Taking Communion when not Catholic – UPDATED

Rick at Brutally Honest, for whom I have a deal of affection, and he’s been a a provocative read for years, has been away from the Catholic Church for a long time.

He and his wife have now decided to partake of Holy Communion within the Catholic Church, although without the sacrament of Confession or any sort of adherent “membership,” in the church. He feels free to do this, because “no man has a right to stand between another man and Jesus.” He believes Jesus would not turn him away, nor his wife.

I am not quite certain I understand whether or not Rick and his wife believe that the Blessed Sacrament of which they are partaking is the Real Presence of Christ – the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus – or if they think it is a very powerful symbolic communion; that seems unclear to me. But in sharing his thoughts on the matter, Rick has basically put up his dukes and said, “tell me why I can’t; would Jesus turn my wife away?”

The Priest then said that this is how the Lord’s Supper should be viewed by all baptized Christians. That baptism is the price paid for all to come and partake. I was a bit taken aback. He did not say baptized Catholics. Perhaps he meant to. Though I was baptized Catholic and though I might’ve partaken if he had said instead baptized Catholic, I know that he instead said Christian.

A joy came over me. And I willingly, and guiltlessly, went and communed.

Tomorrow, I’m hoping, Mrs. BH will be joining me as I go back to Mass. And, I believe, as a baptized Christian, she will be welcomed to the Eucharist. Some will disagree I’m sure. And some may let their disagreements be known. Fine. But what would Jesus do?

Seriously?

Okay, a little background: here is what Jesus said in John, Chapter 6:48-61

I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”
The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us (his) flesh to eat?” Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.”
These things he said while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. Then many of his disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?”

And here is what St. Paul says, in 1 Corinthians 23-29:

For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.
Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself.

Okay, anyone who has read me for a while knows I hate apologetics. But having just come off a retreat where I was so deeply humbled by the Presence and Merciful Love of His Majesty, I feel compelled to respond to Rick’s question.

I meant for this to show up in his comments thread, but for whatever reason, it would not. (Btw, the “sudden overnight” I mentioned yesterday is turning into a “sudden two nights” so, I may not be here to respond. I just ask that folks leaving comments be respectful.)

This is my rather fast and off-the-cuff response to Rick, meant for his comments thread.

Hi Rick! You asked: Would Jesus turn your wife away?

Jesus was an observant Jew who followed the rules of Judaism, and when he healed a leper, he told the leper to partake of the prescribed cleansing and show himself to the priest. And while he welcomed all, he never said, “mow down others and their rules” to get to him. Jesus never said “disrespect authority” (especially authority he himself put into place) to get to him. When the hemorrhagic woman dared to touch his cloak, he still wanted to know who had approached him in faith; he still wanted her to account for herself and her approaching him. He healed her. He had mercy on her. But he wanted her to declare herself to his face, and before all the rest. It was not enough for her to simply be anonymous in the crowd, and partaking of him for herself.

My question is, if you want mass and you want specifically Catholic Communion, do you or do you not believe in the Real Presence of Christ in Communion? If you do – if you can accept that great mystery – why would the rest not follow, including the sacraments and Paul’s anger against those who “eat and drink of the Body of Christ unworthily?”

If you do not believe this is the Body, Blood Soul and Divinity of Christ, then why would you (regardless of the goodness of your heart) go into a church, say, “no, I don’t believe this is the Body and Blood of Christ but you’re going to let me and my wife have it anyway!” I’m thinking there is not great or edifying love, there. And THAT attitude, more than anything, should get in the way of your receiving communion. I’m not sure how receiving communion with a heart full of love for Christ and defensive disdain for the rest of it equals adequate spiritual comportment for the reception of His Majesty’s own Body and Blood into your own body, your own blood.

People like to say Communion is “a meal” and “a banquet” and it is those things, but it is much, much more. Communion is a face-to-face, one-on-one with Christ. It is actually intercourse with Him, too, in the sense that he comes into us and we become ONE FLESH. He is the bridegroom and we, his church, the bride. This is nothing to engage in lightly.

I have long thought that “no one should stand between a man and Christ” and once even wrote a short story about it.

But we ourselves have a responsibility to stand between ourselves and the reception of Christ in the Holy Sacrament, if we are not rightly disposed toward receiving him. That means not only that we be free of the stain of grave sin, but that we also bring ourselves to him in humility, and part of that humility is to consider all of scripture – including Paul’s admonishments – and not simply take what we want and leave the rest.

It seems to me that in a mature and respectful faith, if you want what the Catholics have, you go about partaking it the Catholic way. To do less is profoundly disrespectful and, dare I say it, immature. It would be like me coming into your house, sticking my head into your fridge and grabbing the thing you’d prepared for a family event, scarfing it down and saying, “what, it’s for everyone, right? Why should I wait? Why shouldn’t I have it now, when I want it?”

If you want Catholic stuff, be a Catholic. If you don’t want to be a Catholic, don’t take their stuff. Especially don’t take their stuff while saying, “screw youse, I’m taking your stuff, because it’s deeply meaningful to me, but all the rest of your stuff is stupid.”

No one can stand in your way to Christ, but I have to wonder what Christ thinks of that. “Happy to be with you and in you, Rick, glad you love me; I love you too. Can we talk about how you’re treating the Catholics, now? If you’re not willing to take the ritual bath of confession and show yourself to the priest, should you be doing all this? I love you, but you know, that doesn’t mean the rules don’t apply to you. ‘Go and show’ is like ‘go and sin no more’ – I said these things for a reason.”

I hope you will rethink your “gorging at the banquet” because Communion is more than a meal. And the priest who told you this is the gift to every Christian is both correct and incorrect. Communion is Christ’s gift to every Christian. But there are ways of reception that are clearly spelled out, not written thoughtlessly or capriciously but reasoned and prayed about over many years, by the very church Christ himself instituted through Peter and the apostles and their successors.

Jesus either meant the things he said or he did not. He either meant that we were supposed to actually eat his flesh and drink his blood, or he was just (uncharacteristically) talking nonsense, but he did not try to clarify himself to those who rejected that message as “too hard” to take. He didn’t say, “hey, wait, you guys…I was speaking figuratively, not literally!” He either meant that Peter had the keys to the kingdom and was the head of his church on earth (‘what you hold bound on earth, is bound in heaven…’) or he was (again, uncharacteristically) saying nothing that needed heeding.

If Jesus didn’t want a church for this stuff, he wouldn’t have started one. How can you go to communion and say, “Jesus I love you and am happy to commune with you, but your church kind of sucks…”

That is of a piece with saying, “God, I believe you’re big enough to make the world in six days, (or in one instant) but don’t believe you can turn bread and wine into your Body and Blood.” These things either are or are not.

