Canada’s Military Ordinariate: No Communion to Civilly Remarried

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by Bradley Eli, M.Div., Ma.Th.  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  March 17, 2017   

"One may not receive Holy Communion merely on the basis of personal conscience"

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OTTAWA, Ontario (ChurchMilitant.com) - The Military Ordinariate of Canada is saying civilly remarried Catholics can't be admitted to Holy Communion even when their consciences aren't bothered by doing so.

In his guidelines implementing the papal exhortation Amoris Laetitia, the head of the ordinariate, Bp. Scott McCaig, confirmed the Pope's document on marriage doesn't change Catholic teaching.

"It is critically important to note that the integral teaching of the Catholic Church on the reception of Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried has not changed," he insisted.

The bishop added that a person's conscience doesn't override Church teaching or canon law: "It should also be clear that one may not receive Holy Communion merely on the basis of personal conscience, for personal conscience may be in error."


In his guidelines, the bishop emphasized that a Catholic's conscience is shaped by Church teaching, and so it can't be opposed to Church teaching. "Consciences are to be formed in the light of the Commandments of God. Consequently, a properly formed conscience cannot be in opposition to God's revealed Truth."

A properly formed conscience cannot be in opposition to God's revealed Truth.

This is in accord with canon 916 of the Catholic Code of Canon Law, which reads, "A person who is conscious of grave sin is not to ... receive the Body of the Lord without previous sacramental confession."

Pastors are also responsible for ensuring that impenitents, who live notorious lives in opposition to Church teaching, can't be admitted to the sacraments, wrote Bp. McCaig.

"It must also be observed that the discipline of the Church places an obligation not only upon those who are divorced and remarried but also upon those who are responsible for the distribution of Holy Communion," he noted.

If a person known to be living in a manner that's objectively contrary to the commandments does approach the altar to receive Holy Communion, Bp. McCaig instructed his pastors that they have the duty of denying such people Holy Communion:

This discipline of the Church is not an arbitrary rule. ...  [I]n cases of obstinate persistence in manifest grave sin, "Holy Communion must be denied ... [I]n order to respect the holiness of the Sacrament, to safeguard the salvation of the soul of the party presenting himself to receive Holy Communion, and to avoid scandal."

[I]n cases of obstinate persistence in manifest grave sin Holy Communion must be denied ... in order to respect the holiness of the Sacrament.

This is simply a reinforcement of canon 915: "Those who have been ... obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion."

Bishop McCaig cited the writings of the former prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, Cdl. Raymond Burke, who wrote extensively on the import of canon 915 in his 2007 document, "Canon 915: The Discipline Regarding the Denial of Holy Communion to Those Obstinately Persevering in Manifest Grave Sin."

Cardinal Burke admitted that applying this law is often difficult but must be done, nevertheless, for the spiritual good of souls:

I am deeply aware of the difficulty which is involved in applying the discipline of canon 915. I am not surprised by it and do not believe that anyone should be surprised. Surely, the discipline has never been easy to apply. But what is at stake for the Church demands the wisdom and courage of shepherds who will apply it.

Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was quoted by name in Bp. McCaig's guidelines.

Cardinal Gerhard Muller, recently stated, Amoris Laetitia "must clearly be interpreted in the light of the whole doctrine of the Church." This is what Pope Benedict XVI called the "hermeneutic of continuity." Consequently, the directives given in this document will take into account the cumulative magisterial teaching of the Church on this matter.

Bishop McCaig was adamant that Pope Francis himself had made clear in his own papal exhortation that Amoris Laetitia wasn't meant to change Church teaching or canon law regarding the reception of the sacraments.

"Indeed, Pope Francis states that 'neither the Synod nor this document could be expected to provide a new set of general rules, canonical in nature and applicable in all cases' (AL 300)," the bishop insisted.

He did admit there was "much confusion on the issue." Citing similar guidelines generated by fellow Canadian bishops, he indicated that the media is partly to blame for the confusion:

As the bishops of Alberta and the Northwest Territories stated: It may happen that, through media, friends, or family, couples have been led to understand that there has been a change in practice by the Church, such that now the reception of Holy Communion at Mass by persons who are divorced and civilly remarried is possible if they simply have a conversation with a priest. This view is erroneous.

 

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