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An important week for Eucharistic discipline–or lack thereof

On Bishop Thomas Paprocki, the German bishops, and Holy Communion

(Josh Applegate @joshapplegate |

Three items on the discipline of holy Communion round out the week. Two are simple but diametrically opposed, a third is licit but ill-advised.

1. This is simply right. Bp. Thomas Paprocki of Springfield IL, no stranger to my readers, has reiterated that Catholic Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, one of the Bloody 14, may not, in view of Durbin’s longstanding support for abortionism as seen in the light of Canon 915, be given holy Communion. Paprocki’s statement is clear and, besides being canonically correct, is pastorally sensitive to the spiritual dangers into which Durbin has placed himself. May Paprocki’s prayers for Durbin’s return to his earlier respect for innocent human life bear fruit. As for Paprocki himself, no worries there—an accomplished amateur hockey player and goalie, he is used to taking hard shots while defending what is important.

2. This is simply wrong. The German bishops as a whole (and not just an executive committee thereof) have approved the administration of holy Communion to divorced-and-remarried Catholics under the malleable conditions typical of these times. Think Malta. The only mildly remarkable thing here is that this latest degradation of sacramental discipline has caused so few ripples in Catholic media. But I suppose that no one really expected the German hierarchy to act other than to authorize disobedience to an inconvenient canon law, regardless of how unanimous the tradition behind that canon might be.

3. This one is licit, strictly speaking, but such a bad idea that the canon allowing it probably needs to reformed. Once again, the German bishops are acting, but the law was convenient so it was respected.

Canon 844 § 4 allows baptized non-Catholics to receive holy Communion if “grave necessity urges” the local bishop or (here) the conference of bishops to allow such reception, provided further only that those seeking holy Communion claim (as most can) to satisfy some practical and minimal credal criteria. Effectively, then, the canon expects the “grave necessity” requirement to keep the Communion rite at Mass from turning into a free samples line.

The problem, obviously, is about when (besides, one might concede, at the time of death, an option already allowed under a different part of the canon) is it ever gravely necessary for non-Catholics to receive holy Communion? Not, when might it be helpful or decorousor embarrassment-squelching to receive holy Communion, but when is it necessary for them to receive, and gravely necessary to boot?

I suggest, Never. Even Catholics are required to receive holy Communion only once a year (c.  920).

But, unless the canon is establishing a criterion that can never be satisfied, what does the clause “grave necessity” mean? Apparently, pretty much whatever a bishop or (here) conference of bishops decides it means, including, as the Germans have decided, non-Catholic spouses who assert “serious spiritual distress” and a “longing to satisfy hunger for the Eucharist”—albeit, exactly the kind of healthy spiritual ferment that has occasioned countless baptized persons over the centuries to seek full communion with the Catholic Church. So much for that motivation.

Nevertheless this ruling falls narrowly within the law, I think, suggesting that maybe the law’s desire to legislate on an admittedly “hard case” has resulted in a bad law. As hard cases usually do. Other “hard cases” will doubtless follow. Just watch.

A last thought. How the Germans’ ruling on non-Catholic spouses receiving holy Communion will combine with their recent provisions for divorced-and-remarried Catholics receiving holy Communion—well, it makes the head spin.

About Edward N. Peters 102 Articles
Edward N. Peters, JD, JCD has doctoral degrees in canon and common law. Since 2005 he has held the Edmund Cardinal Szoka Chair at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. His personal blog on canon law issues in the news may be accessed at the "In the Light of the Law" site.


    • Unfortunately, the German Bishops are entirely in accord with Pope Francis’ directions. Pope Francis has indicated that each national church should go its own way on many things. Of course, this amounts to a call for the breakup of the Catholic church into many separate denominations. Over time, these differences will grow greater, to the point where the German “Catholic” church will have no resemblance to other Catholic churches. Poland will have its own rules, Germany will have its rules. America will have its rules.

      At this point, it becomes clear that Pope Francis seeks the break up of the Catholic church into squabbling Protestant denominations. Germany will eagerly go its own way and separate into the first Protestant sect. The good news, I guess, is that this German Protestant sect will soon die, just like the Episcopalians and all other “progressive” churches. The only thing keeping the German church alive at this point is the intense desire for government money, and to keep the money and power going, they are going to accept anything their government accepts.

  1. The Germans show the obvious path of all “national conferences.” They exist ultimately for unfaithful Bishops as a coward’s tool to destroy the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic faith.

  2. Only a Bishop in communion with the Church has authority in the Holy Catholic Church, as Bishop Paprocki has so faithfully shown himself to be. May the Lord raise him up in the Holy Catholic Church.

  3. “Exactly the kind of healthy spiritual ferment that has occasioned countless baptized persons over the centuries to seek full communion with the Catholic Church.”

    As fellow canon lawyer Ed Condon cites, “If a Protestant spouse believes in the claims of the Catholic Church, and does so continuously, receiving Communion week after week, they would effectively be professing themselves to be Catholic, and should be properly received into the Church accordingly… these Protestant spouses would essentially be Catholics in belief but not in name. In Germany, the bishops claim the power to deny Catholics the sacraments, even a Christian burial, if they don’t pay their Church tax; but they are apparently happy to hand out the sacraments to Protestants for free.”

    Such regular reception of Communion “is completely outside what the Church provides for” canonically.

  4. I think that a non Catholic who expresses Catholic belief in the Holy Eucharist and is in imminent danger of death, qualifies perfectly for “grave necessity.” The Blessed Sacrament is holy medicine and must in all mercy be given to the baptised when they are dying.

    • Then, if that is the case, why should they not be required to make a profession of the Catholic Faith and thereby become Catholics and avoid this whole mess? After all, if they are capable or receiving Holy Communion, they are obviously capable of making such a profession of faith?

    • Yes but only if they cannot receive communion in their faith tradition and have not access to their minister…..let’s keep everything whole and entire and not make a whole out of parts… Lenten blessings….

  5. the whole of the Canon makes it possible, not any sum of some of the parts:

    §4. If the danger of death is present or if, in the judgment of the diocesan bishop or conference of bishops, some other grave necessity urges it, Catholic ministers administer these same sacraments licitly also to other Christians not having full communion with the Catholic Church, who cannot approach a minister of their own community and who seek such on their own accord, provided that they manifest Catholic faith in respect to these sacraments and are properly disposed.

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