I say all of this in peace, and with a good deal of affection. But I think you and your wife, being hungry for Jesus in the Eucharist, need to consider that you are not the only ones involved, here.

You are engaging in a great mystery of ponderous depth. Jesus is also involved. So are the people around you who are withholding themselves from Communion because – for one reason or another – they know they are not currently in a fit state to welcome His Majesty into themselves. You might call that “the church standing between Christ and a person.” Some of us might call that, “giving Christ his due.”

Part of being Brutally Honest, Rick, it to be able to be brutally honest with yourself. I think you would not have gone out of your way to write this – and to engage in comments – if you did not know, within yourself, that you are NOT being 100% honest on this issue.

“No one can come to me, unless the Father draws him…” Jesus told us this. If you are being drawn to Him in Communion, through the beckoning of the Father, and if you believe that you are receiving the Body and Blood of Christ – and if you want this in its fullness – why not at least explore the idea that you are being drawn forward for a purpose beyond your immediate gratification, and that this drawing forward is not meant to be a half-measure?

The Holy Eucharist has real power; it is the Source and Summit of our whole life of faith because it is truly the physical Presence of Christ, under the appearance of bread and wine. It is frankly, not to be messed with. For God to have placed a hunger for this within you suggests that God is working powerfully in your life. But God cannot contradict himself, and there are no negatives in Christ, which suggests that one cannot receive Him in Communion while harboring negative notions and then expect the full imparting of grace, blessing and completeness one seeks.

These things either are, or they are not. What you believe of the Eucharist you are receiving should compel your behavior beyond anything your human reasoning (no matter how gifted-and-faulty) can devise. If you believe the Eucharist is Holy, that it is the true Presence of the All in All, then you must go all in, or you insult His Majesty and lessen yourself.

If you do not believe it, then what are you doing?

All offered in peace, Rick. You know my affection for you. But I do pray you’ll rethink some of this, prayerfully. I pray you’ll take your questions to Jesus and let him tell you the answer.

I just posted something at my site last night that you might find interesting: “he is letting me touch him!” is wonder, reverence and humility. His Majesty deserves it all. We cannot give Him all due reverence and humility if we are simultaneously defiant to our surroundings.

Related: President Clinton took Catholic Communion, President Bush did not

Linked: Our pal, Fr. James Martin, who seems like he’s just run into a restaurant yelling, “fight, fight!” has linked here and added a great photo. I’m sure the comments will get “hotsy” over there, as they did yesterday when Fr. Jim wrote about the Tulsa Bishop’s decision to go ad orientem!

UPDATE: Completely off-topic:
but as I’m in a terrible rush to get going, please check out Victor Davis Hanson’s thoughts on Obama’s rather creepy use of scripture to justify his healthcare plan. And more here.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Gina

    I really don’t understand this attitude, to be so obnoxious and selfish as a way of demonstrating that Jesus is on your side. Irony.

  • Bikerdad

    I’m going to respond briefly, as a Christian, not a Catholic, who has taken Communion in RC churches, Lutheran churches, charismatic, Pentecostal, and evangelical churches. I’ve taken communion at Easter sunrise in foreign countries, and midnight Christmas Eve in Sin City. (I have not, however, taken nearly as many Communions as I should have…)

    I will take Communion in any Christian church (which leaves LDS and some other near/psuedo/whatever “Christian” churches out) that offer it to me. If they ask “are you such and such” and I say no, and they say “then you can’t take Communion with us”, I’ll simply say, “Okay” and wait quiety, praying. Ditto if they announce that they have closed Communion. I won’t demand that they accept or tolerate MY understanding of Communion, and as someone visiting, I know that Christian hospitality and charity won’t demand that I accept theirs. They are facilitating a sacrament, but the sacrament is between my Lord and I, not between the church and I.

    God’s grace is sufficient for me in that moment, whether I “do this” in remembrance of Him, or forgo in order to refrain from offending my brother. (Kinda like the NT advice regarding keeping kosher) There’s been no call upon my life to cause a row over Communion. Perhaps others have been thus entreated by the Holy Spirit, although I am skeptical.

  • http://groups.yahoo.com/group/monasterion monk

    After all the human , 21st century re-interpretations of scripture, human made church canons, rules, clever rhetoric and arguments, I still think: leave the judging to God alone if someone, in good conscience, should or should not partake in Communion. Let me not be the space-time, socio-culturally restricted judge of that or anyone else. let me remain the co-pilot or steward on God’s plane and not try to usurp his role as creator of the plane and being the main and senior pilot.

    John (priest and monk/hermit for 40 years)

  • British Rightie

    First time poster, redirected from Hot Air. Anchoress, I thoroughly enjoyed your exposition which clarified my thoughts on the subject, and accorded with my rather muddled thinking. I read Rick’s reply and was saddened by this response, which seemed to say that “if you do not allow my every whim then I reject your beliefs and your church.” Sadly, I feel that Rick is depriving himself of a source of comfort and grace which he may regret in later life.

  • James

    Rick,

    The Invitation is there for you. What I don’t understand is this: if you do not accept the teaching of the Catholic Church as concerns the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, why would it matter in the least to you that it be available to you or not?

    Why would you desire to receive a sacrament in which you do not fully believe? Do you truly believe you have found a “loophole” in the faith?

    None of us speak for the Church, of course, but several above have provided relevant scriptural references underlying the doctrine. For us, the Holy Eucharist is a solemn and sacred moment. It is a gift available to all who seek it, but it is a specified covenant. We do not get to pick and choose parts of the covenant to observe or not.

    You don’t have to accept and believe any of it by your own free will. But if your beliefs conflict with those of the Church, what possible benefit do you perceive in receiving a sacrament you don’t accept?

  • dellbabe68

    I don’t think it’s obnoxioux or displaying attitude for a Church to set its own rules and expect that its parishioners follow them. And everything here was said with a lot of care. I think if you don’t lik the answer, that is an answer in itself.
    Rick and wife – you certainly may not decide to stay in this Church. You’ll find one you like if you’re commited to the process. I will just ask, what will you do when they all have something you don’t like? In other words, be ready to find a lot of imperfection and really ask yourself if belonging is what you want, or having it your way and being able to stay. Good luck (I mean that sincerely.) At some point, you may have to take seriously the things the places you want to worship in suggest to you.

  • dellbabe68

    One more thing to Rick, his wife, and anyone else looking and seeking:

    When you are seeking out a Church to worship in, something important to remember is that you should be going to worship God, not to be validated. Those are two very different things. If you’re going to be validated, you might as well make your own Church because every place will disappoint you eventually. If you keep focused on God, the little things that annoy you or seem incomprehensible, may eventually make sense, or they may not, but in the meantime, you’ll be working on your relationship with God and that’s a great thing. Compared to that, other things fall away, honestly.

