the Eucharist regularly, reinforce their desire for fraternity, their social consciousness and their commitment to those in need.”
So, according to Amoris Laetitia, in order not to be condemned,I do not have to take into account if I live in mortal sin but I must consider how indifferent I remain towards needy families as I ought to commit myself to helping the poor; in this case I can receive Holy Communion worthily without condemning myself. I admit that this exegesis leaves me shocked as I must take into consideration my social sin and not my mortal sins, namely, the Ten Commandments.
Among other things, this exegesis of St. Paul’s passage is placed in the context of a Pastoral Exhortation that has created more confusion than anything else. It seems to me a nice way to say that sins of impurity do not count because helping the poorest is the only important thing to do.
I cannot help feeling puzzled about it.
The Priest’s reply
1. The fact that we should examine ourselves in relation to others, in particular to those who are rejected by society, is not only to be considered as a useful thing to do but also as a duty for us. Within the Corinthian Community, poor people used to attend the celebration of Eucharist along with the rich and these latter, according to St.Paul, were held to consider whether they intended to celebrate Communion along with the poor.
2.Saint Paul encourages us to make this examination of conscience by recalling the Institution of the Eucharist made by Jesus Christ as well as its meaning and the need to examine ourselves before eating that Bread.
After having recalled all this, St. Paul then returns to how people were confusing things during the supper that they used to eat all together and concludes:
“Therefore, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that your meetings may not result in judgment. The other matters I shall set in order when I come.” (1Cor.11:33-34)
3. Here, by using the term “therefore”, St.Paul refers to the discourse he made about the people’s confusion mentioned above as if to say: here are the reasons why you should no longer act like this.
4. At the same time this discourse is to be considered as valuable even outside the context in which Saint Paul wished to apply it; in fact it has an eternal and universal value.
Here, Saint Paul recalls the Institution of the Eucharist made by Jesus.
He surely had heard about it from the Apostles and had seen this done by the Christian Communities. But, at the same time he says that he learned about it through divine revelation during which he was confirmed that what was being done by the Communities was correct: “For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you” (1Cor.11:23).
5.He also recalls the words by which this sacrament was instituted and which reveal its meaning: “the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.” (1Cor. 11:23-26).
It is as if Saint Paul said: “You must do as Jesus did for it is Jesus Who gave Himself wholly for us and Who makes the presence of His death real in our midst until He returns to give us the strength to do the same”.
6. “Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself.” (1Cor.11:27-29)
So, some of the Corinthians were approaching the Body and Blood of Christ “unworthily”.
For this reason Saint Paul concludes: “Therefore, my brothers, when you come together to eat…”
7.But that is not the only unworthy way to receive the Body and Blood of Christ.
In fact, Saint Paul also warns elsewhere that even those who worship demons and make a deal with Satan are unworthy to receive the Body and Blood of Christ: “No, I mean that what they sacrifice, (they sacrifice) to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to become participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and also the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and of the table of demons.” (1Cor. 10: 20-21).
8. Even those who commit fornication are unworthy to approach the Body and Blood of Christ: “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take Christ’s members and make them the members of a prostitute? Of course not! (Or) do you not know that anyone who joins himself to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For “the two,” it says, “will become one flesh.” (1Cor. 6:15-16)
9.Saint Paul also compares the sin of fornication to a series of other sins of which he says that those who commit them will not inherit the Kingdom of God: “Now the works of the flesh are obvious: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Gal. 5:19-21)
Given these conditions, who would dare to claim to be worthy to receive the Body and Blood of Christ while having committed sins such as impurity, debauchery, idolatry, witchcraft, drunkenness, orgy, and the like because they are not sins directly committed against other people?
10. For this reason, it remains true that we all must approach Holy Communion while maintaining the bonds of charity (that is living in the Grace of God) which are inevitably broken by mortal sins.
In this regard, Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical letter “Ecclesia de Eucharistia” teaches as follows:
“Keeping these invisible bonds intact is a specific moral duty incumbent upon Christians who wish to participate fully in the Eucharist by receiving the body and blood of Christ. The Apostle Paul appeals to this duty when he warns: “Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (1 Cor 11,28). Saint John Chrysostom, with his stirring eloquence, exhorted the faithful: “I too raise my voice, I beseech, beg and implore that no one draw near to this sacred table with a sullied and corrupt conscience. Such an act, in fact, can never be called ‘communion’, not even were we to touch the Lord’s body a thousand times over, but «condemnation», «torment» and «increase of punishment»”.
Along these same lines, the Catechism of the Catholic Church rightly stipulates that “anyone conscious of a grave sin must receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to communion”. I therefore desire to reaffirm that in the Church there remains in force, now and in the future, the rule by which the Council of Trent gave concrete expression to the Apostle Paul’s stern warning when it affirmed that, in order to receive the Eucharist in a worthy manner, “one must first confess one’s sins, when one is aware of mortal sin”. (Ecclesia de Eucharistia 36).
11.As a matter of fact, when Pope Francis says:
“we do well to take seriously a biblical text usually interpreted outside of its context or in a generic sense, with the risk of overlooking its immediate and direct meaning, which is markedly social”
He does not mean that what is usually interpreted “outside of its context or in a generic sense” is wrong and that the “risk of overlooking its immediate and direct meaning, which is markedly social” is the only interpretation to be given.
Nor does he intend to deny the Doctrine expressed in the Sacred Scripture, especially contained in the writings of Saint Paul and constantly taught by the Church Fathers and by the Magisterium of the Church.
I congratulate you on the attention paid to the texts of the Magisterium.
I wish you all the best, I remind you to the Lord and I bless you.