One major controversy that wracked the public discussion about the recent synod on the family was the question of whether to permit those who had been divorced and remarried to receive the Eucharist.
I won’t weigh in on the issue, waiting for some pastoral wisdom from Pope Francis. But I do want to share some thoughts about both from where I am.
Many visitors are surprised with so few people who receive Communion at Masses here, especially in the countryside. In the past few months, when I’ve been visiting villages with the Eucharist for a Sunday Celebration of the Word with Communion, I encourage the people to receive communion.
I sometimes ask them how many times they eat a day. Mostly likely three, with perhaps two snacks, they finally admit. But then I try to connect this with the Eucharist, the Bread of Life.
I admit that many of them have not been married in the church. I urge them to find ways to get married – which is not easy here, because the civil costs are often at least $100. In addition, many young people do not have examples of married couples and so don’t think about marriage. I see many unmarried couples with children in church and just long to find a way for them to be able to come together at the Table of the Lord.
But also at the base of infrequent communion is the belief that one cannot receive communion unless one has confessed almost immediately before. “No sinful person should approach the Eucharist” is a common sentiment.
This, of course, is rooted in a theology that is emphasizes sinfulness and divine punishment, rather than the medicine of God’s mercy. I wonder how much this is due to political, economic, and religious forces that play down the human dignity of all people, especially the poor. But that’s another very serious question.
I try to help them understand the theology that says one can receive communion if one has committed a mortal sin that has not been confessed. I sometimes think that this is new to many of them.
But not going to communion doesn’t mean that there is not a deep devotion to the Eucharist. In our parish, every Thursday there is a Holy Hour – and sometimes hours of adoration before the exposed Eucharist – wherever the Eucharist is reserved. There is even one village where they have a Holy Hour even though they don’t have the Eucharist reserved!
|2011 Corpus Christi procession in a village|
I believe there is a hunger for Christ, indeed a hunger for the Eucharist, that some theological musings and church customs don’t recognize.
Can we pray and discuss the question of marriage and communion with this hunger in mind?
Can we pray and discuss these questions as we find ways for couples to be married as a sacramental sign of God’s love which they may already be living?
These are questions that deeply touch my heart.