  • Wallace

    Jesus didn’t turn Rich or his wife away.

    But, I think the whole idea is that your supposed to respect the Lord enough to turn yourself away when you’re not in a state of grace.

  • J

    When I was fourteen I went to confession on Christmas Eve. My walk home that cold new england night is a memory I will treasure forever. I felt full of God’s blessing and such a joy….it is impossible to describe. Why would this poor man deprive himself of that?

  • DaveW

    I do not understand why someone that wants to be in communion with the Catholic Church wouldn’t go ahead and go through the process to, well, get in communion with the Catholic Church.

    It is open to anyone, fairly simple (though long), and is offered everywhere. You learn a lot, meet a lot of really nice people and become a close member of a faith community through the experience.

    Or that’s what I experienced anyway. I attended Mass 3 times a week for a full year without participating in communion while going through the process of becoming a Catholic. If it is truly important to you, as it was very important to me, why not go ahead and do it the way the Church prescribes?

  • Magdaleno Villegas

    Beautifully written Amen!

  • oLD gUY

    As a Protestant, I often come here to be refreshed by the talented writing of a sister in Christ who clearly and deeply loves the Lord. While I could hijack the thread by restarting the centuries old debate about transubstantiation, I won’t. We see through a glass darkly and won’t see fully until in His glorious presence.

    However, I do want to make one point in regard to your statement:
    “If Jesus didn’t want a church for this stuff, he wouldn’t have started one. How can you go to communion and say, “Jesus I love you and am happy to commune with you, but your church kind of sucks…””

    I would point out that God instituted temple worship and priests. And yet, Jesus Himself came to earth and said “your church kind of sucks…”. To wit: “You brood of vipers…”

    [I interpret his "brood of vipers" to mean the pharisees and priests who taught incorrectly and were out for themselves, and not to be a criticism of Judaism itself, which Christ clearly respected and observed. -admin]

  • Tom F

    Anchoress, you may hate apologetics but you sure are good at it! Love your stuff, keep it coming!

  • Bender

    REPOSTED (since the comment I sent in last night is apparently lost) –

    In the case of sacramental confession, all appearances to the contrary, you really are not making your confession “to the priest.” You are making your confession to God.

    The priest is not present in his personal capacity. Rather, he is present and acts in persona Christi, in the person of Christ. And it is because there is someone there, physically present, that one can, not merely confess ones sins, but receive tangible absolution, that is, tangible evidence of forgiveness (or withholding of forgiveness if the necessary contrition is lacking).

    Remember what the nature of a “sacrament” is — an efficatious outward visible sign of the invisible reality of the conveying of grace. In the case of the Sacrament of Confession (i.e. Sacrament of Penance), you have (1) the outward, tangible, visible signs of vocally confessing out loud, which on a practical level makes the confession more concrete, rather than merely theoretical or merely a passing thought; and (2) the priest, acting in persona Christi, giving absolution, which is an outward, tangible, visible sign of the invisible reality of forgiveness by Christ and grace to avoid further sin.

    In giving absolution, it is not the priest who forgives, but Christ. Father So-and-So has absolutely no power whatsoever to personally forgive sin. Only God can forgive sin. But, having received the authority of Christ to act on His behalf in imparting the Sacraments, with Christ acting through him, Father So-and-So does have that power by Christ through the Holy Spirit, so that it is the perfect and holy Jesus doing the absolution, not the imperfect human priest.

    It is actually a rather ingenious system that Jesus set up.

    Although we do have a spirit, we are also bodily creatures, and we experience and come to know things by and through our bodies. As human persons, we need a physical act involving our bodies for us to know that something has actually happened. We can say that we don’t need that, that we have faith and that faith alone is all we need, but as a practical matter, we are all Thomas and we all need to see and touch in order for us to know for certain.

    Especially when we are dealing with the transcendent and spiritual, we need some outward sign for us to authentically know the reality of the transcendent. A “sacrament” is such an outward sign.

    Moreover, because we are not merely spiritual beings, but are body and spirit, for something to involve us and impact us only on a spiritual level is to engage our being only partially, rather than engage the whole of our being, soul AND body.

    A prime example of this is the Eucharist, i.e. Holy Communion. Now, we can stay at home and pray to Jesus and, in that manner, obtain a spiritual communion with Him. But to be spiritually in communion with Jesus is incomplete communion — it is a union with Him in only a part of our being, and only a part of His Being. In order to be fully in communion with Jesus, in order to be fully joined in union to Him in the entirety of our being and the entirety of His Being, we must be in communion, not only spiritually, but bodily. Our spirit joined with His Spirit, our body joined with His Body. One can obtain the whole and complete communion — communion in the full and true sense — only by receiving the Eucharist, the real Body and Blood of Christ. Only then are we joined with Him in the entirety of our being.

    Likewise in the other Sacraments. Only because there is an outward visible sign that acts upon, not merely the spiritual component of our being, but upon the bodily component as well, only in this way is the grace imparted upon the compete entirety of our being.

    Without the Sacrament of Confession, where one confesses to God in the presence of the priest who then has the authority to convey absolution, you have a confession that is merely potential and, hence, you have forgiveness that is merely potential. When one “confesses” merely to oneself or secretly in the recesses of one’s mind, merely thinking about the sins, even though one may feel remorse, it is really only a possible confession. Until it is reduced to actual words that are actually spoken out loud, so as to give them a reality that goes beyond mere thought, then it is merely an idea. And without the confession being a reality, without the contrition/repentence being reduced to a tangible reality, there can be no forgiveness.

  • Elizabeth

    Memphis Aggie said what I would have said. I was at mass on the 20th and I was struck by the parallel of the wedding parable and being correctly prepared for the eucharist. I am a new catholic, having come in at Easter Vigil from the Methodist Church. I craved the eucharist in the correct elements and the true presence. I had to wait, of course, until I was correctly prepared and I had to declare that I sought full communion with the church (and all it’s beliefs). This declaration is Confirmed by the priest and the congregation’s welcome. That is why it is called Confirmation. For Rick a new confirmation (confession and absolution) are required. This is how he can be in full communion with all the other catholics and come into the wedding feast with us. Hey, Rick, it’s scriptural.

  • dry valleys

    Worra storm has been kicked up here.

    I remember a similar thing with Blair (who I know is popular in America, but who has few friends here, & Brown even fewer: I opposed them both for their constant intrusions into our freedoms, especially civil liberties, & the fact that their spending rises weren’t in my view matched by results enough to justify them).

    He too seemed to think he could be a Catholic a la carte- I really don’t understand this mentality, as I always thought the choice of being a member of the church meant signing up to all its teachings or getting lost, basically.

