Guess Who’s Not Coming To Dinner?

The recent wedding of a high-school friend included the expected accessories: elegantly dressed bridesmaids and groomsmen, as well as a beautifully appointed church. But on the wedding program, I was surprised to find that the greatest amount of ink : about 500 words : was devoted to who could and couldn't receive Communion.

These regulations far outweighed the words devoted to identifying the processional music and the names of the participants and their roles in the ceremony. My mother, the theologian of common sense, remarked, "Isn't that terrible!" It was the first thing I noticed as well; and it left me sad that at a special occasion like my friend's wedding, we are still unable to invite other Christians who share our faith to join us at the Table.

Unfortunately we have seen some further additions to the list of who can't receive Communion; and on it will be no small number. A document approved by the U.S. bishops at their November meeting discourages from Communion those who "knowingly and obstinately" reject the "defined doctrines of the Church" or its "definitive teaching on moral issues."...

Given the controversy about Catholic politicians in recent years, this document isn't surprising. But I have always found lists of who is "worthy" to receive Communion a little sad. Apart from the legions of divorced-and-remarried Catholics, Mass-skippers, birth-control dissenters and "murderers" whom this document would exclude from the Table, I think also of a former co-worker who at the time was preparing a quinceanera for her oldest daughter. She poured herself and a considerable portion of her meager salary into providing a beautiful celebration : knowing full well that her two other daughters would also be turning 15 in the next few years.

When she asked her pastor if she could receive Communion at the quinceanera Mass, the priest simply said no. She and her common-law husband of nearly 20 years had never married in church. No, period! This woman who was for me the living sacrament of eucharistic self-giving was deemed not worthy to receive Communion.

That's what happens when we start making lists of "worthy" and "unworthy." In our attempt to protect the defenseless eucharistic Jesus from sinners, we inevitably drive away the very people Jesus spent his time with. Then we also forget : at least as Matthew, Mark and Luke tell it : that Judas Iscariot ate at the Last Supper Table. John's great Eucharist discourse (John 6) comes on the heels of Jesus feeding thousands of hungry and poor who were themselves surely not screened for orthodoxy before sharing the miraculous event. Yet how quick we are to point fingers, forgetting Jesus' own warning about judging others (Matthew 7:15).

In the end, we must decide "in good conscience" if we are worthy to receive Communion. I most certainly am not. Apart from occasionally missing Mass, my doubt sometimes borders on "selective assent." Though I'm not there with the "murderers," my baptismal record isn't exactly spotless. But I think I'm going to Communion anyway, not because I think I deserve the reward for good behavior some seem to think Christ's Body and Blood is, but because I need the nourishment the church has long taught the Eucharist to be.

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