Catholics and communion, Jesus and Judas

Catholics and communion, Jesus and Judas March 12, 2011

While people continue to debate the Cuomo Communion Controversy, Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles weighed in on the issue earlier this week:

While some of Mahony’s brother bishops appear as if they won’t be happy until they get the chance to deny Communion to elected officials who deviate from church teachings, Mahony has resisted taking that step. Why? Canon law, he notes, puts the responsibility for worthy receipt of the sacrament on the person approaching the Communion rail rather than on the priest.

“It isn’t for us to guess at what’s on someone’s conscience,” he said. Moreover, the cardinal mused, Christ gave Communion to Judas Iscariot at the Last Supper, though the apostle had, that day, committed his betrayal.

“You know, throughout the Gospels, Jesus never appeals to punitive measures to change anyone’s life…. A person who runs for elective office is still a Catholic and obliged to bring his or her moral principles to public policy. But being an elected legislator is a different role with its own responsibilities, and if they aren’t able to act on those principles, the church can’t say, ‘You didn’t make it happen, so you’re guilty of something.’ We can’t do that.

“I just try to extrapolate it out in my own mind: OK, so you’ve got a Catholic legislator who votes for a pro-choice piece of legislation, and you’re going to say that automatically leads to punishment? Well, does that mean that the chief of staff who didn’t stop him or her from voting that way also can’t go to communion? Does that mean that the secretary who handles their paperwork also can’t go? I mean, where does it end?

“It also won’t work. Americans — Catholic or non-Catholic — always side with the individual faced with punishment by the institution. Anything punitive always rebounds against the institution doing the punishing rather than the person receiving it.”

That prompted this response from canon lawyer Ed Peters:

I’m no Scripture scholar, so I don’t know whether Judas, in fact, took the Eucharist at the Last Supper, but let’s suppose he did. What exactly would be the lesson? Frankly, the more I think about it, and assuming there is a point for canonical practice in the episode—and if one will permit a bit of canon lawyer humor here—I suggest that Jesus, in giving Judas Communion, would have just been acting in anticipatory obedience to the 1983 Code!

Consider: It is well established in moral and canonical literature that a minister cannot withhold holy Communion from an occult sinner, even where the minister knows of the sin and knows of the impenitence. Citations [added: Abbo-Hannan II: 854-856; Dom Augustine IV: 232; Davis III: 206-207, etc.]. That’s why Canon 915 operates only in the face of manifest grave sin, not simply personal sin.

In fact, as important as the prevention of sacrilege is in the operation of Canon 915, it is not the only basis for the canon; rather, the prevention of scandal is also a key consideration, but scandal arises only from public behavior seriously at odds with Church teaching and order. Judas was an occult sinner, and Jesus did not expose his inexpressibly grievous, but to that point still private, sin to public view by withholding Communion from him.

Since he was 12 years old, Jesus had been taking the Doctors of the Law to school, and he did so even at the Last Supper.

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14 responses to “Catholics and communion, Jesus and Judas”

  1. Dr. Peters is clearly correct, of course.

    Question for Cardinal Mahoney: Under what circumstances WOULD you consider it appropriate to enforce the law of the Church set forth in canon 915?

  2. “Jesus never appeals to punitive measures to change anyone’s life . . .” ???

    “Depart from me, you accursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink . . . . {a}nd these will go off to eternal punishment . . . ”
    Matt 26: 41-46

  3. Ed Peters said: “Since he was 12 years old, Jesus had been taking the Doctors of the Law to school . .” That is simply wrong. The Gospel of Luke NEVER says that Jesus taught the Elders — “taking the Elders to school.” It did say that he was “listening to them and asking questions. All who heard him were amazed at his intelligence.”

    These were not college lectures. They were the more ancient “Socratic” question and answer conversations which could last for hours. In this style of teaching and learning (mostly lost in our modern era), the young lad Yeshua acted no differently than any other Jewish lad of his age. He was notable in his insight — absolutely — but “taking the Doctors to school?” Nonsense!

