Tuesday, February 28, 2012

What would you do if you were denied Holy Communion?

Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof...

Recently, a priest denied Holy Communion to a woman at her mother's funeral.  Apparently, the woman  is a lesbian, living with another woman.  Not exactly grounds for refusing Communion.  The news story doesn't explain any of the details surrounding the case, instead it castigates the priest who refused the communicant.  One may assume that the woman is not in communion with the Catholic Church as regards Catholic teaching on sexual morality or some other aspect of the faith - or that the priest knew the woman and was aware of something else that could cause scandal.  At least those would be some of the normal reasons for denying Holy Communion, as in the case of pro-abortion politicians - though very few priests and bishops do that.

Perhaps it would have been more charitable if the priest presiding at the funeral would have taken the woman aside and explained the rules for Communion to her, or better, make a general announcement before Mass.  But there must be more to the story.  Unfortunately the embarrassed woman claims she will never go back to a Catholic church.  That is unfortunate - for her soul. 

I'm not sure what I would do if that happened.  Would I protest and say, "But Father, I just went to confession last Saturday and I live a chaste life in obedience to Church teaching, please, can I receive Communion?  I believe with all my heart it is the true body, blood, soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ!"

Hopefully I would not.  Hopefully I wouldn't make a scene.  Hopefully I would quietly return to my pew and make a spiritual communion.  Perhaps after Mass I would ask the priest if I could speak with him.

A priest can deny Holy Communion to a person for good reason.  It is rarely done, but it is the priest's right, and in grave cases, his duty to do so.  In the olden days, not everyone went to Communion at every Mass, or every day, much less every Sunday.  Did you know that in the really, really olden days that priests sometimes even denied the saints Holy Communion, as a mortification or to test their humility?  St. Teresa of Avila once had a confessor who withheld Holy Communion from her for twenty days.  At other times, I believe it was John of the Cross or Fr. Gracian who gave her just a tiny  fragment of the host, rather than a complete host, to test her faith, test her humility, exercise her in detachment, etc..  No one does such things today, I hope, but it just goes to show us that some day we could find ourselves denied Communion by a zealous priest for some unknown reason, or for being like Joe Biden or Nancy Pelosi.  It could happen.

I know!  I am so grateful I am permitted to receive Holy Communion at all.

Art:  Last Holy Communion of St. Francis - Peter Paul Rubens


  1. I'm sure there was more to it than "she looks kind of butch".

    Then again, I remember Fr. Groeschel saying that even two men living together chastely (such as gay men who have accepted the Church's teaching but still want to support one another), or a divorced and remarried couple who actually DO take the hard road live chastely, deserve the benefit of the doubt from other members in the congregation.

    I can only imagine a priest doing so if someone is living very publicly at odds with Church teaching and manifestly and publicly persisting in sin (such as abortion-enthusiast politicians). Otherwise, it reminds me of that story you told about a young couple who hadn't had children yet and some guy was moaning about the scandal they were causing because everyone would think they're contracepting - get a life.

  2. +JMJ+

    I was almost denied Holy Communion once. It was during the "swine flu" scare, when the Archbishop recommended that everyone receive Communion in the hand. Being a mule, I totally ignored it, went up as I usually did, knelt down and stuck out my tongue . . . Father looked really, really disgusted with me, but he gave me Communion anyway. He just made sure to flick it in like a little frisbee so he'd make no accidental contact with my mouth.

    I actually really respected that and stayed away from Communion for the next few months. Even mules can "get it" if you give them some time.

  3. .... as I ponder, Terry, it might have been the 'attitude' witnessed by the priest that 'forced' him to make the decision he did ... there is more to this story that has yet been printed ... (it probably has been told)

  4. I think there is more to the story as well.

    Funerals, like weddings, must be difficult for priests.

    I remember at my aunt's funeral - a priest who didn't know the family had the funeral. I don't think my aunt's family even went to Church - and her kids had issues with the Church. Anyway, Fr. J. was consoling the family in his homily but failed to mention one daughter, and she rose up shouting at him that he left her out and made this huge scene. Father remained calm, apologized and explained he hadn't been told about her, and finished the homily and Mass.

    I looked at my dad who was alive at that time and said, "And yet you ask me why I never show up at family functions." I cracked him up.

  5. I just read on Thom's blog that apparently the priest did not know the woman and was only told about her before Mass. If he acted on hearsay that is unfortunate.

    Two women living together is not a sin.

