Benedict XVI: Casual attitude to reception of Holy Communion central to moral crisis in Church
ROME, April 12, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — A casual attitude towards the Holy Eucharist is at the heart of the moral crisis in the Church, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has said.
The pope emeritus this week argued that at the center of the moral crisis that has engulfed the Church is an increasingly casual attitude towards reception of Holy Communion, as though it were a mere ritual flourish at the end of Mass rather than an entering into the presence of the infinitely Holy.
In an essay for a Bavarian magazine aimed principally at clergy, in which he reflects on the origins of the abuse crisis, Benedict has identified as one of the essential contributing factors to the moral crisis in the Church the loss of faith in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist.
He also identifies an abandonment of the teaching in institutions that there are some acts which are always and everywhere immoral, as preparing the ground for the abuse crisis.
The pope emeritus says there are values which “must never be abandoned for a greater value and even surpass the preservation of physical life.” Refusing to abandon these non-negotiable values may require “martyrdom,” he says, but he adds that this “a basic category of Christian existence.”
This contrasts strikingly with German Cardinal Walter Kasper’s claim that “heroic virtue is not for the ordinary Christian.”
The Catholic Church believes and professes that “the Body and Blood, together with the Soul and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, and therefore the whole Christ, is truly, really and substantially contained in the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist” (Council of Trent).
Benedict notes in his essay that, since the time of the Second Vatican Council, “our handling of the Eucharist can only arouse concern.”
In an apparent reference to the Vatican II Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium (chapter 2), the pope emeritus says: “The Second Vatican Council was rightly focused on returning this sacrament of the Presence of the Body and Blood of Christ, of the Presence of His Person, of His Passion, Death and Resurrection, to the center of Christian life and the very existence of the Church.”
“In part,” he said, “this really has come about, and we should be most grateful to the Lord for it.”
But, he adds, “what predominates is not a new reverence for the presence of Christ’s death and resurrection, but a way of dealing with Him that destroys the greatness of the Mystery.”
“The declining participation in the Sunday Eucharistic celebration shows how little we Christians of today still know about appreciating the greatness of the gift that consists in His Real Presence,” he said.
“The Eucharist is devalued into a mere ceremonial gesture when it is taken for granted that courtesy requires Him to be offered at family celebrations or on occasions such as weddings and funerals to all those invited for family reasons.”
“The way people simply receive the Blessed Sacrament in many places, as if it were a matter of course, shows that many no longer see anything more in Communion than a purely ceremonial gesture.”
“We do not need another Church of our own design,” he writes. “Rather, what is required first and foremost is the renewal of the faith in the reality of Jesus Christ given to us in the Blessed Sacrament.”
And while there is not the least hint of criticism in Benedict’s words, one cannot help but notice the contrast with a pontificate which has defined itself by breaking down the moral and doctrinal barriers to the reception of Holy Communion by those who either do not share the Catholic faith or do not seek to conform themselves to Catholic moral teaching in their lives.
In 2015, during a visit to a Lutheran community in Rome, Pope Francis told a Lutheran woman that she and her Roman Catholic husband could “talk to the Lord and go forward” in deciding whether to receive the Holy Eucharist.
Then, in 2018, less than one month after Archbishop Luis Ladaria, S.J., prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, sent a letter to the German bishops with Pope Francis’ approval, rejecting their pastoral guidelines to allow Protestants in mixed marriages with Catholics to receive the Holy Eucharist in some cases, without needing to convert to Catholicism, Pope Francis told reporters during an inflight press conference that it is up to local bishops to determine whether a Protestant spouse may receive the Eucharist.
Also in 2018, Pope Francis departed from a tradition restored by Pope John Paul II and moved the celebration of Corpus Christi — with its candlelit Eucharistic procession — from the heart of Rome. Francis also departed from his predecessors in not accompanying Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament during the candlelit procession through the streets of Rome.
In 2017, Pope Francis reportedly sent a letter to the bishops of Malta thanking them for the guidelines on applying the controversial Chapter 8 of his summary document on the Synod on the Family, Amoris Laetitia. In the guidelines, the Maltese bishops invited divorced Catholics living in a second union to come forward for Holy Communion after a period of discernment, with an informed and enlightened conscience, and if they are “at peace with God.”
During an April 11, 2019 episode of The World Over, canon lawyer and priest of the Archdiocese of New York, Fr. Gerald Murray, responded to Benedict XVI’s essay and underlined that, in the Eucharist, Christ gives himself to the Church in sacramental form.
This, he said, is why Benedict is so concerned that if we treat the sacrament casually, without due reverence and an “adoring spirit, then reverence for God and His creatures “goes out the door.“
Fr. Murray continued: “What then do we have? We have all the evils of relativism, immorality,” which means that “young people and others get victimized by powerful people who dismiss that morality.”
“How do we reform the Church?,” Fr. Murray asked. “The renewal of theology, particularly moral theology, based on metaphysical thinking which identifies that reality is a category not subject to our manipulation.”
“We can manipulate our response to reality,” he said, but “that’s where you get into the make-believe world.”
“What’s the difference between genuflecting in Church and walking into Disney World?” Fr. Murray asked. “Disney World is all made up. Jesus is really in the Tabernacle.”
“People have awe when they see the great castle at Disney World,” he said. “I thought that was fun when I was a kid, but then I learned something more important. God is physically in the Tabernacle in my Church. My duty in life is to live in a way that I’m worthy to receive him so that I’ll see him when I go to my grave.”
“That’s a beautiful message,” Fr. Murray said.
Catholic author Robert Royal noted that the pope emeritus honed in on “the way we treat the Eucharist on special occasions, weddings, and funerals.”
“It is just assumed that all family members or friends who show up — whether they’re even Catholic or whether they are Catholics in good standing, or whether they are Protestants or whatever — are entitled somehow to receive the Eucharist,” Royal said.
He also noted that when someone is been denied the Eucharist on such occasions, the Church is often portrayed as “unmerciful.” But he argued that this is “sentimentality.”
“It’s often said that sentimentality is the death of truth,” he said. “It’s not surprising that there’s a sentimentality about the Eucharist that spreads, that the very reverence and the fear of God and the fear of how we act toward Him and toward one another begins to disappear.”
Personal love for Jesus
Over the years, Joseph Ratzinger (and then Benedict XVI) has been consistent in identifying the root causes of the moral crisis in the Church, as well as the remedies. In a 2003 televised interview with Raymond Arroyo, he identified a collapse in faith and the Church’s moral teaching as being at the heart of the crisis.
He said: “Only if I am really in a personal confidence with the Lord, if the Lord for me is not an idea but the person of my deepest friendship… If I am really convinced and in personal contact of love with the Lord, the Lord will help me in these temptations.”
In his essay this week, Benedict repeatedly refers to the Holy Eucharist as “Him” – not “it” — to highlight that the Eucharist is a Person, not a thing.
“We must do all we can,” he writes, “to protect the gift of the Holy Eucharist from abuse.”