  4. A very poor analogy by Cardinal Mahoney for sure! When did Judas make it publicly known that he was in a state of grave sin before Jesus gave him communion? Let’s say for sake of argument that Judas stood up and said, “Gentlemen, I have betrayed Jesus by turning him over to the authorities. They will be arresting him a bit later.” Now let’s say that it came time to “break bread” and Jesus started to give a morsel of the bread to Judas. What do you think the chance would have been that the other Apostles would have objected, or would have been scandalized if Jesus went forward and gave it to Judas anyway? Not looking for an answer. Just throwing it out there for your private meditation.

    I will say it again in this debate. Please don’t forget the remaining faithful in the pews and the potential adverse affect on them by giving communion to one in a state of manifest grave sin.

  5. Did anyone bother to ask Cardinal Mahoney if he even believes in the Real Presence?

    I don’t know how many remember the Mother Angelica/Mahoney ‘altercation’ a while back, but I just looked it up and found this piece which might explain everything. I have no idea how he feels about the Real Presence now, but it’s pretty much the reason Mother Angleica left EWTN (you can read the entire essay for the details).

    Here’s an excerpt:

    Just when it seemed things couldn’t get any worse, Mother Angelica and Roger Cardinal Mahony locked horns. In 1997, she accused the Los Angeles archbishop of questioning the Real Presence: “In fact,” she said, “the cardinal of California is teaching that it’s bread and wine before the Eucharist and after the Eucharist.” She added that she would not obey an Ordinary like him if she lived there, and hoped that those who did would no longer provide him with their assent.

    That was it. Mahony exploded. But while demanding that Rome punish Mother Angelica—and this went on for years—Mahony’s archdiocese was home to “a cavalcade of dissenters and anti-Vatican agitators.” This is the stuff that drives orthodox Catholics mad.

    While she survived in the end, Mother Angelica had to ward off attempts by the bishops to take control of EWTN (one archbishop allegedly told her that certain bishops “want to destroy you”). To make sure this would never happen, Mother Angelica resigned from the network in order to save it: the bishops would have no lien on a purely autonomous, lay-run, civil entity.

    Full link is:

  6. Dr. Peters says “Jesus did not expose his inexpressibly grievous, but to that point still private, sin to public view by withholding Communion from him.”

    Jesus doesn’t withhold communion but does expose Judas’ sin even before Judas commits it!

    Matthew 26:20ff places Judas’ betrayal in the future tense (“one of you will betray me. … He who has dipped his hand into the dish with me is the one who will betray me.”), though Judas has already laid the groundwork by approaching Jesus’ enemies and setting a price.

    The question is, then, “are the faithful scandalized?” After everything we’ve been through in recent years with this universal church, I doubt it.

  7. Although I have been quite active in responding on this blog to the Cuomo-Hubbard controversy, I have heretofore, through all the scandals, been silent publicly since I have always viewed myself as a reprobate always in recovery with sins in my past that would dwarf the scandals that have occurred in recent years in the Church.

    But now the juxtaposition of Cuomo receiving Holy Communion while living with a woman not his wife exacerbated by 21 priests indicted in Philadelphia for some aspect of sexual misbehavior with children, I have been moved to emerge from the closet as a sinner now in Sanctifying Grace and indicate that even a sinner like me can be “scandalized” when crap like these two current events vitiate the Sanctuary.

    These two events, coming as they have in tandem, approach my culpability before returning to the Church three years ago after a 40 year hiatus. So far I have been able to adjust to the Novus Ordo Mass but these two recent events have scandalized even a sinner like me who never in his 40 year hiatus of sin would have received Holy Communion even though during many of those years I worked for the Church and would have advanced even further had I been a public communicant.

    Either the Holy Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ or it isn’t. And if the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ, Bishop Hubbard should not be putting the Eucharist in the mouth of Cuomo in his current lifestyle when cameras are rolling and Cuomo and his lady should not be coming forward to receive it.

    As a Mahoney, I have always been happy that Cardinal Mahony is one vowel short of a family tie. Looking at the detritus of the Church in Los Angeles left in his wake, how can anyone take seriously anything Cardinal Mahony says. May he wander around his cathedral “davening,” as my Jewish friends might say, rather than pontificating on matters of current interest as I have been doing here.

