The Eucharist has been a subject of debate in recent times, more specifically the reception of Holy Communion. The debate is centred around the post-synodal document on the Family Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), in which Pope Francis has opened the possibility of Holy Communion to the divorced and remarried. Understandably, this little detail in the document opened up a flood-gate of vocal opposition from conservative quarters, who maintain that Holy Communion must not be given to those living with someone outside of sacramental marriage, even though it may be a civil union. Four high-ranking Cardinals even composed a ‘Dubbia’ a formal letter of protest to the Pope, asking him to clarify his position on this issue.
Unfortunately, this debate has narrowed and limited the way in which people perceive the reception of Holy Communion; and in extension, has limited their understanding of the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist and what it means to be a member of the Church family. I don’t blame the lay faithful for this, since the majority of articles one finds online, focus only on this one aspect of ‘Amoris Laetitia’, even though the document is almost 300 pages long and has 326 articles.
It is important to understand that Holy Communion is not a ‘right’ or a ‘prize’ that is entitled to everyone. Every baptised person can validly participate in the Holy Eucharist even without receiving Holy Communion, in instances where the person is in a state of grave sin. Though the Eucharist gives us strength and grace to overcome our weaknesses and live a more holy life, if we receive the Holy Eucharist when we are in a state of grave sin and don’t intend to change that anytime soon, we are contradicting the very Body of Christ. I have met many people (those living in regular sacramental marriages), who also sometimes do not come forward to receive Holy Communion, because they feel they aren’t in a state of grace to receive the Body of the Lord. They make it a point to make their confession before doing so.
The divorced and remarried may be able to justify their state of life in some instances, for e.g. if their spouse left them without any fault of their own or if they were in an abusive marriage or their spouse cheated on them. Nonetheless, we must not see Holy Communion as something that is unjustly denied to us, but must use this time to help ourselves and others live a more perfect life, in the same way as Christ loves his bride the Church in a perfect manner.
Consider an example: a small child suffering from a bad cold is not allowed by his/her mother to have an ice-cream at a birthday party. The child desires it tremendously, and even more sees that all the other children are having it. But the mother does this not because she wants to punish her child or any arbitrary reason but because she loves and wants her child to come back to full health. The child may not understand this at that moment and may feel instead that he/she is being unjustly denied a good thing.
We receive Jesus in many ways during the Eucharist: through the Word of God when he speaks to us, through the priest who presides over the assembly in the person of Christ, through the congregation around us which is the Body of Christ, through the prayers which unite our soul to God and bring us joy, through the homily in which the priest breaks the Word of God and exhorts us to live more perfectly, through the Sign of Peace, through the final blessing when we receive God’s strength to go out into the world as disciples. We are also called to participate in the life of the Church in the different ministries and through works of charity.
Hence we must shun this narrow outlook of reducing the Holy Eucharist only to the reception of Holy Communion. We must make ourselves worthy to receive that spotless Lamb who died for us. Pope Francis has not changed the doctrine of the Church on this issue, but has opened up the possibility (albeit with many conditions) that some people in irregular situations could receive Holy Communion after a process of intense discernment with their priest and Bishop. This is just the Church trying to pastorally understand and reach out to those who are yearning for love. Rest assured, Christ loves all his children unconditionally, however perfect or imperfect they may be.