  6. I wonder whether we will ever know the "rest of the story"? Would a priest refuse holy communion to someone just on a hunch? I think it would have been better had an announcement been made about what it means to receive holy communion in the Roman Catholic Church...you know believing as the Church believes, thinking with the Church, not being conscious of grave sin, then elaborate on what is grave sin bla bla bla......something I think needs to be done at every Mass until such time that people know....then if people still persist in marching to the communion rail AFTER knowing who is permitted etc that's on them..

  7. Well, should those in invalid marriages be denied communion? In my old parish, I think a majority of married couples under 50 lived in such a state. The priest never addressed the matter. Should we assume they were living as brother and sister? I can see both sides here, but I don't think if the woman is gay she should get a pass as living chastely any more than a divorced an remarried couple should. Hopefully the matter was discussed prior to Mass.

  8. Fr. Richard10:30 AM

    Yes Terry funerals and weddings are extremely difficult for us parish priests. We won't know the whole story about this D.C. situation, but the priest probably shouldn't have refused Communion as the effects of that are never good on a personal level- people today are not generally humble enough to acccept that- see you example of the saints- it was a different time with a different mentality with more respect for the Church and the priest as the spiritual father of the community. What I personally do is make a general annoucement before Communion inviting those who are active practicing Catholics to come to communion if they choose- otherwise to say some prayers (I stopped saying spiritual communion because I found some Protestants thinking that meant communion and even Catholics didn't know what that meant and it is not the time to go into a detailed explanation)-and in the case of the funeral to offer it for the person who died. I used to mention grave sin, in a marriage reciginized by the Church, spritual communion, etc., but found so many people misunderstood what that meant and there were so many tricky pastoral situtions- that I lay things out in my homily- I try to tie it into the occasion as an aside, e.g. the best way to honor the memory of our loved one or to help the newly married couple is to practice our Catholic faith well, more so at a funeral than at a wedding- but a little bit there too- in hopefully a good way reminding the fallen aways of the need to get back to the Church and to make a good Confession and that I am here to help the locals and if they are from out of town to get in touch with their local priest. It is a tough call pastorally, but I have learned over many years of being a priest to entrust more and more to God's mercy. Ultimately someone coming up to Communion is on them- but if it is a parishioner when the time was right, if it ever lends itself I would address the issue privately, but until then we need to do like Fr. Groeschel said and pray and try to give others the benefit of the doubt because there are people living chastely in all these situations- divorced and remarried couples and gay friends who are not engaging in immoral activities. Its' not ideal, but as we know the general breakdown of our culture is resulting in more and more of these situtions. I hope my approach is not pastoral compromise, but more pastoral realism concerning the dullness of human nature and that growth in holiness happens over time and not in a day.

  9. Fr. Richard10:59 AM

    Terry, I should also note in terms of true stories of funeral craziness- this is also the reason I stopped saying make a "spiritual communion" - I leave weddings for another day - that at one funeral I had a family member who literally jumped over the pew to take the urn of the loved one back to his mom who cradled it during the Eucharistic prayer and only brought it back to the table in front at the sign of peace- I let it go in case you are wondering because you just have a sense as a priest when you are dealing with unstable people and also you get caught off guard and so I was just waiting to see what they were going to do, the mom already fainted which ended my homily. And then at the same funeral Mass a non-Catholic relative, I discovered later that fact, came up for Communion (after I made the pre-Communion announcement about non-Catholics making a "spiritual communion"), took the Host back to the pew, which I noticed out of the corner of my eye, and so I had to go back when the line ended and find out what she was doing- at that point I asked her what she was doing and if she was going to consume the host - she just looked at me like a deer in the headlights, and so I took the Host back and consumed it. The end result was she rushed out of the Church, some of the family screams at me in the receiving line, as I tried to explain that I am responsible as a priest for protecting the Blessed Sacrament from abuse, and later they publish a letter to the editor in the local paper in which they slander me in many ways-which was edited by one of the my parishioners who published it. Unbelievable! And you wonder why there is a priestly vocation shortage- haha- I can laugh now but when it happened a few years ago my emotions were quite different. Anyhow some of the family did support me when they saw the injustice and told me the part of the family who attacked me are "crazy" and some members of the Catholic community wrote to the local paper there to counter their false claims about me and what I did, and surpisingly even the bishop's office supported me because they said I was doing what I had to do in protecting the blessed Sacrament and that she shouldn't have come up for Communion as a non-Catholic- but if it was a Catholic like this D.C. deal- it may have been a different story. This whole area is a nightmare for conscientious parish priests who both try to be truly pastoral and also try to protect the Blessed Sacrament from abuse.

