Q. Our recently ordained deacon told a parishioner he did not feel comfortable giving him Communion because the man married a divorced woman. (He was a widower.) Even if the man should not receive Communion, is it the deacon’s role to excommunicate this person? I am a cradle Catholic; a deacon is not a priest and, needless to say, many people are leaving our parish because of him. (Indiana)
A. To clarify, in the situation you present, the man has not been “excommunicated” by the deacon, nor by his own doing, nor by the church.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in No. 1651, says of Catholics who are divorced and remarried civilly that “priests and the whole community must manifest an attentive solicitude, so that they do not consider themselves separated from the church.”
Such persons are encouraged to continue to attend Mass and to persevere in prayer and in the works of charity. It is true that “they cannot receive eucharistic Communion as long as this situation persists” (No. 1650).
But the tactical question is how and when to present that teaching. I do it by occasional reminders in homilies or parish mailings — expressed not in the language of “prohibition” but as a suggestion that those in a marriage not recognized by the church “would do well to consult with a priest to see if any steps might be taken which would allow them to participate fully in the Eucharist by receiving holy Communion.”
That works better, I believe, than confronting someone who presents himself for Communion. I prefer to give that person the benefit of the doubt.
In the case cited, how would I know the circumstances of the wife’s first marriage — whether that marriage might have since been annulled, or not even recognized by the church from its outset? Catholic teaching is clear and certain; strategies, understandably, can vary.
Q. I have noticed that, at Communion, some people will take the host but not drink from the chalice. Is Communion complete when you consume the body but not the blood? Also, why do some churches still provide only the host at Communion? (Goose Creek, S.C.)
A. From the earliest days of the church’s celebration of the Eucharist, holy Communion was customarily received under both species — in accordance with Christ’s command to “take and eat … take and drink.”
It was only in the late 11th century that it became commonplace for just the host to be distributed. The Second Vatican Council’s extension of the use of both species was, then, a return to the original practice.
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal is clear in stating in No. 282 that “Christ, whole and entire, and the true Sacrament, is received even under only one species.” But that same document clearly encourages more frequent use of both the consecrated bread and the wine since, in this way, “the sign of the eucharistic banquet is made more fully evident.”
The general instruction, in No. 283, authorizes each diocesan bishop to set norms regarding the use of both species; that same section allows bishops to delegate to a pastor the determination as to when Communion will be distributed under both forms.
In our parish, which is blessed to have a number of willing and devout lay ministers, reception under both species is used for weekday Masses as well as on Sundays.
Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, N.Y. 12208.