October 30, 2009

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Basic Catholicism: Abortion and Communion

John F. Fink(Thirty-eighth in a series)

The Catholic Church has not done a good job of convincing all Catholics either of the evil of abortion or the seriousness of receiving Communion only when one is in the state of grace. The evidence for that statement is the controversy that comes up whenever bishops tell political candidates that they may not receive Communion if they support abortion.

The issue really is quite simple: Catholics have an obligation to respect life, and it is a grievous sin to encourage abortion. Those with any grievous sin on their souls are not worthy to receive Communion.

This is not just a rule for politicians. It applies to everybody. It also isn’t a matter of the Catholic bishops getting involved in partisan politics. They are defending what the Church has consistently taught about the Eucharist ever since St. Paul warned the Corinthians: “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Cor 11:27). “Unworthily” is defined as being in the state of mortal sin. It’s a sacrilege to do so.

Any mortal sin—adultery, skipping Sunday Mass, stealing a large amount of money, defaming someone’s good name, etc.—is incompatible with going to Communion.

But the present controversy concerns abortion. Anyone who votes for a politician precisely because he or she supports abortion rights, while knowing that that is grievously wrong, is committing a mortal sin and may not receive Communion.

The U.S. bishops have not taken a united stand on the issue of whether priests should refuse Communion to pro-abortion politicians. There is agreement that such politicians should not present themselves for Communion, but not on whether they should be refused if they do.

Meanwhile, we have to face the fact that the Church still has a serious need to educate the faithful about the seriousness of the issue of abortion. Those states with the highest percentage of Catholics are those with the most pro-abortion politicians—Massachusetts, for example. Or Rhode Island, which has the highest percentage of Catholics in the nation and where polls say that 63 percent of the people are pro-choice.

As much as the popes and bishops have emphasized life issues, they apparently have not been able to convince many Catholics. And it is not just abortion, but also euthanasia, embryonic stem-cell research and capital punishment, too.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly teaches, “Anyone who desires to receive Christ in Eucharistic Communion must be in the state of grace. Anyone aware of having sinned mortally must not receive Communion without having received absolution in the sacrament of penance” (#1415). This is hardly new teaching.

Perhaps Catholics are no longer aware of what mortal sin is. The catechism states: “For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must together be met: Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent” (#1857).

Again, the same thing the Church has always taught. †

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