I recently read an article that said the Pope doesn’t give out the Eucharist during Mass because he doesn’t want to be seen accidentally giving Jesus to some obstinate, unrepentant sinner such as a politician who supports abortion or gay marriage. This attitude drives me crazy because it makes me want to say, “Well, what about all the priests who are, right this minute, sexually abusing children and having affairs with adult women?” It’s okay for them to receive Communion, huh?
The issue also brings up the question of who belongs to the body of Christ. If Christ Himself is the Head, then who makes up the body? Depending on interpretation, there are several possibilities.
The body of Christ is:
— Just Roman Catholics who are in the state of grace (not conscious of being in a state of mortal sin). But who makes this decision? Each person makes the decision for him/herself based on conscience. So if a person doesn’t believe he’s in mortal sin, then he’s not in mortal sin. (However, the Catholic Church says this conscience isn’t valid if it hasn’t been formed “properly” to believe what the Catholic Church teaches.)
— Just Roman Catholics. Nobody else.
— All Christians (or maybe certain Christians, such as Anglicans and Lutherans – but not Presbyterians or Baptists).
— Anybody who claims to belong or wants to belong. This one makes a lot of sense to me because if a person wants to belong, who are we to say that he or she cannot or doesn’t belong? To me, the very fact that people want to belong, means they belong.
— Anybody who loves God and strives to share God’s love with the world. Now we’re including people from non-Christian religions, or even no religion. Why not? Jesus said that no one can come to the Father except through him, so that means that anyone who loves God has gone through Jesus (even unconsciously) to connect with God. Anybody who knows and loves God has first been known and loved by God.
— All people without exception, including atheists. We could argue that all souls are part of the body of Christ even when they don’t know and don’t seem to care. All people carry a longing, a yearning, for something that just cannot be satisfied by anything in this world. That empty space is meant to be filled with God. Nothing else can satisfy. People may spend their entire lives chasing food, sex, drugs, money, possessions, education, power, etc – but they will remain restless until they learn to rest in God.
Given all these possible definitions of the body of Christ, I incline toward the ones that are more inclusive rather than exclusive. I don’t believe Christ would turn away even obstinate sinners who approach Holy Communion. I don’t believe Christ would turn anyone away. His mission is to bring everyone to God, the Father. I honestly don’t understand why people must conform to certain teachings of the Catholic Church in order to be acceptable to Christ.
So maybe we can say that all people are part of the body of Christ – but each person has the right to choose for him/herself whether or not to claim the membership. If a person presents him/herself to receive Holy Communion, then that person has been called by God to partake and shouldn’t be denied. Any denial is based on man-made, exclusive rules and regulations.
I may continue grappling with this issue for a while, so feel free to share your comments.