    Of interest is that Iraq was one of the main issues over which the church hierarchy has a problem with him- see here for a bit of a slapping from Benedict.

    On about excluding people. I sometimes visit churches, cathedrals etc for historical interest & I often see signs requesting tourists keep away from worship services. Yes, you don’t want some clown taking pictures when you’re having a service but surely there’s nothing that prevents one from being both a tourist & a worshipper at once, or going to a place & having supernatural yearnings that are so strong that he must take part, though admittedly it’s not happened to me.

    Sorry not to have been much use in the discussion of Brutally Honest but it does happen a lot that people want some aspects of a religion without others- not really comprehensible to me but maybe that’s because I’m a bit literal-minded & all or nothing (I’ve also never joined a political party & only vote half the time as sometimes I’m too bitterly against them all!)

  • Bill

    (I went to Rick’s blog, looked until I found the cited post, and left this response for Rick.)

    “Rick, I responded on The Anchoress’ blog, but will leave a note here.

    I think you are being called home. You’ve started the motion with what (in my opinion) is a mis-step. Got a little ahead of yourself. Fine. Not like the rest of us have never made a mis-step (me especially), or sometimes a willful turning off the path (me even more especially). But that’s what the sacrament of confession and reconciliation is for.

    Don’t let how other people respond to you (including my response on the other blog) become an impediment — we aren’t perfect either, and even when our intentions are good, sometimes we don’t express them as well as we ought. Don’t harden your heart.

    Go talk to that priest (or practically any priest) and explain the situation to him. Ask him for help in continuing your interrupted journey.

    The banquet has been paid for. But you still need to be sure you have that wedding garment of sanctifying grace on, and that it is clean.

    When you get home, everyone will be very happy to welcome you. In the meantime, we are all praying you have a safe journey, because you do matter and because we do love you.”

  • Dennis J. Francis

    Richard L. sez:
    “I’m disappointed…”

    A’s not being wimpy. She’s practising mercy by instructing the ignorant and admonishing the sinner, which are straight from the spiritual works of mercy.

    Instead of being upset, you oughta give say “Praise be to God somebody’s actually being Catholic.”

  • Kaisar

    Hello,
    God bless you for the elaborate and thoughtful response above. I pray the Lord will use you mightily.

    K.

  • Bill

    For those who said, “Jesus would not turn anyone away from Communion,” here’s a thought.

    When the rich young man asked Jesus what he must do in order to obtain eternal life, he tried to justify himself by saying he followed the commandments. Jesus “looked on him with love” and then told him it was necessary to get rid of impediments. Jesus didn’t turn him away. He said, “Here’s what you need to do.” But the young man was sad, and the young man himself turned away and (apparently) went on living his life the way he wanted to live it.

    As far as I can recall from scripture, Jesus never turned anyone away. Even when he rebuked people, he didn’t turn them away. But he does say clearly what is required to enter the kingdom of heaven — and the Eucharist IS the kingdom of heaven because it IS the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ Himself, and Jesus IS The Kingdom.

    The Catholic Church is simply being true to Jesus — the Church does not turn people away, or get between people and Jesus. However, in charity and in justice it tells people things they don’t like to hear. Such as, “Give up whatever gets in the way of your entry into eternal life,” and “Take up your cross and follow Him,” and “Do whatever He tells you.”

    And this is a huge challenge to all of us, every day. By ourselves, it would be impossible to meet that challenge. But with God, all things are possible, and God provides us with the Church and the Sacraments to help us. Pray for the grace to hear and to do His will.

    And pray for me, because I have failed so often, and continue to fail and to fall far short. I will do the same for you.

  • ErnestO Stolpe

    To Rick at Brutally Honest try A LUTHERAN CHURCH

    “ O Lord God, the one God, make Thy people one. Whatever be our differences, even in matters essential, may we ever realize that we are all one in Christ Jesus. Let not Satan break the blessed bond of union between believers, but may it be increasingly strengthened in our own experience, and in all Thy people every where: for the sake of Jesus Christ our Redeemer. Amen”
    Rev. Benjamin Jenks 1646

  • Maureen

    Re: Baptism — if the man’s wife hasn’t committed any mortal sins yet, she’d be in a lot less danger than he would be. And of course there’s always invincible ignorance — but if my mother could tell I really did know better than that, I’d be kinda nervous of using that excuse before God, unless I really really had no slightest clue of the rights and wrongs of a matter.

    Re: Confession and priests, it should be added that the Catholic Church does teach that any person with “perfect contrition” and a firm purpose of amendment will be forgiven all sins by God directly. But since “perfect contrition” is being sorry for all your sins just because they offend God and are wrong, and not out of any other less noble motive of fear or embarrassment or pride or expediency at all –

    Well, not many people can achieve perfect contrition. Not for long, anyway.

    So God gives us a more elaborate apparatus for less perfectly repenting people, like the ordinary person on an ordinary day.

    (Disclaimer: God is not bound by the sacraments He has established, so other means of grace and forgiveness certainly exist, as He pleases to work. But Baptism and Confession are the ordinary means of getting sins forgiven.)

  • Michele

    To Mary Stamm…you are not in good standing with the Church until you and your husband have received annulments and have been Sacramentally Married in the Church and like Rick, cannot approach the Sacrament -yet.
    Just because you have ‘accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior’ (which, by the way, you also did at your Catholic Baptism) does not mean that you are prepared to approach the Sacrament of Eucharist. Did you not spend two years preparing for ‘First Communion’ as a child? Did you not study and learn about how to receive the Holy Sacrament? Did you not receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation BEFORE receiving First Eucharist? Why is it different now for you?
    Let me tell you a story- I am currently working with a couple to prepare them for Sacramental Marriage. The man, a Baptized Catholic, had two prior civil marriages and is currently married to his third wife. His current wife, a Baptized Methodist, had three prior civil marriages. They have been waiting FOUR YEARS and just received the last of the annulment notifications. The wife will be received into the Church as a Catholic just before Marriage. They have attended Mass weekly and both have attended RCIA sessions for 4 years together. They both have spoken most ardently about their desire for the Sacrament of Marriage, and the Eucharist, because they have come to truly understand what the Eucharist is and what the Catholic Church teaches and believes about the sanctity of the Sacrament of Marriage and the Eucharist. If this couple can wait over four years, why can’t you at least inquire about what the Church teaches, instead of doing what you WANT? Your lack of understanding displays very vividly the ‘instant gratification’ mentality of people who don’t take the time to understand what the Catholic Church teaches.
    I pray that you will discuss this with a priest, and refrain from receiving the Eucharist until you can do so worthily.
    Some things are worth the wait-and the Eucharist is one of those holy and sacred things!

