Father David's Reflection for Friday of Week Twenty-Three (Ordinary Time)
The Responsorial (Psalm 16) is: “You are my inheritance, O Lord!”
An inheritance is something one has a right to. Can we say Christians have a right to Communion?
The faith of the Church, the laws of the Church, and the pastoral practice of the Church can give three different answers to that. Is that shocking?
Catholic faith allows Communion as soon as a person is baptized. The Eastern rite Catholics give Communion to infants. The Western or “Latin” rite Catholics postpone Communion until children have reached the age of reason and are sufficiently instructed. Roman law is more restrictive than that of the Eastern rites, but it is no more and no less “Catholic.”
The Latin Church, however, grew into a restrictive rigidity, especially when influenced by “certain doctrinal and ascetical errors... rooted in Jansenism”:
One was the idea that to receive first Holy Communion requires... an extraordinary preparation. In effect, this meant deferring first Communion to the riper age of 12, 14, or even older.
Another error was the pretense that “the Holy Eucharist is a reward (for virtue), not a remedy for human frailty.”
The errors pinpointed by Pius X had inevitably led to grave abuses. One was depriving children, early in their lives, of the right of living in Christ through Holy Communion, a right given by Baptism. (See Cardinal John Wright, “First Confession and First Communion,” Vatican web site. Emphasis added).
In that era pastoral practice discouraged frequent Communion until Pope Saint Pius X officially decreed: “Frequent and daily Communion, which is strongly desired by Christ and the Church, is open to all the faithful of Christ. No one who is in the state of grace and comes to the table of the Lord with a good attitude and devotion can be prohibited from receiving” (Eucharistic decree, December 20, 1905. And see Quam Singulari, decree on First Communion, August 8, 1910).
That declares Communion a right. But unreflective pastoral practice sometimes still denies Communion to people not clearly in mortal sin.
In 1Timothy 1:1-14 Paul says “I was once a blasphemer, a persecutor, a man filled with arrogance. But because I did not know what I was doing in my unbelief, I have been treated mercifully.” Was Paul in “mortal sin” when, with zeal for the Law, he “approved of the killing” of Stephen and was “ravaging the church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women,” and committing them to prison? How many people do you know about whom you would dare to make that judgment? (Acts 8:1-3).
In Luke 6:39-42 Jesus warns us that judging others may just reveal the blindness in our own hearts. Before we say to our brother or sister, “You have no right to receive Communion,” we need to examine our own obedience to the command Jesus established as the benchmark of our love for him: “If you love me, feed my sheep.”
Initiative: Be a faithful steward. Be more intent on connecting than correcting.
The Church traditionally commemorates seven “sorrows” of Mary:
1. Simeon prophesies that a “sword” will pierce Mary’s soul (Luke 2:34-35)
2. The flight into Egypt (Matthew 2:13)
3. Jesus is “lost” three days (Luke 2:41-50)
4. Mary sees Jesus carrying his cross
5. Mary sees Jesus crucified (John 19:25-27)
6. The removal of Jesus’ body from the cross
7. Jesus is laid in the tomb.
John 19:25-27 tells us Mary was at the foot of the cross. None of the Gospels tells us that Mary followed Jesus on the way to Calvary, helped to remove his body or to bury him. That simply stands to reason.
What doesn’t obviously stand to reason is why God didn’t spare Mary the sight of her Son’s suffering. He could have arranged for her to be out of town that week and let her mourn his death when she learned of it without bearing the vivid memory of what she saw him suffer. But Mary had to be there.
Even more, she had to join in the act by which Jesus offered himself. She had to stand beneath the cross and say to the Father, “Be it done unto him according to your word!”
What mother could do that? This had to have been unimaginably more difficult than the surrender she made when she said about herself, “Let it be done unto me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). But she had to do it. It was required of her. Why?
When God asked Mary to be the Mother of the Savior, there was more mystery there than just giving birth to his body.
First, everyone who would ever be redeemed was going to be part of that body. We are saved, and our sins “taken away” (rather than just “forgiven”) because by Baptism we were incorporated into Jesus’ body hanging on the cross. We died in him and rose in him as a “new creation,” with no history of sin, to live henceforth as his risen body on earth,. This is why Jesus could say with total realism to Mary about John, “Woman, here is your son” and to John about Mary, “Here is your mother.” The words apply to all of us. All who have become the real body of Christ through Baptism have Mary as their real mother.
Secondly, in asking Mary’s consent to be Jesus’ Mother, God was giving to her — and to every member of the human race — an active part in the work of salvation. God does not want to save us as inert matter. He wants the human nature he created, which freely brought about its own corruption through sin, to have a part in its own redemption through free cooperation with grace. Mary is the prototype of this. She is “the beginning and the pattern of the Church in its perfection” (Preface for the feast of the Assumption).
This meant that Mary had to have an active part, not only in Christ’s birth, but also in his death. As “priest in the Priest” she had to offer his body on the cross — and as “victim in the Victim,” she had to offer herself “with him, in him and through him.” Offer his body, the fruit of her womb; offer her body as the fruit of his labor on the cross, from which the Church was born.
And so do we. At Baptism and at every Mass we offer ourselves with Christ.
Action: At every Mass, say in unison with Jesus, to every member of the human race, “This is my body, given up for you.”