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A Welcoming Eucharist

Friday, April 17th, 2009

We were unable to attend our regular church for Good Friday because my wife had to work during their services. I found another local church with an evening Good Friday mass which we went to. It was absolutely beautiful. We decided to continue the Easter Triduum at this new church. So we went to the Vigil and Easter Sunday.

Easter Sunday. The sanctuary was already packed so we heading to the “overflow mass” in the social hall. This was monsignor’s first mass since he had had surgery. He preached on the Gospel text, John 20, when Mary and the disciples discover the empty tomb.

He said that Peter is a symbol of authority in this Gospel and The Beloved Disciple is a symbol of love. He recognizes that The Beloved Disciple gets to the tomb before Peter. The main idea of his homily was “love always trumps authority.”

Later, during the Eucharistic prayers, the priest broke from the liturgy and said a word about the church’s Eucharistic practice. I cannot give a perfect quote here, but I will try to remember. He said “I invite everyone here to come forward. If Eucharist is not part of your tradition I encourage you to come forward for a blessing so that we can welcome, accept and bless you.” And then he quoted Galatians 3:28 “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female.” We are all one in Christ.

There is more he said, and he said it quite beautifully. Eucharist is part of my tradition (even as a Protestant), and I understood it has an invitation. It was the first time at a Catholic church that I felt welcome and invited to commune. I heard a radical message of Christ’s love and welcoming.

How can I share communion with my wife?

Sunday, July 27th, 2008

The biggest spiritual hindrance to our marriage is that we are not able to share communion at the same table. My wife is Roman Catholic and I am not.

I have approached our pastor and asked to receive and was told that if I want to commune with my wife I would have to become Roman Catholic.

So that means, even though we are united in the sacrament of matrimony and we both have faith in Jesus, we cannot share that faith together at the table – the source and summit of our spiritual lives.

A proposed solution:

I could take some bread from the communion table at my Protestant Church with me to mass. And then my wife could take her communion at Catholic Church back to the pew with her, and then both her and I could communion together.

Or maybe I could just eat the “bread” as she goes forward. As far as the Roman Catholic Church is concerned, I’m just having a snack. While of course, I do understand the bread to be the essence of Christ and is thus communion for me.

What do you think?
What do you think? Good idea, bad idea, got a better idea? What are some theological implications of this solution? What are the theological implications of a husband and wife who do/can not share the Eucharist?

Sinning to Receive Christ

Tuesday, June 10th, 2008

This post is in response to a comment left by “against heterodoxy.” The comment was made on my previous post about my perceived invitation to communion. The commenter says what I did was a sin.

I have never been confronted with this issue in quite this way. I have been told that it is inappropriate or wrong but not a sin.

Sin, as defined in the Catechism:

is an offense against God: “Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in your sight.” (Ps 51:4) Sin sets itself against God’s love for us and turns our hearts away from it. Like the first sin, it is disobedience, a revolt against God through the will to become “like gods,” (Gen 3:5) knowing and determining good and evil. Sin is thus “love of oneself even to contempt of God.” (St Augustine De civ. Die 14, 28: PL 41, 436) In this proud self- exaltation, sin is diametrically opposed to the obedience of Jesus, which achieves our salvation. (Phil 2:6-9)

If sin is something that separates us from God, “and sets our hearts against Him,” how can receiving Christ in the Eucharist (by a baptized, repentant Christian) ever be understood as sin? My heart was completely with Christ as I received him. If sin is something that separates us from God, then isn’t not receiving Eucharist at mass a sin?

Certainly one can receive in an unworthy matter (1 Cor 11:27-29) I believe that “unworthy manner” refers to the reception of those who would not identify themselves with Christ – receiving him is a lie, and Christians who approach with an unrepentant heart. Does this warning apply to baptized non-Catholic Christians who are repentant of their sins?

A few more questions came to me as I read the comment:

When non-Catholic Christians celebrate the Eucharist in their own churches, is this a sin? If it is, why? If not, why is Roman Catholic Eucharist a sin for Protestants? How do the meals which Jesus shared with sinners relate to the Lord’s Supper? (Mt 9)

How does one atone for the “sin” of receiving Christ? Does the Eucharist belong to the Church or does it belong to Christ?

Mt 9:9-13 and an Invitation

Monday, June 9th, 2008

Sunday’s Gospel reading was form Matthew 9:9-13. It is about Matthew’s call to follow Jesus. Following the call Jesus has a meal with tax collectors as sinners, much to the disapproval of the Pharisees.

Our pastor preached a message of inclusion. He said that Jesus came specifically for sinners; he came to heal. Jesus did not ask for any membership cards in order to share a meal.

But then he started preaching a message I did not expect. He spoke of Jesus’ inclusion at table with sinners and tax collectors. He then turned and pointed to the altar and said that this Eucharistic table is also an open one. He said that it is inclusive, not exclusive. Jesus invites everyone to his table.

I felt a certain conviction to approach the altar. Not only because I believe it is something that I ought to do; but now also because I perceived the homily as a direct invitation. And so I received.

I still felt a bit awkward; that it was “sneaky.” It certainly was not guilt, but rather a social stigma. I was torn. To follow my conscience and participate because I believe Christ commanded this of all of his followers, and now the priest suggesting an open table. At the same time I know the institutional structures of the Roman Catholic Church forbid Eucharistic sharing.

