Archbishop Raymond L. Burke, the newly appointed Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura and former Archbishop of St. Louis, recently discussed in an interview the topic of respect for the Holy Eucharist and its pastoral aspects of canon law. Reiterating that the Church has the right and the duty to tell someone who persists in public grave sin that he or she may not receive Communion, Archbishop Burke suggested that laxity among Catholics regarding respect for the Blessed Sacrament has resulted from a lack of Eucharistic Adoration and a felt connection between the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Penance.
Speaking in an interview with Thomas J. McKenna, president of the San Diego-based group Catholic Action for Faith and Family, the archbishop noted that an “alarming” percentage of Catholics do not believe the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ and a similarly alarming percentage do not participate in Sunday Mass.
Endorsing Eucharistic Adoration, he said “Without devotion to the Blessed Sacrament people quickly lose Eucharistic faith.”
In the interview, Archbishop Burke criticized rhetoric that presents receiving Holy Communion as a “right.”
“Who could claim that he has a right to receive the Body of Christ? This is all an act of God’s immeasurable love Our Lord makes Himself available to us in His Body and Blood for Holy Communion. But we can never say that we have the right to Him, that we can demand to receive Our Lord in Holy Communion. Each time we approach, we should approach with a profound sense of our own unworthiness.”
The archbishop said that Catholics have lost the sense of their unworthiness to receive the Sacrament and their need to confess their sins and repent in order to receive Holy Communion worthily.
Discussing Canons 915 and 916 of Church law, which concern worthy reception of the Blessed Sacrament, Archbishop Burke explained that the Church has those laws in place not to be mean and imposing, but to help the faithful reach salvation and to warn people who are in the state of mortal sin.
“It is the greatest act of charity to prevent somebody from doing something that is sacrilegious that is, to warn them, and then actually refuse to be party to a sacrilege… the Church, in Her love, prevents people from doing things that are gravely offensive to God and gravely damaging to their own souls.”
Often, the archbishop said, our serious sins are known only to ourselves and maybe one or two other people, in which case “we have to be the one to monitor the situation and discipline ourselves not to approach to receive Holy Communion.”
In cases where people are committing grave sins “knowingly and publicly,” such as a government official who publicly promotes procured abortion, they should be admonished not to receive Holy Communion until they have reformed their lives. If such a person persists in serious or mortal sin in a public way, Archbishop Burke said “the minister of Holy Communion has the obligation to refuse Holy Communion to that person.”
This refusal is necessary both for the good of the public sinner but also for preserving the whole Church from scandal, which the Catechism defines as “an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil.”
If the Sacrament is not refused, the archbishop explained, “People would be led to think it is alright to be in the state of mortal sin and to receive Our Lord in Holy Communion,” or it could lead people to believe “that the public act which this person is committing, which everyone thinks is a serious sin, must not be so serious because the Church permits that person to receive Holy Communion.”
While noting that Catholics must follow their conscience, Archbishop Burke emphasized that the conscience has to be properly formed:
“Conscience is not some sort of subjective reality where I make up for myself what is right and good. Rather, it is an objective reality where I conform my own thinking to what is true.”
People who cite following their own conscience as a reason they should receive Holy Communion ignore that the minister of the Sacrament also has a duty in conscience to ensure the Sacrament is properly received, he noted.
In all this, the archbishop said, we must remember the great importance of the Sacrament.
“The first thing that needs to be said is that the Body and Blood of Christ is a gift of God’s love to us. It is the greatest gift, a gift beyond our ability to describe,” he said. “…A gift is freely given out of love and that is what God is doing for us every time we are able to participate in Mass and approach to receive Holy Communion.”