  • Beth

    Very little has been said here about the priest’s invitation to communion to all baptized Christians. I do not find that Rick was acting arrogantly in interpreting this to mean someone like himself. So I do not think he did anything wrong at the time. But now that he knows what the official Catholic Church position is regarding communion, it would seem to be the honorable thing to respect that position. In the meantime, Rick would do well to go and speak to a priest about his spiritual struggles. He seems to be honestly searching, and I beleive the Holy Spirit will lead him in the right direction.

  • Bender

    Just to clarify –

    Confession and priests, it should be added that the Catholic Church does teach that any person with “perfect contrition” and a firm purpose of amendment will be forgiven all sins by God directly.

    Yes . . . IF the person dies before he or she is able to make a sacramental confession (e.g. a traffic accident, a crashing airplane, etc.).

    However, if there is time to make such a sacramental confession prior to death, such as when death is not imminent and the person goes on to live for years after, then a sacramental confession is necessary. Indeed, the failure or refusal to seek such a sacramental confession might in itself be a sin for which such sacramental confession and absolution are needed.

    If the sacraments are available, one has an obligation to seek and make use of them. Jesus instituted them for a reason, to make them the usual and ordinary methods by which the relevant grace would be conveyed. That there might be extra-ordinary means (usually in the case of unexpected and sudden death) to receive such grace does not mean that we may dispense of the ordinary means via the sacraments altogether. Although God is not bound by the sacraments, we are.

  • cathyf

    (Technical note…

    I am seeing that as I refresh pages, comments are appearing, disappearing, and rearranging themselves. There have been a whole lot of really excellent comments on this thread, and you might want to go back to the main page, refresh, navigate in, and read through them again to make sure that you didn’t miss any.)

    (Speaking of which — comments here have dates but not times — times would really help as far as keeping straight where one is in a comment thread.)

  • http://firstthings.com Joe Carter

    cathyf: I am seeing that as I refresh pages, comments are appearing, disappearing, and rearranging themselves.

    Some commenters are registered users, so their comments are automatically show up. Others have to go through the moderation system so they are delayed a bit.

    ***times would really help as far as keeping straight where one is in a comment thread.)***

    ‘Tis done.

    Joe Carter
    Web Editor

  • Bender

    Mr. Carter — excellent with the times.
    Thank you!

  • kt

    I received my first communion (second grade) 2 full years before I went to my first confession (fourth grade), and that is how it was for everyone my age as far as I know (I’m 41)

  • cathyf

    hmmm… It’s 4pm central time — will this comment show up as 1:07pm? :-)

  • dellbabe68

    We had to go to Confession before we made our First Holy Communion, and I’m 41, too (well, in two weeks).

  • Beth

    Bender, since you seem to be knowledgeable about the Sacrament of Reconciliation (confession), maybe you can answer a question. It’s my understanding that it’s only necessary to go to confession in the event of a mortal ( serious) sin, but that a venial ( less serious) sin can be confessed directly to God. Isn’t this a little inconsistent? It seems that if sacramental confession is important, then it ought to apply in all cases. Or conversely, if God will forgive a sin confessed directly to Him, then why isn’t sacramental confession merely optional?

    I have never understood this differentiation, and don’t see the logic behind it.

  • Bill

    Beth, venial sins are not required to be confessed. Venial sin is forgiven with contrition and reception of the Eucharist. It is, however, good practice to accuse ourselves of even the venial sins during Confession, because venial sins can in fact add up and lead to mortal sin. This is why sacramental confession at least once a year is not optional.

    In addition, not that this is part of the reason for requiring confession annually, even when venial sin is forgiven through contrition and the Eucharist, there is still temporal punishment associated with the sin. By going to confession, receiving the Eucharist, performing a work that is associated with a plenary indulgence, saying prayers for the Holy Father’s intentions, and renouncing all attachment to sin (even venial sin), one receives complete remission of all temporal punishment, in this life and in the next. The punishment is required by God’s justice, even though in His mercy he does not want to punish. I don’t want to take this too far afield, but a plenary indulgence is no small benefit, and it takes confession and the Eucharist to open the treasury.

  • Bender

    Beth, I’m no expert on this, only a struggling teacher of CCD to teenagers, but here are a few things to consider –

    Part One

    First, it is helpful to keep in mind the theology of sin and confession as it is discussed in the academic setting, and then as it applies in practice. The Church and theologians do make a distinction between “mortal” sin and “venial” sin, but that really is not helpful in everyday life. Why? Because we are not the judges of our own sin. Jesus Christ is the judge, not us, and if He says that a given sin is a “mortal” sin, it does not matter if we insist that it is only a venial sin. Making the mortal/venial sin distinction in our everyday life could have disasterous consequences if we judge wrong.

    Hence, leaving aside that distinction for the moment, so that one makes a full and complete confession — a “good confession” — the better practice is to sacramentally confess all of the sins that you are aware of and can remember. Now, in practice, this does not mean you will spend hours in the confessional. Usually we can remember the big sins, so those obviously should be specifically confessed. But there are countless tiny little sins that we commit all the time and often we cannot recall each and every instance of such sins. Those too should be confessed.

    How, if you can’t remember what they are? Very simply by openly admitting that you are sure that there were other sins you committed but can’t remember them, but for those too you are sorry. To truly make a good confession, after stating all the sins that you recall, you should end with such a catch-all confession. And to make a good confession, you must be truly contrite, you must be truly and authentically sorry for having committed those sins.

    Thus, in the practice of making a good confession, with this “catch-all” admission that there were many other sins you committed, even if you can’t remember them so as to specifically mention them, you necessarily do confess to venial sins, as well as the mortal sins which you did specifically mention.

    Now, back to the mortal-venial distinction — even though in practice, because we are not our own judges, it is something we should be careful about — it is “necessary” to make a sacramental confession and absolution of a “mortal” sin, and not “necessary” to confess a “venial” sin, because of the nature of the two types of sin.

    A mortal sin is indeed a “serious” sin, but it is a serious sin, not in the human or worldly understanding of “serious,” but in the effect of such a sin. It is a serious sin because it is a mortal sin, that is, it is a sin which is “mortal,” from the Latin meaning “death.” A mortal sin is a sin which leads to eternal death, i.e. damnation. Sometimes that can be a sin which is serious or grave in the worldly understanding, like murder or theft, sometimes it can be serious in the Biblical sense, like a purposeful violation of one of the Commandments.

    But it is not necessarily so that a mortal sin is serious in our typical understanding. Sometimes a mortal sin can be something fairly innocuous. Remember, the greatest and most mortal sin in all of human history consisted of eating a piece of fruit. By Adam and Eve eating that fruit all of humanity was made subject to death. Such a tiny, seemingly insignificant act was a mortal sin because, by that act, humanity severed the bond between mankind and God, who is Life Himself.

