Synchronicity of a Sort: Divorced/Remarried Catholics and Communion

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Earlier this morning, I filed my copy for my regular column at First Things — a piece that explores the means by which divorced and remarried Catholics might be readmitted into full Eucharistic communion at Holy Mass.

The column doesn’t run until tomorrow, but it strikes me as being particularly timely thanks to this story by Andrea Tornielli:

“A new approach needs to be taken with respect to the administration of the sacraments to remarried divorcees.” Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri is the prelate the Pope nominated Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops. Born in 1940, the Tuscan prelate has four decades of experience as a member of the Vatican diplomatic corps and as of the end of September he has had the task of renewing the Synod institute that will meet twice – in 2014 and 2015 – to discuss the family, after a questionnaire or consultation containing 39 questions on family issues.

In the “Evangelii Gaudium” Francis does not explicitly mention the issue of the administration of sacraments to remarried divorcees. However, he does write that the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.” How should these words be read?
“We should pay attention to the phrase that follows immediately after this: These convictions have pastoral consequences that we are called to consider with prudence and boldness.” The Pope presents these two elements together. This means he wants these issues to be examined with prudence and therefore with attention to the Church’s doctrine. But he also wants them to be examined with boldness, which for me means “without fear”, taking individual circumstances into account.”

So will something change?
“The magisterium is not rigid; it accompanies the doctrine of the Catholic Church. It is subject to continuous study and applied according to each case. The Church needs to apply Church doctrine taking the circumstances of each specific case into account. This approach does not mean making general conclusions and rules for everyone. We need to consider each case separately. Then we can develop a new way of looking at the doctrine. At the end of the day, even in the case of marriages annulments, we deal with each case separately. This is what pastoral care is all about; it is not a set framework.”

Would it be right to deduce then that the issue of the administration of the sacraments to remarried divorcees is open?
“The fact it has been included in the Questionnaire means it is going to be looked at and the intention is to discuss the issue without any taboos, otherwise it would not have been mentioned. This seems obvious to me.”

Read the rest, here. And check out my First Things column, tomorrow morning. I’ll be curious to hear what you think.

There is also this, which I frankly haven’t read yet. And this. I expect the Germans are jumping the gun on just how liberally reform may be applied.

Btw — since we are talking about my column — my collection of columns and essays from various online and print venues is now available on Kindle, with a forward by Cardinal Timothy Dolan. It should be available in print within the next week or so.

A great stocking stuffer? :-D

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Augustine

    The important question is how to remedy the issue of increasing numbers of remarried divorcees. I wonder why tribunals require a divorce to even look into the possibility of nullity of a marriage; why a civil decree is even considered. I understand the practical consideration, but I think that it’s alien to the sacrament. I believe that couples should be able to petition the tribunal without a civil divorce in place, for the sake of their consciences and for the sake of their souls. It wouldn’t be the only medicine, but I think that it would be one medicine to heal this very public rift between the Church and some of the faithful.

  • Dan C

    This was a question thoughtfully asked early in Benedict’s pontificate.

  • Dagnabbit_42

    I could see something like this:

    Once, twice, or at most four times per year, your local parish Church holds a special service, followed by the Mass.

    In this service a special prayer of repentance is offered by the faithful, asking God to give them the courage to amend their lives in all the areas in which they desire to amend their lives…and the grace of the Holy Spirit to desire to amend their lives in all the areas in which they should amend their lives, but are unable to muster the firm intent to do so.

    There is a special blessing, sprinkling of holy water.

    And then, the Mass, with responsory additions, including a special confession rite in which the priest faces the Altar / Tabernacle / Crucifix and says something like, “Some among your flock have been ensnared by sin, good Shepherd: We have among us some who have left their validly-married spouses and entered illicit sexual relationships or unrecognized marriages. We have among us some who have entered into illicit unions with members of the same sex. We have some among us who, persuaded by the arguments and culture of the world, commit contracepted sexual acts.”

    Then the congregation says something like: “In many ways we have fallen and broken your law: Free us Lord to desire true holiness. Make us bolder in your service that we may courageously follow You even though it cost us suffering.”

