Communion, With or Without …

… Reconciliation, Catholicism, or even Baptism.

In the ancient Church, you wouldn’t make it in the door without enduring a lengthy catechumenate. Then, thanks to 1054, reception of the Eucharist was partly a political identification with one’s Patriarch. Then, thanks to the Reformation, lots of Christians just didn’t bother with the Roman notion of Eucharist, for reasons political or otherwise.

Fr James Martin discusses Rick, a blogger and inactive Catholic, returning to Mass and feeling Word-inspired to receive Communion. Fr Martin links the Anchoress, who sidesteps the political association (i.e. Rome) and focuses on the Tridentine/scholastic articulation of BodyBloodSoulDivinity.

Having my own experience of an unbaptized Communion, I’m not entirely convinced the Anchoress is spot on with citing Saint Paul. Paul is urging a self-examination in a particular context, that of the situation of his beloved but exasperating Corinthians. He might find St Blog’s an even more vexing group, but leave that as it is, as we don’t practice Communion in this community. Literally, Paul doesn’t urge brothers and sisters to be keepers of those who seem to have fallen down on the job of Christian. Yet many conservatives, and not a few liberals, make it a tenet of faith.

Don’t get me wrong on this next point. I believe in, practice, and adhere to the collective Catholic experience of seven sacraments (six, really, as one is beyond my state of life). I think/hope I have a developed sense of conscience and practice of the sacrament of Reconciliation. And yet I harbor misgivings about some of the repeatable sacraments being bandied about as prerequisites for others. Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist: that makes sense. Reconciliation and Eucharist: not so much. It is more the state of grace and the encounter with Christ that makes Reconciliation a fruitful prelude for the Eucharist, especially when a believer has been away from the fold for awhile.

Other theologians have pondered the question of Eucharistic participation without adherence to Rome (which seems to be the big Catholic-Orthodox hang-up) or traditional Christian Eucharistic belief (again, not a problem for the Orthodox, or really even many Anglicans or some Protestants) or even Baptism. I don’t really want to go there, though I welcome comments and links from the commentariat.

I’m curious that neither Rick nor Elizabeth have bothered much with the root meaning of “Communion,” a sharing with others. Taking Communion implies, in my thinking, some sort of shared commitment of belief. A politician receives Communion at a church, and I’m not impressed. Not because of 1 Cor 11:27ff, but because I suspect there is no commitment to that church’s mission or involvement in that church’s apostolate.

Likewise, Rick’s Eucharistic experience doesn’t warm me deeply. Don’t get me wrong: I’m happy he retains a strong sense of the presence of Christ, and that he hasn’t received a meaningless piece of bread. But Christian sacramental commitment involves a notion of sacrifice. It’s not about a priest offering a cultic sacrifice. Sacramental encounters with Christ involve believers taking up their crosses and following the Lord.

If Rick’s Eucharistic experience leads him to involvement as an active believer in his parish (whatever floats his boat: works of mercy, singing in the choir, assisting with catechesis) and he expands his sacramental experience in a communal setting, and to the full range of sacraments, then I would tend to count his sacramental experience as a grace. Like mine was.

The Catholic experience of the Eucharist is more, much more, than singular moments of Tabor. Or singling out people because they don’t seem to be worthy of Tabor. But what do y’all think?


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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8 Responses to Communion, With or Without …

  1. Jim McK says:

    I would cite St Luke rather than St Paul:

    “let us celebrate with a feast,because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.’ Then the celebration began.”

    And to the Anchoress, I would follow up:

    “you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.'”

    IOW, the Anchoress is completely right, except that she is not celebrating. This is a moment of great joy! I wish that every person could feel God calling them to the Eucharist.

    The Eucharist is more than a single moment of gorging; it is God present for us. Participation in the Eucharist is more than just lining up to get something.

    And that more seems present in Rick’s life That more is a beginning of a greater relationship with the Church formed by the Eucharist. Rick may not understand what he is doing, but he will if we let God lead him.

  2. MikeK says:

    Jumping a little off-topic here…

    …actually, Todd, if I’m thinking the same way you’re thinking, the seventh sacrament isn’t beyond your state of life. You already bring a lot to the Church – the diaconate probably wouldn’t be a stretch. :-) (And even money your homilies would be challenging, too.)

    But back to the topic: some among us tend to focus so much on the rules and regulations that we miss the opportunities for God’s grace to flow toward us. This post made me think of a recent time when I did this (in my heart); next time I pray for that person, I will pray not that God makes him feel guilt in his conscience and keeps him away from the Sacrament, but that any time he receives the Sacrament – whether or not he shouldn’t – God’s grace enters him and give him the strength to make himself truly worthy to receive the Lord Jesus.