    That Original Sin, like all mortal sin, was a rejection of God, a statement that we did not want God and we did not need God. Formal confession and formal forgiveness of such sin is necessary to restore that bond and to reconcile the human person to God. Just as in human relations when you injure someone it is necessary to formally apologize to effect a reconciliation, so to is it appropriate to do so with God.

    Refusing to formally say that you are sorry, refusing to seek God’s forgiveness and thereafter accept His forgiveness is the only unforgivable sin — it is the sin mentioned in the Gospels as blasphemy against the Holy Spirit — and it is, by its very nature, unforgivable because in order for the gift of forgiveness to be effective, it must be accepted. If one refuses to seek forgiveness or accept it, one cannot be forgiven. Not because God refuses to forgive, but because we refuse.

    To be continued . . .

  • Bender

    Part Two of my response to Beth’s question –

    Very simply, it is “necessary” to confess and receive absolution for a mortal sin because it causes death if it is so not forgiven. And it is not “necessary” to confess and receive absolution for a venial sin because such a sin is non-mortal, that is, although it strains the relationship between us and God, it does not break that relationship, it does not cause eternal death. That is, what makes confession of mortal sin “necessary” is that, without it, you suffer damnation. Such confession is necessary for eternal life, i.e. heaven.

    Thus, venial sin, because it does not cause eternal death, is not necessary to attain eternal life to be so formally confessed. However, it is necessary to be contrite and repentant about such sin. Venial sin can easily become mortal sin if you are not sorry that you commited it.

    Moreover, that does not mean that you can walk into heaven with all that stain of venial sin on you. You cannot. Only those in a state of perfect grace — heaven being a place of perfect grace — can enter heaven. Hence the need for purification, i.e. having those imperfections purged from your being.

    But why a sacramental confession of mortal sin? Why not simply go to some quiet place and confess to God one-to-one?

    One reason, as stated before, is because Jesus established the sacraments, including the Sacrament of Confession/Penance, because He wanted us to utilize them.

    Another reason is because Jesus established the Church for a reason. Ours is not a hub-and-spokewheel kind of religion, ours is not that type of highly individualized one-on-one relationship with God. Rather, we are more like drops of water in the ocean, each being diffused throughout the whole, yet still retaining our individuality.

    Thus, the sacraments, including Confession, are not individualized, but are communal. Man, male and female, is by his nature a social being. Being made in the image of God the Trinity, we were meant to exist as He exists, in relationship. We confess, not in privacy, not with God and ourselves alone, but rather, we confess and receive absolution in the entirety of the Church.

    It may look as if there are only two people in the confessional, but in actuality, the whole of the Church is present. Confession, no matter how private in human terms, is a social act, involving all of the faithful, both here on earth and in heaven. All of the Church, being part of the Body of Christ, is bound up in the work of redemption and forgiveness. The Church is not a mere bystander, a mere observer on the sidelines. Rather, as the Bride of the Crucified One, she shares in His redemptive mission, including the Sacrament of Confession.

    As such it is necessary to turn to the Church and seek and obtain sacramental confession and absolution, and not merely consider sin and forgiveness to be a private affair. After all, sin is not a private affair, but is intensely social. Every sin, even though committed secretly and in apparent isolation, has social implications. Accordingly, sin being a social act, so too should forgiveness be a social act.

    Now, Beth, I’ve gone on longer than I anticipated, and probably said way too much, but hopefully I did not confuse you too much. Of course, you can go read the Catechism of the Catholic Church and other documents for a more formal explanation, with more technical language, but in explaining such things to my students, I try to avoid such over formalities and try to make the complex more straightforward, while maintaining fidelity to Church teachings. I hope I have done so. In any event, as I said at the beginning, I’m no expert, but hopefully this will shed some light on things.

  • http://mexicobob.blogspot.com Bob Mrotek

    Anchoress,

    I think that you are wrapped too tight. Lighten up and receive and rejoice in God’s mercy. Jesus is our friend. He isn’t an overseer or a traffic cop. Strict rules made by a church bureaucracy that has quarreled over them for well over a thousand years are works of man and are tainted by the Devil. Don’t judge so much lest ye be judged. Keep peace in your heart.

  • Pastor Ken

    as a Protestant and a pastor I have enjoyed many times of worship and fellowship with Roman Catholics and have always felt welcomed. However, even on the occasion when a priest has let it be known that he is kind of loose in his interpretation of who can take the Eucharist I never have. I do this out of not only respect for the Catholic Church but out of a profound respect for the piety and devotion toward the Eucharist that I have witnessed in my fellow worshipers. Do I feel a little sting of being left out? Yes. But I often go to the altar to be blessed by the priest and have never been turned away.
    I think that BH’s attitude is just frankly selfish and devoid of the communal love and concern that should be the hallmark of the Eucharistic spirit.

  • Joseph

    Rick,

    How far do you think your reasoning would get you if you tried to sit down at a White House state dinner being held for invited members of the diplomatic corps? After all, no one has the right to keep you from the President, do they? It’s a publicly paid event, isn’t it? (Yeah, it’s a pretty bad comparison, but it might start you thinking.)

    The Anchoress and others in here have made some very kind and patient remarks to you. I am going to say something a little more blunt. Your thinking, and your behavior follows your thinking, is very two-dimensional; it’s shallow. It’s very 21st century America. There are mysteries of the Catholic faith that you appear to have little or no sense of. If your approach to the Eucharist was authentic and inspired in any way by the Spirit of God, you would get it. I strongly recommend you pray for the day when you will.

    Now, do I have to write, like everyone else, that I do not condemn you? And that I pray for you? Try to understand, Rick, we are very anxious for you, but for you to understand why the Church limits access to the Holy Eucharist, you have to have a lot of humility.

  • Gina

    dellbabe68 wrote: “I don’t think it’s obnoxioux or displaying attitude for a Church to set its own rules and expect that its parishioners follow them.”

    Oh, I’m sorry, I should have clarified. I meant that it is obnoxious and selfish of people who are going to force themselves on the Eucharist of another church to prove a point.

    [Edited due to some weird HTML problem -admin]

  • cathyf

    Beth, I really like Bender’s explanations (Bender, I can tell that you are a great CCD teacher!) But as a counterpoint, I would emphasize that understanding all of that is somewhat beside the most central point. I’m a musician, which means that I have a song for everything (so sue me ;-) ). In this case, the third verse of Come You Sinners Poor and Needy.

    Come, ye weary, heavy laden,
    Lost and ruined by the fall;
    If you tarry till you’re better,
    You will never come at all.