  10. Fr. Richard - good advice. Thanks.
    I agree with what you said here:

    "we need to do like Fr. Groeschel said and pray and try to give others the benefit of the doubt because there are people living chastely in all these situations- divorced and remarried couples and gay friends who are not engaging in immoral activities. Its' not ideal, but as we know the general breakdown of our culture is resulting in more and more of these situtions. I hope my approach is not pastoral compromise, but more pastoral realism concerning the dullness of human nature and that growth in holiness happens over time and not in a day."

  11. Badger - as Father indicates, that happens more and more with people who come back to the Church and sacraments while remaining together - living as brother and sister, or sister and sister, or brother and brother. I know of many such cases.

  12. Anonymous11:30 AM

    If I was denied Holy Communion my heart would instantly break! And right after Mass, I would plead with the Priest to hear my Confession so as to be in God's good graces again!

  13. Fr. Richard - Thanks for pointing that out about the saints and Communion, I just used it to demonstrate the difference between the old days and now.

  14. Anonymous5:22 AM

    Mr. Nelson and other comentarist who can help me.

    I have a question for you on this matter. One of my children has been diagnosed in the 'autistic spectrum' but is old enough and has received First Holiy Communion. The child has also funny feautures (asymetric face) which has made a lot of professionals wonder if the 'autism' diagnosis really apply or if her social interaction problems have a root on social perception and it is just another mental issue. But that is another story

    The child is normally willing to have communion although behaviour is random ( whilst waiting in the qeue might get impatient, for instance, or play with the person in front or behind) in this cases the child has generally being dennied Holy Communion by different priests. But when she has shown reverence and a more mature aptitude , like bowing , opening mouth or offering hands in reverence the response from priest to priest varies, therefore going to a service where the child is not previously known might result in her receiving Communion because maybe also the child is less anxious.
    In a place where they have seen the child before, behaving silly, What normally happens is that the priest or extraordinary minister does not know what to do when the child comes in a good reverent manner and asks me on the spot (Does child have Communion?). I (mother) feel very anxious about being given this question, because of course I would say yes. In one occasion, however, I said 'maybe later', because I could feel that the child was also feeling unsure - the child now does simply not know what is expected, if she is allowed or not to receive Holy Communion, I have explained the issue of behaviour but her lack of language ability prevents her from being able to go to confession, I have taken her to comunal acts of Penitence.
    When we visit a church where we are not known we always go through the same. I have to decide if I should stop her from even go to receive Holy Communion at all or need to have an interview with the priest before hand.
    I don't know if, and nobody has ever suggested to me, that the case might count as one of 'sick' housebounded. I actually think bringing the child to church is one of the best things I can do for this child, and a lot of learning and healing has already happened that way.

  15. Dear anonymous, I am not qualified to answer your question, perhaps a priest reading this will do so. Either way, I would consult your parish priest on the matter and see what he recommends. God bless you and your beloved child - I'm convinced taking the child to Mass and devotions in the Church is one of the best things you can do as well.

  16. Fr. Briian5:07 PM

    Dear Anonymous,

    Did your child receive any instruction appropriate to what she can understand before receiving1st Holy Communion? Just wondering. Regardless if your parish priest discerned that she could receive, then she should be able to receive in any Catholic Church, but if sometimes she has a hard time following the protocol of reverence then you really should give the priest who is celebrating Mass a heads up before Mass if he is not familiar with her situation. I would continue to bring her to Mass, but to be respectful if she starts disrupting others then to step out or to go to the cry room- but I'm sure you already have that sense. I hope this helps a bit. You are in my prayers. Keep up the good work.

  17. Priests and all professionally trained ministers of the church fail in their duties and commissions when they do not show appropriate pastoral sensitivities in situations such as this. The result of personal or canonical fussiness most always has a negative result, is widely offensive and the cause of great scandal to the name and mission of the church.

    I think the priest who conducted this funeral should get an F in Pastoral Theology 101.

  18. I apologise for remainning 'anonymous'. I just wanted to THANK YOU both the author of the blog and Fr. Brian for your encouraging words and specially for your prayers . I will also pray for your intentions as I read them in this blog.

  19. I did not remain anonymous after all, God's will


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