Going to heaven with the Eucharist

Austin Kleon, creativity guru, has this advice for literary types:  “Don’t try to write a book while taking care of a newborn baby.”  That, of course, is exactly what I have been doing, and the blog has suffered accordingly.

Happily, sometimes a friend steps in to do my work for me.  Peter Kwasniewski took some e-mails I wrote to him years ago and reshaped them into the first half of an article on the Eucharist; he sent a draft to me and I made some edits, drafted a new introduction, and ta-da!  A new publication.

My own advice for literary types:  Always include at least one over-achiever in your circle of advisors.

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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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Methinks the Cardinal doth protest too much

After a long hiatus, the blog is back. If you thought I was dead, I hope you have been praying for my soul.

Cardinal Kasper turns his attention to a second situation, namely those who really had valid, sacramental marriages and yet by some tragic circumstance their life partnership is broken and one or both have contracted a second, civil marriage. He begins by warning:

It would be mistaken to seek the resolution of the problem in a generous expansion of the annulment process. The disastrous impression would thereby be created that the Church is proceeding in a dishonest way by granting what, in reality, are divorces.

This is surely right, although I would be hard pressed to find another description of Kasper’s approach to this point as something other than a “generous expansion of the annulment process.” He has suggested that we strip away the judicial process and entrust the whole thing to an individual who knows the people well and will be sympathetic; he offers no account of how this will result in anything but more annulments.

It reminds me of Hans Urs von Balthasar, who had a habit of penning the most outrageous theological statements and then appending, “but not in a heretical sense, of course”—leaving his unhappy reader to figure it out. And I know a fellow whose trademark conversational tick is to preface all his potentially upsetting remarks by denying he means to do what he is doing: “I don’t mean this at all to criticize anyone,” but you’re all doing a lousy job; “I don’t mean this at all to disparage what was done before me,” but it nearly wrecked the place.

Already I find it hard to believe Kasper’s protestations of caution. But as we get further into his text, it will get even harder to believe in his sincerity.

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A first look at Cardinal Kasper


Spring has arrived in Wyoming.  Birds chirp and gather nesting materials, grass pokes green shoots up through the snow (!), and WCC juniors ask teachers to direct their theses.  This past week I agreed to guide a project that attempts to connect liturgy and family, with a possible look at the debate over Cardinal Kasper’s proposal to admit divorced and remarried Catholics to communion.

Despite all the hullaballoo over last year’s Extraordinary Synod of Bishops, I have never actually read the text of Cardinal Kasper’s proposal.  In fact, I’ve never read anything at all by Kasper.  To get myself into the thesis project, I thought I would read Kasper’s Gospel of the Family and blog about it.  After all, directing a thesis on faith last year led to my most popular blog series ever.

So far I have only read the introduction.  It does not scream “Heresy!” or “Dissent!”  Kasper chooses not to lead in with a hot-button topic like gay marriage or heterosexual divorce because he wants to start with the gospel itself.  That said, he does say clearly that we are in a crisis because, although marriage is a sacrament of faith, most Christian married couples today–despite their religious affiliation–do not believe the gospel and have in fact concluded that the Church’s teaching on marriage is out of touch and irrelevant.  Kasper observes:

The current situation of the church is not unique.  Even the church of the first centuries was confronted with concepts and models of marriage and family that were different from that which Jesus preached, which was quite new, both for Jews as well as for the Greeks and Romans.  Therefore, our position cannot be that of a liberal accommodation to the status quo, but rather a radical position that goes back to the roots (radices), that is, a position that goes back to the gospel and that looks forward from that perspective.

So far, so good, right?  He doesn’t sound like he is leading up to a proposal for capitulating to the culture.

One little puzzle hides in a footnote.  Noting that “out topic is not ‘The Church’s Teaching concerning the Family,'” he nonetheless adds a footnote in which he lists “the most important documents” regarding that teaching:

  1. Council of Trent: DH 1797-1816
  2. Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes 47-52
  3. Apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio
  4. Catechism of the Catholic Church 1601-66
  5. Apostolic exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis 27-29
  6. Encyclical Lumen Fidei 52f.

It’s a puzzling list, probably representing not careful work but whatever came to Kasper’s mind as he quickly threw this address together.  There is no sign that he is suppressing texts unfavorable to himself–Sacramentum Caritatis 29 alone would dispel that idea.  But he doesn’t mention some obvious, big-time magisterial texts like Humanae Vitae and Casti Connubii (heavily footnoted by Gaudium et Spes) while he includes the brief and relatively uninteresting passage from Lumen Fidei, probably because it was recent and therefore fresh in Kasper’s memory.

To be honest, I don’t know why this footnote even exists.  It attempts to offer guidance into the key documents of magisterial teaching on marriage, but it is attached to a sentence that says magisterial teaching on marriage is not the topic up for discussion.  Again, this is probably not a carefully thought-out effort but hasty writing ahead of a deadline.

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