Having laid the groundwork of history and theology, Sacra Tridentina arrived at nine conclusions. We’ll cover the first four today, and wrap up our examination of this document with the others tomorrow.
Accordingly, the Sacred Congregation of the Council, in a Plenary Session held on December 16, 1905, submitted this matter to a very careful study, and after sedulously examining the reasons adduced on either side, determined and declared as follows:
1. Frequent and daily Communion, as a practice most earnestly desired by Christ our Lord and by the Catholic Church, should be open to all the faithful, of whatever rank and condition of life; so that no one who is in the state of grace, and who approaches the Holy Table with a right and devout intention (recta piaque mente) can be prohibited therefrom.
2. A right intention consists in this: that (she or)he who approaches the Holy Table should do so, not out of routine, or vain glory, or human respect, but that (she or) he wish to please God, to be more closely united with Him by charity, and to have recourse to this divine remedy for his weakness and defects.
3. Although it is especially fitting that those who receive Communion frequently or daily should be free from venial sins, at least from such as are fully deliberate, and from any affection thereto, nevertheless, it is sufficient that they be free from mortal sin, with the purpose of never sinning in the future; and if they have this sincere purpose, it is impossible by that daily communicants should gradually free themselves even from venial sins, and from all affection thereto.
4. Since, however, the Sacraments of the New Law, though they produce their effect ex opere operato, nevertheless, produce a great effect in proportion as the dispositions of the recipient are better, therefore, one should take care that Holy Communion be preceded by careful preparation, and followed by an appropriate thanksgiving, according to each one’s strength, circumstances and duties.
Whether they realized it or not, the pope and his council applied a significant spiritual and liturgical nudge to the Church, countering centuries of momentum. It’s important to realize that nearly as much time has passed since John XXIII called for a council (53 years) as the number of years between Sacra Tridentina and that announcement (1905-1959: 54 years). If that perspective is helpful, note the passage of time and wonder what other movements might be afoot in our time.
Church teaching is vividly clear: venial sins are not necessarily an obstacle to receiving Communion.
My sense is that the fourth declaration strikes the right balance. Frequency leads to routine: this is a human tendency–not necessarily sinful or overly casual. The remedy for routine reception is clear. The Church calls not for a “fasting” from the Eucharist, but more attention to preparation and thanksgiving. The goal is a richer spiritual life, and for deeper opportunities for God’s grace–as we are reminded of the operative power of the sacraments.