November 17, 2006

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Prayer: Thoughts about Holy Communion

John F. Fink(Sixth in a series)

Last week, I wrote about the Mass as part of liturgical prayer. Before I continue on the subject of liturgical prayer, I wanted to say a bit more about Holy Communion, which is part of the Mass.

It wasn’t until Pope Pius X, early in the 20th century, encouraged frequent Communion that people began to receive Communion as frequently as they do today.

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, St. Francis de Sales wrote, “It would be imprudent to advise everyone indiscriminately to receive Communion frequently, but it would also be imprudent to blame anyone for doing so.”

He also wrote that a “prudent director” might advise someone not to go to Communion so often if others are “disturbed or bothered at seeing you communicate so frequently.”

Today, nobody would be disturbed or bothered by such a thing. Frequent Communion is the norm rather than the exception in the Catholic Church today. People usually go to Communion every time they go to Mass. Indeed, the Catechism of the Catholic Church encourages that: “The Church warmly recommends that the faithful receive Holy Communion each time they participate in the celebration of the Eucharist” (#1417).

The problem today is that people go to Communion so often that it has become routine for some of them. When I serve as extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, I see how careless and nonchalant people often are at receiving the Eucharist, not thinking about the fact that they are holding and receiving the very Body of Christ.

I believe, too, that it’s a disgrace that everybody in the congregation automatically goes up to receive Communion whether or not they might have committed serious sin, such as deliberately missing Mass on Sunday.

St. Francis de Sales touched on another issue that no one in this day and age would even think about. He wrote that, “It is improper, although not a grave sin, to solicit payment of the marriage debt on Communion days, but it is not improper but meritorious to pay it. Hence no one ought to be kept from Communion for paying this debt, if otherwise their devotion incites them to seek Communion.”

Fortunately, the Church has come a long way in its theology of conjugal sanctity and the place of marital sex since St. Francis wrote that. He obviously thought there was something at least a bit shady about sexual activity between husband and wife, enough to say that it is improper for one or the other to ask for sexual intercourse before going to Communion.

Fortunately, that attitude no longer exists in the official teachings of the Church. The catechism says plainly, “In marriage, the physical intimacy of the spouses becomes a sign and pledge of spiritual communion” (#2360).

We believe today that marital sex is a positive good, not just something reluctantly permitted. Asking a spouse for sex certainly should not be considered improper on Communion days.

Next week, I’ll get back to liturgical prayer, this time focusing on the Liturgy of the Hours. †

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