The priest is aware that I am a Protestant Christian, and I was in the line next to his at the Eucharist. Following mass I did not feel any animosity from him. He asked how I was doing in school, and our anniversary plans. He didn’t draw me aside and tell me I was wrong. One cannot preach an inclusive sermon, without willing to accept the consequences that radical inclusion entails.

The message was not quite as explicit as I would have liked, but the message was clear. Still, I wonder why I feel the need to “get permission” to receive from anyone other than Christ?

2nd Class Christian

Friday, April 18th, 2008

Externally there are no tell-tale signs that I am not in full communion with the Church – Except that I stay behind in the pew during the service of the Eucharist. Only sinners, nonbelievers, and Protestants stay in the pews.

I am very hurt to be lumped into this group. Granted, I am a sinner for sure. But my sins have been forgiven through the sacrament of baptism. Granted, I have sinned since then and I believe I need to confess. see, 1 John 1:9.

The Catholic Church teaches that Protestants are members of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church by virtue of our baptism. I am in communion with the Catholic church, imperfect though it may be. Apparently our communion is broken enough to declare that this Christian brother is in the same class as sinners and nonbelievers.

I often see 1 Cor. 11:29 cited as justification for barring Protestants from the communion table. Quote: “For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.” (NIV)

Catholics will point to this scripture and say something like “if you don’t believe that the Eucharist is truly Christ you eat judgment on yourself. Protestants don’t believe this, therefore we are just looking out for your own good by keeping you from it.”

The problem is that there are many Protestants that do affirm this belief. Episcopalians, Lutherans, etc. and me for example.

Lets put that matter aside for a moment and look at the text at hand. We need to take a step back and look at the larger context of this passage, 1 Cor 11:17-34, in its entirety.

Paul is condemning the the Corinthians’ practices concerning the Lord’s Supper (aka Eucharist).

“In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk. Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you for this? Certainly not!”(NIV, vv. 17-22)

Paul condemns the Corinthian Church for not sharing the Lord’s Supper with all of the Christian faithful who are present.

Next we find the words of institution for the Lord’s Supper. vv. 23-26

Following the words of institution we find the text normally used to justify closed communion within the Catholic church:

“Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world.” (NIV, vv 27-32)

But, what does Paul mean by “recognizing the body of the Lord?” I will agree that he is speaking of the elements themselves, but it is clear from the context that Paul is also speaking about the Body of Christ as the community of Christians.

Let us understand the condemnation in this way: Whoever fails to recognize his brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ eats and drinks judgment on himself.

Paul concludes this passage with one final plead: “So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for each other.” (NIV, v. 33)

“Paul criticizes Christians who use sacramental acts like the Eucharist to distinguish themselves from other Christians.” (Communion with Non-Catholic Christians Jeffrey VanderWilt, p.154)

I fear that when large parts of the Body of Christ (i.e. baptized, non-Catholic Christians, aka Protestants) are denied access to the Eucharist, “it is not the Lord’s Supper [we] eat.”

I can discern the Roman Catholic Church as part of the Body of Christ, can you discern me as a part of the Body as well?


Friday, April 11th, 2008

My wife and I attend our local Catholic Church exclusively. I do not attend a Protestant church of my own tradition. We have been worshiping there since we got married, so for about 9 months. For those 9 months I have received communion exactly twice.

Twice! In 9 months! Now, some protestants who are reading this might be saying “so?”

I come from a Christian tradition which celebrates The Lord’s Supper every Sunday. It is hard for me to consider a typical Protestant “service” worship, unless communion is part of it.

I believe that as baptized Christians we are commanded to The Lord’s Supper, and called to it regularly. The words of institution simply say “Do this…” And in the Gospel according to John, Jesus explains that “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” (Jn 6:53 NIV)

The Catholic Church articulates it quite well when they say that the Eucharist “is the fount and apex of the whole Christian life.” (Lumen Gentium, 11) The Catechism translates this as “the source and summit” (Catechism, 1324) To put it another way, the Eucharist is as essential for our spiritual lives as food is for our physical health.

Not receiving the Eucharist for me is tantamount to starvation.

Being hungry for Christ, I approached our (Catholic) pastor and asked to receive the Eucharist when I attend mass. We scheduled a meeting and discussed the possibility.

He suggested that I was perhaps being called by God to join the Roman Catholic Church, and for that reason the Eucharist would be withheld from me until I am able to make that decision. He was interested in my journey and offered to continue our meeting at another time and discuss the possibility of joining the Church.

I went into the meeting from a different perspective. I understand myself to be called to the ordained ministry. I am not prepared to abandon God’s calling. (the priesthood is not an option for me because I am married) I was hoping to be admitted to the Eucharist, while recognizing our imperfect communion. That Jesus commanded celebration of his Eucharist not within one particular manifestation of his Church but simply as his Body of believers.

Protestants and Catholics hold quite a paradoxical view of how the Eucharist can be shared. Protestants believe that we will not be united until we are able to share the Eucharist together. Catholics believe we cannot share the Eucharist together until we are united.

And so I stand in this paradox, praying for God’s intercession to bring his broken Church on Earth into a visible unity.