    Every sacrament has matter. In the case of the sacrament of confession, the matter is the sorrow that you have for your sins and the firm resolve to avoid them in the future. So whether you can figure out which ones are mortal and which ones are venial, or whether you can remember exactly how many times you did each one, or whether you have a foolproof plan for avoiding them in the future, or whether you remember all of the words to the Act of Contrition in the right order, just do it.

  • http://yahoo Paul Ofoha

    Self interpretationa of the Scripture can lead to self destruction. The comments by some of contributors seem absurd. I felt insulted and slighted that some people wake up and tell me what to do as a Catholic. We should watch subjectivism, modernism and relatives of our time. Ricky and his wife should simply respect the Catholic traditions. Presumption is a mortal sin. Nobody should presume his or her salvation. We should work our salvation in fear and trembling.
    Anyway, I am not suprise of comments and self explanation and understanding of the Catholic faith and theology. I wish Rick and her ignorant wife and their supporters should be enlightened of the Catholic faith and follow the process of becoming Catholic including annualment of her first marriage.

    I have read some of the comments, I still found it hard to believe the lack of faith on these beloved brethen. They need to be enlightened instead of justifying themselves. Self exegesis may lead to further corruption of the Scripture and deepen the wounds of division. They should listen to the Holy Spirit. They are in my prayers.

    Thanks

    Paul

  • Beth

    Bender, thank you for your carefully considered explanation. I have to say that while you make many good points, I disagree with your statement that venial sin only strains our relationship with God, but doesn’t break it. The Bible says that the wages for sin is death, and that we are all dead in our sin. When Jesus died on the cross, He died for all our sins, big and small. So while I understand that there are certainly degrees of sin, all it takes is one tiny sin to separate us from the holiness of God. So , again, I find it a little inconsistent to have two different rules regarding confession, depending on the type of sin involved.
    Additionally, I find the Catholic doctrine as you’ve explained it highly legalistic. The way it works for me is that I ask the Holy Spirit to tell me where I’ve transgressed ( and He always does!). Then I repent of it, ask God for forgiveness, and any person, if appropriate. And oftentimes I find the conviction of the H.S. so strong that I have been thoroughly changed from the inside out, and the particular sin I’m dealing with is no longer a problem or temptation. Other times it’s a continual struggle, but as often as I turn to the Lord in true repentance, I know he forgives me.

    Anyway, I appreciate your comments. God bless!

  • http://www.brutallyhonest.org Rick

    Posted at my place in the comments of the original post… thought I’d post here:

    Matteo wrote:

    Mommynator,
    Your previous post is absolutely chock full of assumptions.

    I find some serious irony in that.

    I’ve been reading through all these comments… and those over at The Anchoress’ post… and so many of them, to include The Anchoress, are filled with assumption… dare I say presumption… dare I say arrogance… as to my spiritual state, my worthiness to come to The Lord’s Table… it’s seriously disheartening, even cruel… and then couched in terms of it all being based in love… please…

    I have been thinking long and hard about it all… and am fighting the strongest of urges to simply say screw it all…

    Instead, I’ll take PS’s link to the Catechism, and I’ll attempt to read through it all… and then make up my mind as to whether my return to the Catholic Church is the correct one…

    I hope to find something other than what I’m finding in the comments here and in the comments at The Anchoress’ place…

    What I’m finding here and there I can’t claim to find synonymous with what I’ve come to know and love about Christ and his teachings.

    Instead, I’m finding… well.. what I would deem to be lots of insecurity… and lots of people in bondage to what I believe they misguidedly call freedom in Christ…

    I can’t help but seriously ponder the ramifications of what I’m reading. The idea that my wife and I have put ourselves in mortal danger by taking communion is one that lingers. If this is true… if the premise is to be believed… then I’d think every Catholic Church in the land would be posting signs to unsuspecting visitors stating that their eternity is at stake should they dare come to The Table.

    Seems ludicrous doesn’t it… but… why would I, given what I’ve read being posted by some, conclude anything different.

    And then there are those who know me not, who know my wife not, and yet who can presume to know that I’m coming to God with unconfessed sin, that I’m oblivious of my need for a Savior, that I’ve not contemplated who it is I’d be without the grace and forgiveness I believe Christ has proferred me and Mrs. BH in the many years that we’ve come to know Him and love Him (though less than perfectly).

    There was an Episcopal Bishop named John Spong who some time ago wrote a book titled “Why the Christian Church Must Change or Die”. I disagree vehemently with the content as to the reasons for that title but after reading the comments I’ve read so far related to my journey back to Catholicism, the title seems most apt.

    The judgment, falsely asserted to be steeped in love, is plainly wrong. Thankfully, my faith is deep enough that I can look past it… but what of others like me and Mrs. BH who perhaps don’t have that deep a belief? In my view, too many are saying loudly and clearly, f*ck you… your faith sux… and you can’t come here and do what we do until that faith is more mature… and then they sit back smugly and pat themselves on the back for being loving.

    What utter bullshit. And how sad and pathetic.

    Yes, Bishop Spong… though I continue to see you as a heretic, an apostate, someone who hates Truth and is passing along falsehood in its place… I can relate once again to the title of that book.
    * * *

    [Really, Rick? That's what you thought I was saying to you? "f*ck you...your faith sux..." and that I was "smug" and presumptuous? I never said those things and never thought them. You cannot know what is in my mind any more than I can know what is in your mind or heart. I never assumed or presumed to know what was in your heart - I made it clear that I did not know it. I simply responded to your own very defensive, "this is what I'm doing, now you tell me why I shouldn't" post. There is no smug sitting back here. I've prayed for you every day since I read that post - not in arrogance but in love and concern - not because I think you're going to go to hell, but because I so very much want you to have the fullness the depth and the richness of what you are seeking. I am horrified to think that I have come off so badly to you. I wonder if you're at all interested in how you're coming off to me, in these angry responses? My intent was never to hurt you or judge you, and I think you know that. But you put something out there, and you dared response. I responded in what I hoped was a sisterly manner, and writing in what I thought was a loving and common-sensical manner. I never said "your faith sucks," to you. You, if I recall, were the one who suggested that taking Communion without fully participating in the life of the church with whom you had issues was a justifiable thing to do. I mentioned in my response that the priest who gave his homily was both "right" and "wrong." There are many priests who will tell people what they want to hear, because it is easier and safer. But Jesus told us to try the narrower gate. I hope you'll continue your journey, and I am sorry that my post - which never meant to wound you - has apparently done that. I responded to you with genuine affection which you seem to distrust or disbelieve is "real." I can't force you to believe my love. But I pray only for your good. - Admin]

  • gb

    Late to thread but had to say that a very close relative who is living with her boyfriend (both are grandparents) was told by a ‘nun’ that it was just fine for them to receive Communion. My point: How many RELIGIOUS people have fostered this notion? This situation in our family ignited an examination of the Catechism teaching and ended up by said family member rejoining her former protestant church. It would help so much if persons who are supposed to represent the Church would actually teach what the Catechism teaches.

