A critical evaluation of some of the pastoral solutions proposed

Since the pastoral issue of the divorced and re-married is an ancient one, various pastoral solutions have been suggested all along history, as to how Catholics in such unions could receive the Eucharist.

Aug 27, 2015

Since the pastoral issue of the divorced and re-married is an ancient one, various pastoral solutions have been suggested all along history, as to how Catholics in such unions could receive the Eucharist. In what follows, we will state each of them briefly, and give our critical evaluation:

1. To Live as Brother and Sister
This has been a long-standing traditional pastoral solution to the divorced and re-married Catholics. Accordingly, if such couples, even if they live under the same roof, sharing every other aspect of life as husband and life, but refrain from performing the conjugal act, then, they could receive the sacraments. Unfortunately, people who get re-married to live as `brother and sister’ are very rare today. Besides, even if a few couples succeed in being so, as the English moral theologian Kevin Kelly had somewhat humourously pointed out some years ago, “unless a couple had a `brother and sister’ logo on their door-post, neighbours and fellow parishioners would be none the wiser and so the alleged scandal would presumably still be given.”14 This is simply because the rest of the community has no objective certainty to believe that such a couple is really living as `brother and sister.’

2. To separate Bed and Board
This traditional pastoral solution is very similar to the one above, in the sense that the crux of the matter, is that the re-married couple refrains from performing the conjugal act. Its difference from the above `solution’ is that the couple does not live together under the same roof, if not in the same room. Of course, in such a very rare case, the outsiders won’t have much trouble in knowing that they do not live sexually as husband and wife. In that sense, this `solution’ avoids completely the element of scandal, though it is highly unrealistic because very few couples, if at all, will get re-married to live separately.

3. To Receive Spiritual Communion
This too, has been a traditional solution, and is recommended, even today, by quite a number of parish priests and confessors. The Letter of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1994 too recommends it for re-married Catholics. But in our contemporary world, this, too, is not without its weaknesses. At a time when almost every Catholic who participates in any Eucharistic celebration goes forward to receive communion, those who participate in Mass regularly, but do not go to receive communion at all, such as the divorced and re-married, will easily feel as not belonging to the community, because they can be easily ‘ear-marked’ by the rest of the community as never going forward to receive communion. In this sense, such couples, in the long run, may feel as `second class’ believers who attend the banquet of the Lord, but who are not allowed to partake in the banquet meal. It surely amounts to a mockery of the popular Catholic belief that the Eucharist is a meal.

There is also a common sense question: if such people could receive Jesus fully through spiritual communion, then, why cannot they receive the same Jesus in and through the sacramental species? The argument that such divorced and re-married people objectively contradict the relationship between Jesus and his Church as signified by the Eucharist and so they cannot receive the same Eucharistic Jesus, is somewhat challenged by this practice of spiritual communion with regard to the re-married. In other words, if such people really contradict objectively that relationship of Jesus and the Church, then, how could they receive the same Eucharistic Jesus spiritually?

There is also another serious theological objection: the Church is the primary sacrament of Jesus, and exists to continue his living presence in our world, through her efficacious sacramental action. If so, when we say that the same Jesus could be received through spiritual communion, we tend to be reductive in a sense. That is: “If we exclude divorced and remarried Christians, who are properly disposed, from the sacraments, and refer them to the extrasacramental way of salvation, do we not then place the fundamental sacramental structure of the Church into question?” The Mid-Term Report of the recent Synod too, raised the same question. The Final Report repeats the same: (“Some Synod fathers maintained that divorced and remarried persons or those living together can have fruitful recourse to a spiritual communion. Others raised the question as to why, then, they cannot have access ‘sacramentally.”’

Moreover, we may thus imply that the same Jesus could be received without the sacramental actions of the Church, without her sacraments, too. To cite a dangerous and erroneous parallel: could we tell people that they need not approach the sacrament of reconciliation to receive God’s absolution, but could receive it through spiritual confession?!

Last but not least, spiritual communion as a concept was popularized by the Jansenistic rigorists who discouraged the faithful from receiving communion, especially in the 17th and 18th centuries. It was Pope Pius X who popularized the frequent reception of the Eucharist in the early 20th century. Ever since, the Church has encouraged the faithful to approach this sacrament after going through a genuine conversion through a good sacramental confession, to receive its special healing and nourishing effects for the Christian pilgrimage here on earth. — Vidyajyoti Journal of Theological Reflection

-- To be continued

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