Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Eucharist in Amoris Laetitia

In all the angst-ridden commentary that has accompanied Amoris Laetitia (on both sides), I have not noticed any reference to the Exhortation's most explicit treatment of Saint Paul's rule on unworthy reception of Holy Communion in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34. But the document does definitely address it in AL 185-186

The Pope begins by recalling that this text is usually interpreted outside of its context or in a generic sense, with the risk of overlooking its immediate and direct meaning, which is markedly social. In its markedly social, immediate and direct meaning, Paul's rule referred to a shameful situation in the community, in which while the rich enjoyed their food, the poor looked on and went hungry.

The conclusion to be drawn from this is stark: Those who approach the Body and Blood of Christ may not wound that same body by creating scandalous distinctions and divisions among its members. ... When those who receive it turn a blind eye to the poor and suffering, or consent to various forms of division, contempt and inequality, the Eucharist is received unworthily.

Now it certainly need not follow from this that there could be no other sins which might also make one unworthy to receive Communion. On the contrary, Church tradition has been quite clear in this regard. 

But what does follow is that the unworthy reception that (according to the Ordinary Papal Magisterium as expressed in this Exhortation) accompanies our indifference to the poor, or consent to various forms of division, contempt and inequality definitely deserves a lot more attention in discussions about the Eucharist.

As I said in my homily on Holy Thursday, perhaps the Corinthians couldn’t quite help bringing the world with them to the Lord's Supper, just as we too can't quite help bringing some of our world with us to Mass! In that sense, certainly, we are all always unworthy. Domine, non sum dignus!

Hence the Pope's observation in Evangelii Gaudium - repeated in Amoris Laetitia in the now famous footnote 351 - that the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.”

It is that medicinal, healing, transforming dimension of the Eucharist which helps us to leave Mass different from who we were when we arrived, able to take something new with us when we go back out into the world, something very different from the same old stuff (e.g. various forms of division, contempt and inequalitywhich we are so easily tempted to bring in with us from the world. For the Eucharist is not some meal just like any other, and the community it creates is not some social institution like any other. What happens at Mass is meant to make us in an important way different from who we would otherwise have been, different from the world we came here from and to which we must for the time being return.

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