"You come to supper with the Lord, but you don't eat"

"You come to supper with the Lord, but you don't eat" February 23, 2011

That’s the memorable remark of one priest to a member of his flock who consistently skipped communion.  How should pastors handle this?

Catholic News Service has an interesting take:

Father Adam Forno occasionally notices parishioners skipping the Eucharist at St. John the Evangelist and St. Joseph parish in Rensselaer, where he is pastor.

Sometimes, a Massgoer doesn’t receive Communion because he or she has remarried without having a first marriage annulled. Other times, it is because of personal shame.

“We’ve got some people who just feel they’re not worthy,” Father Forno explained. “People have a strong sense of not being in right relationship with God, and so they honor that by not going to Communion as they were taught. But my sense is that you need Communion more than ever then.”

A man in one of Father Forno’s former parishes attended daily Mass, but he never received Communion. Father Forno approached him and said: “You come to supper with the Lord, but you don’t eat.” The priest asked if the man needed to reconcile anything with God and offered to help.

Several pastors throughout the Albany Diocese said they have spotted handfuls of Catholics at their parishes abstaining from the Eucharist, occasionally or habitually. They noted that many parishioners falsely believe being divorced or forgetting to pray are reasons to abstain.

Massgoers who stay seated during Communion present pastors and parish leaders with complex tasks of spiritual guidance. Whenever possible, parish leaders are advised to teach about church rules but help people differentiate between mortal and venial sin.

“It calls for such pastoral nuancing,” Father Forno said. “It’s not black and white.”

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27 responses to “"You come to supper with the Lord, but you don't eat"”

  1. I tried to handle this issue in my parish through RCIA. When we started last year we put out a statement that “all sacramental problems can probably be resolved.”This resulted in a number of people coming in to discuss annulments, marriage convalidations and receiving First Communion and being Confirmed.

    We were able to clear up many misconceptions and help a number of people.

  2. Seems to me that the problem is failing to approach another sacrament: Confession. Sadly, most people have the wrong perception about what Confession truly is and either ignore it or stay away from other sacraments out of ignorance. Maybe we should hang “Welcome Back” signs over all confessional doors.

  3. Often when I take Holy Eucharist to elderly shut-ins, they will tell me that they cannot receive because they have not been able to get to reconciliation. Above comment about “wrong perception” is exactly right.

  4. I respect people who do not receive Holy Communion because they know they are not in the state of grace. I am more concerned w/ people who receive the Eucharist though they know they are not in the state of grace. Especially I am thinking of many in the younger generations who are baptized Catholics but no longer attend mass, live together
    in sin, not married etc.

  5. That puts you in a very delicate position, doesn’t it Deak Pete. You can’t tell them that they don’t need the Sacrament of Reconciliation, because you don’t know the state of their conscience: maybe they are conscious of an unabsolved mortal sin. On the other hand, it seems that it would be wrong to ask them to disclose the matter to you.

    I suppose you could talk to them in generalities about when confession is required and when it isn’t. But then, if they continue to refuse Communion, they are implicitly accusing themselves of mortal sin.

    Perhaps the only thing to do is, when they first raise the matter, to promise to send the priest, and let him minister the Sacrament of Reconciliation and explain when it is or is not required.

    More generally, I’d hate to see people discouraged from receiving either sacrament.

  6. A good, solid and grounded catechetical program is key to the many misconception, misunderstanding and disagreement that many catholics today have with the Church and with one another. Many are “stuck” to the pre-Vatican II era and others have “surpassed” Vatican II.

    Faith is an ongoing conversion with a desire to know the truth. To be converted, one must be formed and in-formed continuously to affect lifestyle and conscience.

  7. I don’t quite understand the problem here. You have people who are conscious of the fact that they are in a state of mortal sin, or that they haven’t observed the fast, or that their state of life is an impediment.

    In response to this truth, they obey what the Church says and refrain from receiving communion. This is what is on the back of every missalette.

    Of course they should go to Confession, etc., but they should hardly be singled out for doing the right thing that Sunday.

  8. This is ridiculous … in nearly every Mass I’ve ever attended something like 95 to 99% of the congregation receives Communion … from my experience at Confession lines it is impossible that anywhere close to this percent go to Confession even a few times a year.

    Surveys support this fact as well. So instead of educating people about why God wants us to come to Communion and how to best prepare (prayer, fasting, and CONFESSION), he singles out individuals who don’t receive?

    This priest should take a lesson from Church law and moral teaching. Receiving Communion unworthily is a mortal sin. OTOH, we are only required to receive (worthily) once a year.

    I often choose not to receive. When I do I *plan*, prepare with confession, say certain prayers, and I fast. And respectfully, any priest who has a problem with that is a silly priest with a perspective on the laity receiving Communion informed by a narrow and faulty interpretation based on the hermeneutic of rupture after Vatican II.