    I still want to know where Archbishop Dolan is when Bishop Hubbard obviously needs a lesser assignment. And I still pray that the Pope will assign Bishop Stika to replace Cardinal Rigali now that the latter has tendered his letter of resignation at age 75. Rigali is a good man who served St. Louis well in his years as bishop there but the problem in Philadelphia requires a different kind of personality and Bishop Stika, also from St. Louis but now in Tennessee, has the knuckles and guts to shape up the clergy in Philly pretty swiftly. He does not suffer fools gladly and he gained experience in St. Louis handling matters like these when he was Rigali’s “secretary of state.” I hope someone will shortly do something in Philly and Albany so I can go back to stewing in silence and finally shut up. I want to make Fran, a fan of Bishop Hubbard, happy again.

  8. Somehow this discussion has surfaced the whole Mother Angelica/ Cardinal Mahony controversy. I’m sorry but that is ancient history and I am one that believes that Mother Angelica’s “forced retirement” from EWTN (if that, in fact, is what it was), was a good thing for that network.

    I am far more fascinated by the fact that that Mother Angelica’s “retirement” came just immediately after Bishop Baker was moved from Charleston SC to Birmingham AL.

    I have met Bishop Baker and am friends with a lot of his seminary classmates. He is a big and tall man who easily can intimidate by size alone. He is “centrist” and “orthodox” (in its true meaning as “right teaching”) to the core.

    The folks in Birmingham need to prostrate themselves before the Eucharist in thanksgiving for the Lord sending them such a gifted man of God.

  9. One of my biggest struggles with being a Christian is judgment. Isn’t He the only one who can judge?

    While I can understand the temptation to not want to serve communion to those who publicly go against His word, why would it then stop with elected officials? What about the business man whose business practices are not Christ-like? What about the unwed mothers? Where does it stop?

  10. Dcn. Norb reminds me why I should never make Scriptural allusions in my posts. The most innocuous asides will be shredded. I’m such a worry to my friends.

    Moonshadow, et al. Do we agree that, whatever Jesus said to John, it was not by withholding Communion from him that Judas’ sin was exposed? That’s my only point, pace Cdl. Mahoney.

    Fiergenholt. I dunno what that was about.

    Heather. You seem new to the discussion. Check out my webpage, Else, know that Canon 915 is not limited to politicians (although they are more likely to attract attention, esp. when they cohabit with media celebs), and that Canon 915 has nothing to do with “judging” people. However much you might hear otherwise.

  11. One of the most superficial mantras I’ve heard in the last two decades is this: “We can’t be judgmental!” People who recite this often adhere to it to their detriment and that of others.

    The Holy Spirit’s Gift of Right Judgment (formerly known as counsel), is a gift to be exercised by the faithful, especially by those in authority such as bishops who are canonically mandated to teach, to sanctify, and to govern. “Enlightened by the Spirit, a person learns [with Counsel]what to do in a specific case and what advice to give when consulted or COMMAND TO MAKE IF HE IS IN AUTHORITY.” Fr.John Hardon S.J.

    At the polar opposite is rash judgment. “an unfounded judgment –= favorable or unfavorable—upon the moral status or actions of another . . . There are many occasions when we are required to evaluate the activity or character of others . . . Such judgments must be reached in charity, with as complete a knowledge as possible . . .” Fr. Peter Stravinskas.

    Do our friends in the blogosphere have an opinion for the application of these principles in the issue at hand?

  12. When I took my canon law course the instructor said that Canon 915 had been written specifically for situations like Gov Cuomo’s where an adulterous living arrangement would cause scandal to the faithful. Seems like a proper application in this case to me. As for Cardinal Mahony, the liturgical abuses in his presence throughout the years (e.g., liturgical dancers, the Precious Blood being poured from kool aid pitchers, etc.) make me wonder about his judgment.

  13. Admittedly, this document is quite deep, but if you simply scroll down to the conclusions, you will see the opinion of the Vatican’s equivalent of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court on this issue:

    You are free to decide for yourself, but I choose to follow one such as him who has studied the issue extensively and has great knowledge and pastoral sensibility.

  14. Ed Peters, you wrote: “…so I don’t know whether Judas, in fact, took the Eucharist at the Last Supper…” Really? You don’t remember Christ Jesus referring, in Matthew’s gospel, to Judas dipping the bread (the Eucharist, Christ’s body) into the wine (Christ’s blood)?

    You’re that careless with scriptural depictions of the Last Supper (the first Eucharist), and yet you see it as your job to condemn others who try to come closer to Jesus through the Eucharist?


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