    So often, Protestants are so used to simply making up any rules that they’re comfortable with (e.g. Rick’s “would Jesus refuse us?” The answer to that question is YES based on what Jesus said after He Resurrection “What you bind on earth is bound in heaven etc”) that they really are totally unaware of the whole Authority issue that Jesus passed on to his disciples.

  • Gerry

    Time to be brutally honest. This guy Rick is a moron. It’s this simple: if the Church is right about the Eucharist, it’s right. If it’s wrong, you can always snack on a wafer with your friendly neighborhood Protestants.

  • Beth

    Wow, Gerry. Your comments will hardly draw someone closer to Christ , much less the Catholic faith.

    I think Rick has a good point. He is obviously seeking Christ to the best of his ability. Please cut him some slack. We are all flawed, and need mercy.

  • JJ

    Catholics do not “take” Communion, they receive it. Holy Communion is given and RECEIVED. There is a huge theological difference. Please correct your erroneous title.

  • abby schult

    While my husband and I were waiting to hear about our annulments, we did not receive Holy Communion but used this prayer composed by St. Alphonsus Liguori in the 18th century:
    My Jesus, I believe that you are present in the most Blessed Sacrament. I love You above all things and I desire to receive You into my soul. Since I cannot now receive You sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace You as if You have already come, and unite myself wholly to You. Never permit me to be separated from You. Amen.

    At first we did receive the Eucharist. I thought angrily, why do I have to wait. But then my husband found the spiritual communion prayer on the back of the missal and I realized that it would be ok to wait, to obey the rules, to let go of anger, shame and the need to justify. To pick up my cross and follow him. To belong as I am.

    St. Thomas Aquinas once defined a Spiritual Communion as “an ardent desire to receive Jesus in the Most Holy Sacrament [in Communion at Mass] and in lovingly embracing Him as if we had actually received Him.”

    So give up the fight; make a Spiritual Communion. Join the rest of us as you are and join with Christ whenever and wherever you’d like, using the prayer given above, others like it or your own heartfelt thoughts.

  • Bender

    Beth –

    I’m not so sure that we are as far apart as it might seem.

    The Catholic Church does indeed recognize that a sin is a sin is a sin, and that “all it takes is one tiny sin to separate us from the holiness of God.” However, the Church also recognizes, as you say, that “there are certainly degrees of sin.” In all of this, we are in agreement.

    The mortal/venial distinction is an attempt by the theologians and Magisterium of the Church to further explore those “degrees” of sin. Indeed, to say that there are “degrees” of sin is to say that not all sin is mortal, so long as there is contrition for that non-mortal sin as well. (A non-mortal sin can effectively become a mortal sin merely by being obstinent and refusing to be sorry about it, thereby being an additional sin of rejecting the whole idea of God’s forgiveness.)

    This might seem overly legalistic, but once one starts trying to expand upon the idea of degrees of sin, then such complexities are inevitable. In any event, with respect to being overly legalistic, again, it is helpful to maintain a distinction between (a) the theologians, whose role is to further explore and understand and define all of the finer points of theology, doctrine and dogma (and, hence, are more apt to give the appearance of legalisms), and (b) the individual in their everyday life.

    The everyday person generally is not going to be engaging in such in-depth analysis in his or her examination of conscience, that is, determination of what sins were committed. There are some who do put form over substance, but most people in their everyday life do not.

    For most, it is — a sin is a sin, and these are the sins I’ve committed, these are the things I’ve done that I shouldn’t have done and these are the things I did not do that I should have, these are all the ways that I have fallen short. Some are more serious than others: these are the more “serious” and these are the not-as-serious, but sinner that I am, it would be impossible to list each and every tiny little transgression that I am guilty of; nevertheless, I am sorry for all of these.

    There really is not all that much “legalism” for the everyday person. And for the person going to Confession, the “rules” are pretty straightforward — to be a good confession, you must be contrite and repentent for ALL of your sins, you must confess ALL those sins, and you must do the penance assigned to you (some small gesture to make amends for the sins you have committed, some small way to show your thanks and gratitude to God, typically prayer). As is apparent, these are not really “rules” but are merely what is required in order to fully reconcile with someone you love.

    That is not all that legalistic. For the everyday faithful Catholic, there really are not “two different rules regarding confession,” there is only one rule: Be sorry for all your sins and confess all your sins.

    The mortal/venial distinction favored by theologians comes into play only in the manner of confessing “all your sins.” The sins that are more serious and you are aware of you should specifically mention, with sufficient detail to give the priest some idea of what happened (e.g. “I stole $100 from my employer’s cash register”). Those that are not-so-serious are still confessed, but in a more general way if you can recall them (e.g. “I often get angry at other drivers in traffic”). And all of your other sins in a “catch-all” way if you cannot recall them but know you are guilty of them (e.g. “for those sins I have mentioned and for all the sins in my life, I am sorry”).

    In this way, all sin is confessed – “venial” sin is still confessed, but generally, rather than specifically. Given that there are so many more venial sins we commit on a daily basis, so many ways that we fall short of the perfection to which we are called, even if we could remember them all, or spent all our time throughout the day writing them down, to confession each of them individually and specifically would require you to spend hours confessing. Hence the dispensation to confess them in a more general fashion.

  • Iris Celeste

    Come now Rick, you just want someone to tell you, “Oh it is perfectly Okey-dokey!” The problem is that it is not. I’m responding as someone who is in a very similar situation to you. Born into a Catholic family, but not devout. My mother always told me any Christian denomination was OK, so I kind of let going to Mass, etc, fall by the wayside. Now I find I have Mystic tendencies and I’m slowly returning to the Church of my birth. What you don’t seem to understand is that in the Catholic Mass (or Orthodox) you are opening the veil between the physical and spiritual worlds. If you are not properly “prepared” what you are doing is opening yourself up for spiritual/demonic attack! That is why God just doesn’t remove the veil completely. He is protecting us. Remember in scripture when Jesus mentions the devil that is expelled will return with seven more to the clean house? When you take Jesus into you, you are creating a place for spiritual communion in your soul. If the place is not clean, Jesus/God cannot remain. God cannot coexist with sin. Therefore you are left with an empty place, guess who is going to come? Don’t be stupid! Christianity is the most Mystical of all faiths!!! More so than any Eastern mysticism, because God dwells within us when we allow him!


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