  9. I presume many of these noncommunicants and some communicants stay away from confession either because of a seemingly incurable rift with the church or a reluctance to confess certain sins to the priest. I’ve actually seldom seen these problems addressed from the pulpit, though maybe I’ve have just been around at the wrong times. Anyway–I dont think lamentations or denunciations are particularly needed, but I’d like to see more priests use the pulpit to encourage listeners who might think of consulting them apart from the confessional or may be fearful of going to confession.

  10. Pope Benedict has said that one of the reasons why it is so painful for divorced/remarried Catholics who don’t receive Communion is because so many of us think that we are always “worthy” to receive, without considering if we are indeed ready at that moment to go up to Communion…making the divorced/remarried
    stand out. In reality, most of us could reflect more on our current state.
    He has also said that “spiritual communion”…or attendance at Mass without receiving, is “not nothing!”

  11. It seems many have lost an understanding of sin and how to address it, and that the problem is not new.

    For those raised before the CCD revolution of the 60s, there seems to be the mis-understanding that all sins, even venial sins, are an obstacle to receiving Eucharist, and so Confession is necessary before each reception of Eucharist. Recall that Pope St. Pius X attempted opened Holy Communion to younger children and that the Church spent many decades encouraging people to receive the Eucharist more regularly, as most stayed in their pews. The law that Catholics were required to confess and receive Holy Communion at least once a year was intended to encourage MORE often reception of the Eucharist.

    For those raised after the CCD revolution, there seems to be the mis-understanding that sin, or at least mortal sin, either doesn’t exist or has no consequences and the only response necessary is to ask God’s forgiveness or, more common (?), presume it. This is, by far, the greater problem in terms of numbers affected (infected?). The current idea that my relationship with God is only between me and God both breeds and perpetuates this heresy. I’m afraid Patheos contributes to this thinking with their series asking people to write about what they believe. Honestly, what difference does it make what I believe? What matters is what God has revealed to us.

    As with many such difficulties, education is the answer. Contrary to what the priest in the article said, I don’t think the Church’s teaching is confusing. I think it’s not properly taught, or not taught at all. If priests are concerned about this matter, as they should be, they should be educating from the ambo, as that is when they have the people in front of them.

  12. If it is done in private; not in a public way; I think it is a kindness for a pastor to ask someone if there are issues that he could help them with, that may be separating them from the sacraments. If, as Dev Thakur says, it is just the way they prefer to do it, then he should respect that. But it’s more likely, if the person never receives Communion, that there are problems. The person may consider them insurmountable; even though that is seldom the case. Sometimes it is more than they can do, to approach the priest on their own for help. They may welcome the opportunity to discuss things. If that is not the case, they can always say, “No, thanks.” At least someone made the effort to reach out.

  13. I really appreciate these quotes from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (where there is, in my opinion, a masterful description of the Eucharist).

    As bodily nourishment restores lost strength, so the Eucharist strengthens our charity, which tends to be weakened in daily life; and this living charity wipes away venial sins.(Cf. Council of Trent (1551): DS 1638)

    By the same charity that it enkindles in us, the Eucharist preserves us from future mortal sins. The more we share the life of Christ and progress in his friendship, the more difficult it is to break away from him by mortal sin.

    The Eucharist commits us to the poor. To receive in truth the Body and Blood of Christ given up for us, we must recognize Christ in the poorest, his brethren:

    “You have tasted the Blood of the Lord, yet you do not recognize your brother,. . . . You dishonor this table when you do not judge worthy of sharing your food someone judged worthy to take part in this meal. . . . God freed you from all your sins and invited you here, but you have not become more merciful.”
    (St. John Chrysostom, Hom. in 1 Cor. 27,4:PG 61,229-230; cf. Mt 25:40.)

  14. There are 2 different cases here. If the pastor notices a person never receiving, he may well want to raise it with them. After all, a Catholic must confess sins and receive at least once a year. Any sins would be taken care of by the confession thus allowing reception.
    As for occasionally abstaining, whose business is it? I may abstain for various reasons: I may have already received that day, I may not have kept the required fast, I may not be in a state of grace. That’s between me, God and my confessor. Communion is not about sharing with others present in the Church.

  15. PS You can be divorced and receive. But if you remarried in a union not recognised by the church, you show the highest respect for Our Lord by not receiving until your situation is regularised.

  16. BobRN said: “The law that Catholics were required to confess and receive Holy Communion at least once a year was intended to encourage MORE often reception of the Eucharist.”

    There is a law of the Church to receive Communion at least once a year. There is no law to confess at least once a year.

    Church teaching is that we should go to confession when we are in the state of grave sin. Therefore, the Church cannot assume that every individual is in the state of grave sin at least once a year. The practice of partaking in the sacrament of reconciliation when one is NOT in the state of grave sin is a laudable devotional custom but not required.

