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Pablo Blanco, Professor of Theology

The communion of desire. A pastoral proposal

Sun, 01 Feb 2015 15:06:00 +0000 Posted in Word

Among the three paragraphs of the synod's final report that did not obtain the approval of two-thirds of the synod fathers is the one that refers to spiritual communion for the divorced and civilly remarried. It is paragraph 53, which reads: "Some Fathers maintained that divorced and remarried or cohabiting persons can profitably have recourse to spiritual communion. Other Fathers wondered why then they cannot have access to sacramental communion. A deepening of the subject is therefore required to bring out the peculiarity of the two forms and their connection with the theology of marriage". For this paragraph, the placets were 112 and the non placets, 64.

Assuming this challenge, some authors have delved into the nature of spiritual communion and the conditions for receiving it.

A bit of history. Trent had recalled that Eucharistic communion is not only spiritual (c. 8: D 1648): it is not only a manducatio spiritalis - as some Reformed had reproached the Catholics - but also oralis. Therefore, according to the Protestants, all those attending the Supper should receive communion. The council understood that the Eucharist was not only to be seen, adored and contemplated, but also to be eaten and received in Holy Communion. It recalls however that some receive it "only sacramentally," such as the gravely sinful, who do not receive the spiritual fruits; others receive it only spiritually, such as those who, with the desire for the heavenly Bread, with living faith "through love" (Gal 5:6), enjoy its fruits and benefit from it; finally, a third group would receive it both sacramentally and spiritually (c. 8): they are those who prepare themselves beforehand to approach the divine Table, dressed in the nuptial garments (cf. Mt 22:11ff.) and receive it fruitfully in Holy Communion.

The Catechism and the Code of Canon Law issued after Vatican II also address the question. Let us recall first of all that the conditions required for access to sacramental communion are the following:

1) baptism and ecclesial communion, since baptism is ordered to the Eucharist, and only in fullness of communion with Christ can it be received. Communion in faith is a requirement for receiving Eucharistic communion; that is, it is necessary: a) to belong not only to the body of Christ but to be in his heart (cf. LG 14), that is, to be in a state of grace; b) to be free from ecclesiastical censures, and c) not to be or appear to be a public sinner, in order to avoid any scandal (cf. CCC 912, 915);

2) age and use of reason: an adequate knowledge is required about what is to be received, which however is not always necessary in the Eastern Churches, as when - after baptism and confirmation - the Eucharist is administered to newborns (cf. CCC 913).

The Eucharist would therefore be a sacrament of the living because: a) one cannot validly receive the Eucharist without baptism (and penance, as a second baptism), since this sacrament is the one that opens the soul to the life of grace. Moreover, b) the absence of grave sin in the conscience of the one who receives the body of Christ is required; therefore, c) an unbaptized person or someone without the proper dispositions approaching the sacrament of the Eucharist would receive only materially the body of Christ, without any spiritual fruit ex opere operato. Moreover, "whoever unworthily receives the body of Christ receives his own condemnation" (1 Cor 11:27).

As a consequence, the dispositions for a fruitful communion are the following: 1) state of grace, although the Eucharist erases venial sins and prevents and preserves from mortal sins: "Whoever is conscious of being in grave sin, do not celebrate Mass or receive the Body of the Lord without first going to sacramental confession, unless there is a grave reason and there is no opportunity for confession; and in this case, let him bear in mind that he is obliged to make an act of perfect contrition, which includes the purpose of going to confession as soon as possible" (CCC 916; cf. CCE 1385); 2) Eucharistic fasting, with the conditions modified by Pius XII in the Apostolic Constitution Christus Dominus (1953): "Whoever is to receive the Most Holy Eucharist is to abstain from all food and drink for at least one hour before Holy Communion, with the exception of water and medicines" (CCC 919).

Spiritual communion or communion of desire? When all these conditions are not met, the sacrament can always be received in a spiritual way.

In spiritual communion, the effects of the vow are obtained as a promise. According to Thomas Aquinas, spiritual communion consists in making an act of faith in the presence of Jesus Christ Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, after an act of love and contrition for having offended him. Then the soul invites Jesus Christ to come to it and to make it completely his own; finally, each one gives him thanks as if he had received him sacramentally. Spiritual communion thus consists in "an ardent desire to receive Our Lord Jesus Christ sacramentally and in loving embrace, as if he had already been received" (STh IIIa, q 80). That is to say, it would be equivalent, in terms of fruits, to receiving the Lord directly by the manducatio oralis. The Catholic priest of Anglican origin Ronald Knox writes: "We know that a spiritual communion made sincerely can produce the same effects as sacramental communion".

The fruits here are above all ex opere operantis, by virtue of the communicant's dispositions. John Paul II also adds the following recommendation: "It is fitting to cultivate in the mind a constant desire for the Eucharistic Sacrament. From this is born the internship of spiritual communion"(Ecclesia de Eucharistia, n. 34). In the apostolic exhortation Familiaris consortio (1981, n. 84), he asked divorced persons in civil remarriage to open themselves to the effective action of grace, for example, by listening to the Sacred Scriptures, frequenting Mass, praying, listening to preaching, participating in the life of the Church, etc. However, "they cannot be admitted (to communion) because their state and status of life objectively contradict the union of love between Christ and the Church, signified and actualized in the Eucharist" (FC, 84; cf. also Letter to the Bishops on the reception of the Eucharist by the divorced and remarried faithful, 14.9.1994). It was thus proposal a pastoral care of waiting and conversion, until - for imperatives of life - both spouses live together uti frater et soror, and then they would be in perfect condition to receive sacramental communion.

