Q. In a recent editorial in a Catholic newspaper, I read that, with regard to whether civilly remarried Catholics may receive holy Communion, Pope Francis is now encouraging people to talk to their priest “in the internal forum.” What does that mean? (From what I can understand, I think it means that the priest will help them to examine their individual conscience so they can decide for themselves whether they feel worthy to receive.) (Indiana)
A. Your understanding of the “internal forum” is correct. It refers to a private conversation between a Catholic and his or her confessor, which can help to determine the degree of subjective responsibility for a particular action. In his apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia,” issued in April 2016, Pope Francis recommends that divorced and civilly remarried Catholics discuss with a priest the specifics of their situation.
While the norm remains unchanged — marriage is indissoluble and, generally speaking, without the benefit of a church annulment, a divorced and civilly remarried Catholic is not considered eligible to receive Communion — the pope acknowledges that each situation is different. The degree of responsibility is not equal in all cases, circumstances can sometimes mitigate culpability and that “discernment can recognize that in a particular situation, no grave fault exists.”
The pastoral discernment Pope Francis encourages is far from an instantaneous and facile solution. Instead, it requires a fair amount of reflection and of prayer. The pontiff says it would be wrong to conclude that “any priest can quickly grant ‘exceptions.'” People, the pope explains, should ask themselves such questions as: “How did they act towards their children when the conjugal union entered into crisis; whether or not they made attempts at reconciliation; what has become of the abandoned party ….”
Such a thorough examination might help a person to assess where he or she stands before God and to determine his or her worthiness to receive Communion. Whatever the decision with regard to Communion, divorced and civilly remarried Catholics should, the pope notes, always be welcome in Catholic parishes and supported in their efforts to raise their children in the Catholic faith.
Q. Something’s been going on for a while in our church. I’ve never said anything to anyone about it, but I do find it annoying. I was raised to believe that the moments right before, during and after holy Communion are a sacred time because we encounter Christ in a special way.
There are a few ushers in our parish who shake hands with people in line to receive Communion. Often there is some laughter and small talk that accompany that greeting. This has now evolved into a situation where some of these same parishioners, while walking up the aisle, tap friends on the shoulder who are kneeling and praying and greet them, too.
I have thought about speaking to our pastor in private about this, and maybe he can mention from the pulpit that Communion is a time for special focus and inner prayer and that such greetings are inappropriate. What do you think? Am I just being a grouch? (Newport News, Virginia)
A. You are not being a grouch at all. You are being respectful and reverent and reasonable. Holy Communion is, as you note, a special time — and for the precise reason you mention: here we meet Jesus Christ in a very personal way, our most intimate contact with the divine this side of heaven.
There’s a story about St. Teresa of Avila, who heard someone say: “If only I had lived at the time of Jesus. … If only I had seen him, talked with him.”
To which St. Teresa is said to have responded: “But do we not have in the Eucharist the living, true and real Jesus present before us? Why look for more?”
You would be well-advised to speak to your pastor regarding your concern, or perhaps send him a note. Sometimes, it seems, we are more logical, more persuasive when we write things out.
Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org and 40 Hopewell St. Albany, N.Y. 12208.