  17. As a Pastoral Associate, if I notice a person (who is not a regular parishioner) who does not receive Eucharist at Mass, I always privately introduce myself to them after Mass. Then I tell them that I don’t want to pry, but I noticed that they didn’t receive. I always hand them a business card and tell them that if they are not a Catholic, but interested, or if they have marriage issues to be resolved, or if they need the Sacrament of Reconciliation, I will happily direct them privately to the right person at the Church. Over the past 5 years, they have all been happy to meet me and know that someone at the parish cares. I am at a small parish, and we always acknowledge visitors, and especially are on the lookout for someone new.

  18. Deacon Eric Stoltz- actually, the Catechism of the Catholic Church “Precepts of the Church” 2041-2042-2043 requires Catholics to confess your sins at least once a year. It’s called “Easter Duty”.

  19. I go to mass daily in the morning at 6:45. I eat breakfast around 6:20 after saying the liturgy of the hours with my wife between 6:10-6:20 or so. I live to church at 6:40 (live four minutes away the Church). By the time communion comes at mass at 7:00 or so, its not yet an hour since my breakfast so I do not get up for communion since the Church requires at least an hour of fasting before receiving. I guess I could really fast and not have any b-fast, but since I go to work, this is my last chance to eat before noon. So that is my reason during the weekday. Of course, during Sundays I do go to communion. As for confession, I do that probably an average of once a month.

    Well, there it is for what is worth.

  20. I guess I could get up earlier than 5:30 AM, but at this stage in life I still need at least 7.5 hours of sleep to function properly. LOL. Thanks.

  21. If it’s done rightly, this is a beautiful pastoral outreach. If the person has good reason to not receive (say, the person is not Catholic, waiting for an annulment, or simply hasn’t done confession and feels he/she ought to), it is at least opens the door for an invitation to prayer. The person making the approach could indeed say (after hearing out the reason) “You’re doing the right thing and I will pray for you. Please feel free to contact me if you want to talk about this.”

    If we have a campaign called Catholics Come Home, we ought to be ready to talk to unfamiliar family members coming in the door!

  22. IC: educating from the pulpit, yes could be good outreach. Though I have my doubts as to whether this particular priest should do it, given his poor understanding.

    But to approach people individually can be problematic. I may be in the state of mortal sin — and it is awfully rude of you to bring up my abstaining from Communion so that I then have to (if I don’t want to lie) tell you that is the reason.

    Providing general information that any sacramental problems etc can be fixed and preaching the necessity of confession sounds like a win-win.

    However I’m not sure the vast majority of Catholics today should receive Communion so often! The person who really would profit from regular weekly or even more often reception is rare, I certainly don’t consider myself in that category.

    If the Catholic culture really changed and we had a laity that really believed, prayed and fasted, then we should again encourage frequent Communion perhaps. But the pendulum has gone to the other extreme.

    If people knew they shouldn’t receive unless they actually believe in the Real Presence, that alone would cause the nubmers of those receiving to plummet. Let alone those who fornicate/contracept/miss Mass obligations/don’t fast.

  23. One of the teachers I taught with in an RC school had been divorced for a long time, and she received communion each time the children were taken to the church for the Children’s Mass,during school time, once a month. She had not had her marriage annuled, nor was she remarried.
    Was that considered improper or “sinful” ?

  24. Pagan…

    No. What she did was fine. A Catholic who is divorced can receive communion.

    A Catholic who is divorced and remarried, but has not had the first marriage annulled, can not.

    Dcn. G.

  25. I am one of the individuals who never takes the Eucharist in spite of my steadfast attendance at Sunday Mass, and usual attendance at one weekday evening Mass. No doubt my inaction is noticeable, as I am very visible, always sitting in the front of the church, on one side of the alter, with few other attendees sitting nearby. It has to be especially noticeable to my pastor, who, each week, rotates where he gives the Eucharist. My spot is right by the start of one of the lines; Fr. will stand waiting to give the Eucharist only five feet from where I get out of my pew (I would actually be the first person to receive) and stand aside so the other people in my pew can get out to receive the Eucharist. I’m sure Fr. wonders why I no longer receive the Host.

    I know the rules for receiving and I have my reasons: disagreement/disbelief/heresies in some Church teachings (including doubts about the Real Presence), plus I haven’t been to Confession since committing what the Church considers grave sin, which, honestly, I know I am going to commit again and again. My faith and intellect collide; maybe, some day, I’ll finally figure things out and my beliefs and actions will settle fully in line with the Church before my death; perhaps not and maybe I’ll eventually convert to another faith. But I am not ready nor willing to discuss my issues with anyone, nor, honestly, do I want anyone to approach me about what my issues might be. For now, I respect and abide by the rules for receiving the Eucharist, although I have seen, and will likely continue to see, many others take It who should not (including my divorced/non-anulled/remarried brother and his wife).

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