    These insertions would be official, at appropriate points, added to the GIRM…I’m not talking about something locals can improvise! Those approaching for communion express sorrow for their sins and that they seek to receive the Body and Blood for the healing of their souls, so that they might find strength to desire to amend their lives.

    Persons in illicit marriages or states of public concubinage, as well as cohabitating homosexual couples, unrepentantly-contracepting heterosexual couples, and others would be called to receive at this Mass, and instructed that they should NOT receive at other Masses unless they have made a full confession with full repentant intent, as usual.

    This Mass would be specifically intended for conversion of heart, when the heart is as-yet too weak-willed to break off the illicit relationships. It would be intended to give the Body and Blood as medicine. The additions to the Liturgy would reflect that.

    I could imagine something like that.

    But I am woefully ignorant of this sort of thing. For all I know there are a dozen reasons, which a real theologian or liturgist or canon lawyer would be able to rattle off, why the special Mass I described above is horribly wrong.

    If it isn’t misguided, though, then it might — if done right — have this salutary effect: It has something of the effect of a public penance, but nonspecific to the person; it allows divorced-and-remarried persons to receive but not always, so the teaching of the Church about the permanence of marriage is maintained; those who receive on this day have to say words asking God to help them desire to change even though they currently do not, or to have the courage to change which they currently lack.

    It might make the teaching of the Church especially plain about contraception, too: Catholics who today never hear their priest tell them they should not receive while they unrepentantly contracept would instead have a priest who was forced to instruct the faithful about the difference between THIS Mass and THAT Mass and that they should NOT receive normally, but at this special Mass which features special prayers for those ensnared in sexual sins, they may.

  • thomasjj70

    I keep going back to Prefect of the CDF Arch Bishop Muller’s recent interview..

    The part I cannot seem to reconcile is the following: If someone remarries without an annulment, currently the Catholic Church considers said person’s first marriage valid.. How is receiving the Eucharist even possible as one would be in a perpetual state of adultery(unless living as brother and sister) in the eyes of the Church? It is my understanding to receive the Eucharist one should be without mortal sin, does this no longer apply?

  • TerryC

    I believe that the tribunal uses the fact of the civil divorce as an indication that the marriage relationship is irreconcilable, else they would most likely require the couple to show why an attempt at saving the marriage is not possible.

  • Augustine

    I understand this, but at the same time it’s as if the Church were washing her hands about the critical marriage and let the courts decide. Then, if the couple is not irreparably wounded, they may show up to a canonical tribunal to have their marriage “judged”.

    Let me be the devil’s advocate here. Don’t you think that it seems like adding insult to injury, giving the appearance of carelessness before divorce and then mere cold justice after divorce? And why defer to a civil court the causal fact for the inquiry in the marriage sacrament and not the rift between the spouses? Why doesn’t the Church get involved more fully before it’s not possible to save the marriage? What kind of mother would let her children fend for themselves and then sit as judge of their actions after the fact?

    Perhaps the Church’s approach should be different so that the poorly catechized faithful see her as a mother who cares about them and wants to help them, come what may.

  • Stephen

    I’m certainly no moral theologian, but it strikes me that one could entertain the view that, under certain conditions, sexual acts in a “second marriage,” while still objectively sinful, are not mortally sinful. In other words, that such acts, performed as they are by persons who bear the emotional and psychological wounds of an earlier failed relationship, are not undertaken with the “full consent of the will” as the will is damaged. Now, even under this interpretation one would still view the sex acts within the second marriage as being sinful, and thus it is imperative that over the course of their lives the persons involved struggled toward repentance. But that perhaps it would be licit for them to receive the Eucharist nonetheless, and to allow the grace of the Sacrament to be a means of that repentance.

    The remarried couple who “live as brother and sister” are not, as far as I can tell, committing any particular sin. Few people have the strength and maturity to do so, at least in the hear and now. But perhaps one can hope that with grace, pastoral leadership over a long period of time, and the natural dimming of sexual desire that accompanies aging, that many such couples can come to inhabit relationships that are mutually supporting, loving, companionate, and non-sexual.

  • Manny

    So if I commit some mortal sins, should I then be allowed to take communion? Afterall, I would be in a weak state and in need of medicine and nourishment? So where does that line of argument (that the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.”) go?