Christ among the Doctors of the Law



Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Questions over Canon 915 are not going away

As long as Canon 915 is so widely misunderstood and virtually ignored, neuralgic controversies over the public reception of holy Communion by certain notorious figures are going to keep arising, over, and over, and over again.

And not just in America.

Robert Mugabe went to Communion at John Paul II’s beatification Mass and the photo of his taking the Host went world-wide, of course, occasioning, besides p. r. problems for the Church and deep disappointment among Mugabe’s victims (or their survivors), more flawed explanations of the canonical norms for reception of holy Communion. These latter attract my attention (I have no opinion on whether Mugabe should have ever been invited to the rites themselves, what do I know of such things?).

Before addressing those mis-explanations, however, let me say that it’s possible that the priest actually administering holy Communion to what looks like a nice old man in a business suit did not know that the apparently nice old man in a business suit claims Hitler as his role model. Such ignorance would suffice to defend the priest from charges of disrespect toward the Eucharist.

Now, about those flawed explanations of Communion discipline.

From Vatican Insider (English, 28 June 2011) we read: Cardinal Wilfried Napier tried to throw water over the firestorm of problems, explaining that “for any Christian, the reception of communion is a personal matter, consciously made in front of God. As such, it is a matter for the ‘internal forum’, in other words the space between God and the believer. No one, except Mugabe, and perhaps his confessor, can know if he was in a state of grace when he presented himself to receive communion in St. Peter’s Square. It is not up to us to ask Mugabe about his ‘internal forum’.

That’s mostly* true, but it’s also mostly beside the point.

Not all Communion-reception questions are answered by resort to Canon 916. Canon 915 is also relevant, and Canon 915 does not operate in the internal forum, rather, it operates in the external forum. One’s eligibility, or lack thereof, under Canon 915 to receive holy Communion does not depend on the state of one’s soul, it depends on whether one’s public actions manifest obstinate perseverance in grave sin.

[Cdl. Napier] continued “Also, since Mugabe is not under interdict (as are some pro-choice politicians in the United States, at the discretion of local bishops) he can continue receiving communion. We should hope that his personal chaplain will provide him with adequate spiritual guidance”.

First, to my knowledge, no politician in the USA is under interdict, but if one were, it would not have been as a function of episcopal discretion, but as a function of objective canon law. Second, interdict (specifically, imposed or declared interdict) is not the only disqualifier for the reception of holy Communion under Canon 915, for excommunication or obstinate perseverance in manifest grave sin also disqualifies one from reception of Communion.

As I have said many times before, none of the above relies on “canonical rocket science”, nor does it take special divining skills to see that, someday, the chronic discrepancies between canon law and pastoral practice regarding Communion reception are going to have to be reconciled. + + +

* For example, no human being, not even a confessor, can ever know whether a sui compos adult is in the state of grace.