Spiritual communion for the divorced and remarried

At long last, we get down to the “Kasper proposal,” which has increasingly stood out in my mind as the real gravitational center of this entire book.  Kasper opens by pointing to something the Church has already said:

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith provided a guideline already in 1994 when it declared—and Benedict XVI reiterated it at the World Meeting of Families in Milan in 2012—that the divorced and remarried admittedly cannot receive sacramental communion, but can indeed receive spiritual communion.

The CDF document mentioned here was a letter addressing an earlier incarnation of the Kasper proposal and rejecting it.  We’ll return to that letter in the next post.  Kasper continues by arguing that this suggestion is not only insufficient but self-contradictory:

Many will be grateful for this statement.  But it also raises questions.  For the one who receives spiritual communion is one with Jesus Christ.  How can he or she then be in contradiction to Christ’s commandment?  Why, then, can’t he or she also receive sacramental communion?

Within the same paragraph Kasper quickly runs on to new arguments, but let’s stop and consider this first salvo sentence by sentence.  His first claim is that “the one who receives spiritual communion is one with Jesus Christ.”  Stated this way, without qualification, his claim is false.

The reason has to do with what “spiritual communion” means.  A “spiritual communion” is a serious and formal desire to receive the sacrament of communion when sacramental reception is unavailable or illicit.  If the one person making this act of desire is rightly disposed, God can grant the effects of the sacrament.  It is like a “baptism by desire,” only with the Eucharist.

If someone in mortal sin were to make a formal act of desire for the Eucharist, he would not receive the effects of the sacrament any more than someone in mortal sin receiving the sacrament itself would receive the effects of the sacrament.  It is simply not true that anyone who makes this act of “spiritual communion” is in union with Jesus Christ, any more than it is true that anyone who saunters through the communion line is in a spiritual union with Jesus Christ.

However, sacramental communion and spiritual communion are different in an important way:  in the sacrament of the Eucharist, the body and blood of Jesus is an objective reality in the recipient, regardless of whether the one receiving the sacrament is well or badly disposed to receive it.  In spiritual communion Jesus is not present in the recipient unless the person is well disposed, and even then he is only present interiorly and invisibly.

Consequently, to receive the sacrament of the Eucharist in mortal sin is a bad thing, both because it treats Christ’s body and blood disrespectfully and because it falsely signifies to others that the believer is in spiritual union with Christ.  But making a spiritual communion while in mortal sin is a good thing:  not only is there no false outward sign of unity, but making an act of desire for the Eucharist is a good first step toward getting out of mortal sin and back into to union with Christ.  So reception of the sacrament in mortal sin makes for more sin, but spiritual communion while in mortal sin disposes one to less sin.

There we have one hole in Kasper’s argument.  Next time, we’ll look at the next sentence.

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Author: Dr. Holmes

Dr. Jeremy Holmes teaches Theology at Wyoming Catholic College. He lives in Wyoming with his wife, Jacinta, and their eight children.

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