    Once the action is done, you can’t undo it. You can only hope the person learns something and/or benefits from the situation. In your case, Todd, you could have been berated for doing something sacrilegious – and who knows what the result would be. But the priest saved the day here – and the soul, as it were – or, shall we say, the Lord himself saved the day and the priest was his agent (or, to use another term beloved by the trads, acted in persona Christi).

  3. Fran says:

    “Literally, Paul doesn’t urge brothers and sisters to be keepers of those who seem to have fallen down on the job of Christian. Yet many conservatives, and not a few liberals, make it a tenet of faith.”

    I have not been commenting as much lately, but I have remained a faithful reader.

    This post and the quoted line (among so many others) keep me here daily, even if only through my reader.

    Having said that, when I returned to the Church after a long absence, and not actually intending to return, someone did tell me to go to confession as I would be on a trip that would include mass. So I went – not contritely at all, but I went and was grateful to be welcomed and not yelled at. (At St. Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC in 1990 no less.)

    And I began to attend mass after that and receive communion. Can I say I was really in the proper disposition?

    I’m not sure, but I can tell you today that I would not be where I am in life if not for the many graces, slow but always sure, that came from my return.

    My long winded point being that I actually am in general agreement with the Anchoress on this but that I do know grace can work in strange ways. I don’t always heal my own wound before turning to a doctor for treatment, that is all I am saying.

  4. Liam says:

    A technical note just to correct any misimpressions about Orthodox versus Roman practice (which I offer because I find many people labor under the idea that Orthodoxy’s lack of a pope has made it more relaxed than Rome in sacramental practice, whereas actually the reverse is more true): receiving communion in the Orthodox churches tends to be more restrictive than in the Roman church. In many churches, a pastor will not automatically minister communion to someone he does not personally know or have reason to know is properly disposed to receive Communion. Most of the Orthodox churches do not reciprocate Rome’s limited permission for intercommunion; hey, some important Orthodox churches (like Russian) don’t necessarily acknowledge our *baptisms* even as valid.

  5. Liam says:


    I think your misgivings about Reconciliation appear to view it as delinked from baptism. Reconciliation is, in a sense, an extension of the remission of sins that baptism offers. The practice of the early church was, at least well into the 4th century, fairly severe with admitting post-baptismal sinner to communion. The development of Reconciliation was an amelioration of this. I suspect your misgivings is that this amelioration should go further, but that would not be in the name of going back to the future, as it were.

    Still, one basic concept of the sacraments of initiation is that one must be properly disposed and sacramentally reconciled as needed, before admission to the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.

  6. Todd says:

    Liam, thanks for the notes on this.

    I’m very aware of Orthodox practices on sacraments, and even the lamentable and theologically unfounded rejection of validity one finds in some quarters. I meant to communicate that Catholics accept Orthodox sacraments as entirely valid and sound, and they reject, obviously, the Roman notion of unity through the explicit governance of the Bishop of Rome.

    The link between baptism and reconciliation is a theological fact. Too bad it’s not generally part of the catechesis imparted for these sacraments. I don’t believe I’ve seen any of Rick’s critics bring it up.

    A proper disposition, yes, certainly. But I’m also aware a proper disposition is a work in progress. I’m less inclined to cluck at what seems, on the surface, to be an improper reception of the sacraments. First, other internet Catholics have that base covered, and in spades. And second, I have no problem elucidating Catholic teaching in a sphere in which I actually have some influence: in my parish, or among my friends.

    Rather than see an act of sacrilege, I’m inclined to take a deep breath, and pray the single act is part of a continuum that leads to holiness and the glorification of God.

    If Rick went to my parish, I wouldn’t mind opening up that discussion in an appropriate venue, which you can be sure would not be this web site or any other public forum.

  7. Liam says:


    Thanks for your clarification about your reference to that formal ecclesial communion not being a barrier to intercommunion with members of Orthodox (and many Oriental, I might add) churches.

    Of course, it should be remember that Rick made this a blog issue. To some extent, we are re-treading Sally Quinn’s comments after Tim Russert’s funeral, though Rick is more earnest and credible than Sally in my book (for reasons I mentioned at the time about Sally).

    So, given your pastoral and personal experience,m perhaps you should invite Rick to reconsider discussing this other than personally?

  8. Rick says:

    I appreciate the comments here… better tone than at my place or the Anchoress’…

    Thank you all…

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