Christ among the Doctors of the Law



Friday, April 24, 2009

Three thoughts occasioned by Fr. Mullady's Q&A column

The Q&A column by Fr. Brian Mullady, op, in Homiletic & Pastoral Review always teaches me something, if not something new in substance, then at least a new way of explaining difficult concepts. Occasionally though, I find an explanation that, while correct, I think should have been put another way. Mullady's column in the April 2009 HPR has three such instances which I'd like to raise for consideration.

First, after correctly stating that a priest who attempts confection of the Eucharist with certain altered words acts invalidly, Mullady adds "The communicants would receive a spiritual communion, but not the true body and blood of Christ." I see what Mullady's getting at, I think, but I don't think we should put things quite that way.

Central to the typical act of "spiritual communion" is the intention to receive Christ spiritually. But persons in a Communion line at Mass do not have that intention; they intend to receive Christ sacramentally. It's not clear, then, how one can perform a specific spiritual act without the intention of performing that spiritual act. Persons receiving un-consecrated hosts in good faith commit no sin and God recognizes the good of their actions toward receiving the Eucharist, but one can offer such reassurances without parlaying would-be communicants' actions into their having made a "spiritual communion", at least not without some allusion to issues of implied or contructive intentionality. The blunt fact is that, because the celebrant grievously (Mullady's good description) violated liturgical and sacramental law, he deprived the faithful of the graces they strove for and placed them in a position of committing material idolatry. Such a priest should be punished in accord with 1983 CIC 1379.

Second, Mullady correctly explained that couples who attempt marriage with the positive intention to contracept for a time would, according to current canonical jurisprudence, presumably marry validly. But I would have been more cautious about adding, as Mullady did, that they also marry licitly.

Anyone who receives a sacrament with the specific intention to commit a gravely sinful act after that reception seems to me to receive that sacrament illicitly, notwithstanding its validity. Even the possibility that contraception-oriented couples receive the sacrament of matrimony "formlessly" (because of their evil intentions) raises, I suggest, questions about the liceity of such reception (1983 CIC 843, CCC 1131). In addition, as to whether a priest should proceed to witness such a wedding, the question needed more space than Mullady could give it, obviously, but I'd point people to 1983 CIC 1066 and 1075 for starters.

Third, in the same question, Mullady said that marriages attempted "with the intention never to have a child can be annulled." This seems poor phraseology. Marriages aren't "annulled" as if something is done to them by a tribunal; rather, some marriages are "declared null", which means that something is determined about them by a tribunal, namely, their nullity. It's a terminological distinction that is hard to get across, but that we should always strive to respect.