What is the connection between Eucharist and Penance?
37. The two sacraments of the Eucharist and Penance are very closely connected. Because the Eucharist makes present the redeeming sacrifice of the Cross, perpetuating it sacramentally, it naturally gives rise to a continuous need for conversion, for a personal response to the appeal made by Saint Paul to the Christians of Corinth: “We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor 5:20). If a Christian’s conscience is burdened by serious sin, then the path of penance through the sacrament of Reconciliation becomes necessary for full participation in the Eucharistic Sacrifice.
I like the emphasis on continuing conversion. However, that conversion is accomplished through more than the subtraction of particular sins.
I wouldn’t dream of disputing the need for worthiness in a communicant. however, this is accomplished by more than the juridical system of confession and absolution. It is essential for a believer to address the other side of the coin.
RCIA 141 addresses this in describing the scrutinies of the elect:
The scrutinies are meant to uncover, then heal all that is weak, defective, or sinful in the hearts of the elect; to bring out, then strengthen all that is upright, strong, and good. For the scrutinies are celebrated in order to deliver the elect from the power of sin and Satan, to protect them against temptation, and to give them strength in Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life.
This is a more complete description of what is needed. Confession serves as the healing portion for the believer. But what is also needed is a spiritual fortification to strengthen the Christian. Why? In the hope that a believer makes fruitful progress in the spiritual life, that with the help of Christ sin can be conquered, not just whitewashed.
Personal conscience is vital:
The judgment of one’s state of grace obviously belongs only to the person involved, since it is a question of examining one’s conscience. However, in cases of outward conduct which is seriously, clearly and steadfastly contrary to the moral norm, the Church, in her pastoral concern for the good order of the community and out of respect for the sacrament, cannot fail to feel directly involved. The Code of Canon Law refers to this situation of a manifest lack of proper moral disposition when it states that those who “obstinately persist in manifest grave sin” are not to be admitted to Eucharistic communion. (Code of Canon Law 915; Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches 712.)
I realize that Pope John Paul intended this chapter (EdE 34-46) to be an exploration of the ecclesial reality, not the spiritual. But this would be a prime example of what I think has been missing from the Magisterium in recent years: to inspire a return to good sacramental practice, including the sacrament of Penance, we see too much reliance on the juridical and ecclesiological. Not enough of the spiritual.
And in this critique, I must also mention I don’t think the evasion of sin and culpability is proper either. Some attribute that to the attitudes of clergy in the previous generation. Or in our approach to form III.
But I do think that in order for a person’s conscience to be well-formed, that one must have available more than the tools of subtraction. What can strengthen the believer against sin? The Eucharist, certainly. Prayer, charity, meditation, generosity, involvement in the community … the list depends on the need of the person. That is why having good confessors and spiritual directors is essential. From there, I think we take things a step beyond what Pope John Paul envisioned with this section.