However, spiritual communion can be understood in different ways and, consequently, can also lend itself to serious misunderstandings. Since spiritual communion requires the state of grace, and just as there is baptism of desire for those who are prevented from receiving it sacramentally, in the same way there can also be communion of desire(in voto). The "communion of desire" would be like a "spiritual communion" for those who are not in grace. This seems precisely suitable for those who are not in a state of grace and would like to leave this state, but who - for various reasons - cannot do so immediately. For example, this would be the case of the divorced and remarried, or of public sinners who would not be able to receive Eucharistic communion for the time being. The spiritual communion "of desire" is considered as internship habitual of the Catholic Church and can move these people with good dispositions to hope.

Eucharist and conversion. test of this is the contribution given to the synodal discussion by Carlo Buzzi, of the Pontifical high school of the Missions, in a letter from Bangladesh published last May with the degree scroll: "Communion for the divorced and remarried? Yes, of course". There he affirms that there can also be "communion of desire", which "seems precisely suitable for those who are not in a state of grace and would like to leave this state, but for various reasons cannot". Thus, the Synod was right to apply for "a deepening of the theme" between now and the next session, scheduled for October 2015, although some reference letter is missing in the 47 questions of the questionnaire distributed to the Bishops' Conferences.

Also Paul Jerome Keller, professor at the Athenaeum of Ohio (Cincinnati), has published in the last issue of the English edition of Nova et Vetera a article on this topic graduate : "Is Spiritual Commun ion for Everyone ?" (t.o.: "Is Spiritual Communion for Everyone?", Nova et Vetera 12/3 (2014): 631-655). "What we commonly call 'spiritual communion' today," the American Dominican asserted, "is what for St. Thomas Aquinas is a communion of desire (in voto). It is distinct from the spiritual reception that is the inherent effect of the real reception of Holy Communion. Here then is a terminological distinction, along the lines of proposal by Aquinas: "Only a person who is seeking to remove the obstacle that prevents him from full communion with Christ can begin to be in a position to realize a spiritual communion," Keller added.

Recalling the Thomistic distinction between spiritual communion as an act of spiritual nourishment(spiritualis manducatio) and as a spiritual desire(in voto), it is clear that, for a person who has some obstacle to full communion with Christ, it is possible neither to receive communion nor to make plenary session of the Executive Council a spiritual communion. This is why it is problematic to use the same term - spiritual communion - to refer to two different moral situations and two very different relationships with the Eucharist: "We must avoid," Keller continues, "the error of thinking that spiritual communion is the substitute for sacramental communion for the divorced and remarried and, at final, for anyone who is prevented from receiving the Eucharist because of mortal sin. The pastoral danger present in this idea is to induce one to think that the sin that prevents sacramental communion 'is not so bad', because the substance of communion can still be made available."

It is therefore required as a preliminary step to conversion: "In order to receive the graces of communion with Christ, both sacramental and spiritual, for everyone at any status of life, interior conversion to Christ is necessary and a manifestation of this conversion in external actions and in the way of living". But we must avoid misunderstandings: "We must not obscure", he insisted, "the distinction between living in the state of grace and the grace of being moved to contrition". Indeed, to approach sacramental communion, the state of grace is required, which implies prior repentance regarding any sin and sacramental absolution: "From the revelation of Christ and the institution of the sacrament of the Eucharist, the only proper form of worship due to God comes through Christ and in Christ, and is fulfilled at Degree supreme in the celebration of the sacred liturgy. This is true for all the baptized, whether or not they are able to participate in Holy Communion."

A possible solution. The attendance to the celebration of the Eucharist is already a benefit for every member of the faithful, so that "no one can derive benefits from participation in the Mass, that is, from the liturgical celebration. Even the person who is prevented from the fullest expression of worship - the reception of Holy Communion - is always in a position to receive the graces that come from repentance, as well as the effective graces that come from adoration". Moreover, he could find conversion and repentance in the Eucharistic celebration itself, as is in fact quite often the case.

And Keller adds at the end of his article that "it is not the Church that interposes the obstacle to full communion, but the individual who perpetuates the choice to violate a sacramental bond of marriage". It is that particular person who must remove the obstacles that separate him or her from the Eucharist, and the Church - according to Keller - must remain faithful to her mission statement.

"If indeed the Church were to remain passive and allow Holy Communion to those who are not properly disposed, she herself would be subject to condemnation, because of a different subject of oppression: the inability to restrain her children in the face of illicit actions and sin, as well as the inability to faithfully guard and dispense the sacraments." In the face of this, the Church does not commit injustice or lack of mercy: "There is no oppression of the person who suffers, be it the divorced and remarried or the catechumen (who must also be made sacramentally just before receiving Holy Communion). There is only the outstretched and sorrowful hand of the Crucified and Risen One, who, through the Church, offers salvation to every person who chooses to turn to Christ, embracing him alone also in the most difficult decisions of life."

This penitential and sacramental pathway will help all who approach Eucharistic communion to attain the necessary conversion (cf. Mk 1:15), while at the same time expressing in an appropriate way the dignity of the sacrament of the Eucharist. This is not the table of unrepentant sinners, but that of the elect, repentant and reconciled. It is not a question, as is logical, of expelling anyone from the churches, but on the contrary of facilitating their conversion and their progressive access to Eucharistic communion. In addition to the recommendations made by John Paul II, perhaps the ecumenical internship that takes place in countries with an interdenominational presence (such as Scandinavia or the United States) could be of interest, with which Christians who are not in full communion with the Catholic Church can approach to receive the blessing, but not communion: they approach the minister in the communion line with their hand on their chest, and receive the blessing with the body of Christ. Perhaps this gesture, endowed with great beauty and strong symbolism, could also be taken into account by the Synod. It could foster communion of desire and facilitate the progressive approach to full communion with the body and blood of Christ.