A good point in Card. Burke’s book on when Communion should be denied

I have been looking at Raymond Leo Card. Burke’s book from Sophia Press about worthy reception of Communion.

Respecting the Body and Blood of the Lord: When Holy Communion Should Be Denied


Firstly, I did a word search on “hand” and “tongue” and found nothing in the book about Communion on the hand or on the tongue.  However, the book deals with, principally, can. 915 of the 1983 Code for the Latin Church, which says, and here is the artistic view which I have on some things you can buy:

Canon 915. Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.


Why is this the case?   Because scandal must be avoided.

Card. Burke on pp. 77-78 cites and quotes the late, great Fr. Felix Cappello, SJ, a commentator on canon law who is much esteemed.  I was at his tomb YESTERDAY in Sant’Ignazio.

Cappello explains denial of Communion to those who are not disposed, namely, “those who are indeed a capable subject of the sacrament, but are not able to receive its effect, because they are in the state of mortal sin without the will of reforming themselves.” Why, three reasons:

The dignity itself of the sacraments and the virtue of religion demand it, lest sacred things be exposed to profanation; the fidelity of the minister demands it, who is forbidden to give
holy things to the dogs and to throw pearls before the swine; the law of charity demands it, lest the minister cooperate with those who unworthily attempt and dare to receive the sacraments, and offer scandal.

“But Father!  But Father!”, growl the semi-believers, “you are a backwardist!   We are Easter people and everyone, with their pets, should get the bread and wine!  You would exclude them because you are mean and because you HATE VATICAN II!”

It helps to know that many clerics in the USA have been influenced in their understanding of Canon Law (if they have been taught to care in the least bit about it) from a book called New Commentary of the Code of Canon Law (NY: Paulist Press, 2000).   Paulist Press is, right away, a problem.  Burke deals with the knowing distribution of Holy Communion to people who objectively have, even after admonishing, persist in advancing objectively evil things.  An example of this might be a Catholic elected or non-elected government official who persistently advocates for and promotes abortion.  Giving Communion to such a person knowing about her/his past and present actions would commit scandal.  The minister of Communion who is aware of that communicant’s situation would be committing a mortal sin in contributing to the scandalizing of the faithful, who would see what was going one and would draw a false conclusion that it is acceptable to support and promote abortion and then receive the Eucharist.

Card. Burke made a great observation which is a “OF COURSE!” moment, and well-worth sharing.  Let’s deal with scandal (pp. 88-89).  My emphases:

What about the question of scandal? The safeguarding of the sacred necessarily means avoiding scandal. In its properly theological sense, scandal is an objective word, action, or omission which leads others into wrong thoughts, actions, or omissions.

John M. Huels, the commentator on canon 915 in the New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, commissioned by the Canon Law Society of America, reduces scandal to a subjective reality, ignoring its essential connection to what is objective, what is right and wrong. He states:

The fact of actual scandal is, moreover, culturally relative. What causes scandal in one part of the world may not cause scandal elsewhere. In North America the faithful often arc more scandalized by the Church’s denial of sacraments and sacramentals than by the sin that occasions it, because it seems to them contrary to the mercy and forgiveness commanded by Christ?’

If a word, an action, or an omission leads another into error or sin, there is scandal, whether the person who is led astray knows that he has been scandalized or not. If, as the commentator suggests, the faithful in North America believe that persons who publicly and grievously sin should be admitted to Holy Communion and that it would be wrong to deny to them the Sacrament, then effectively the faithful have been scandalized, that is, they have been led to forget or to disregard what the perennial discipline of the Church, beginning with St. Paul’s admonition to the Corinthians, has always remembered and safeguarded. This is not the scandal to which canon 855 §2 of the Pio-Benedictine Code refers.

Two kinds of error are involved. One has to do with the supreme holiness of the Eucharist, that is, the necessity to be well-disposed before approaching to receive the Sacrament. The other regards the objective moral evil of the acts that the person is known to have committed. Giving Holy Communion to one who is known to be a serious sinner leads people astray in two ways. Either they are led to think that it is not wrong for an unrepentant sinner to receive Holy Communion (and to be given the Holy Eucharist), or they are led to think that what the person is known to have done was not gravely sinful.

Great point, right?   If people are scandalized more by denying Communion to objectively badly disposed persons, then – DUH! – they’ve been well and truly SCANDALIZED, thus exactly making the point behind can. 915.

Just to put the texts in front of your eyes (biretta tip to Ed Peter’s who puts them together in an Augenblick).

1983 CIC 0915. Ad sacram communionem ne admittantur excommunicati et interdicti post irrogationem vel declarationem poenae aliique in manifesto gravi peccato obstinate perseverantes.

  Eng. trans. Canon 915. Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.

  Olim: 1917 CIC 855. § 1. All those publicly unworthy are to be barred from the Eucharist, such as excommunicates, those interdicted, and those manifestly infamous, unless their penitence and emendation are shown and they have satisfied beforehand the public scandal [they caused]. § 2. But occult sinners, if they ask secretly and the minister knows they are unrepentant, should be refused; but not, however, if they ask publicly and they cannot be passed over without scandal. (See also: Canon Law Digest I: 408-409.)

1983 CIC 0916. Qui conscius est peccati gravis, sine praemissa sacramentali confessione Missam ne celebret neve Corpori Domini communicet, nisi adsit gravis ratio et deficiat opportunitas confitendi; quo in casu meminerit se obligatione teneri ad eliciendum actum perfectae contritionis, qui includit propositum quam primum confitendi.

 Eng. trans. Canon 916. A person who is conscious of grave sin is not to celebrate Mass or receive the body of the Lord without previous sacramental confession unless there is a grave reason and there is no opportunity to confess; in this case the person is to remember the obligation to make an act of perfect contrition which includes the resolution of confessing as soon as possible.

 Olim: 1917 CIC 807. Priests conscious of grave sin, no matter how contrite they believe themselves to be, shall not dare to celebrate Mass without prior sacramental confession; but if because there is lacking a sufficient supply of confessors and there is urgent necessity, he shall elicit an act of perfect contrition, celebrate, and as soon as possible confess.

1917 CIC 856. No one burdened by mortal sin on his conscience, no matter how contrite he believes he is, shall approach holy communion without prior sacramental confession; but if there is urgent necessity and a supply of ministers of confession is lacking, he shall first elicit an act of perfect contrition. (See also Canon Law Digest II: 208-215; and VII: 664.

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One Comment

  1. Not says:

    Beautiful article ! I am afraid that in today’s Church, nothing is scandalous.
    There is a great story about Pope Pius XII who for years had a Religious Sister as his secretary. Someone started a scandalous rumor about Her and the Pope. When he found out who it was, Pope Pius XII went into a rage defending the good Sister.

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