There is news today the Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence RI, and the Bishop of Patrick Kennedy has advised him to refrain from receiving Holy Communion. This was announced by the Congressman himself. What is the reason that someone in Mr. Kennedy’s situation might be instructed to to refrain? As you may be aware, Holy Communion is not just communion with Jesus Christ in a personalised sense, it is communion with the Body of Christ the Church. A Catholic who receives communion is is not just saying in an abstract sort of way, “I believe in Jesus.” They are also saying, I share communion with his mystical Body on earth, the Church. I believe in one Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. I believe that when the Church speaks solemnly and authoritatively that it is Jesus Christ who speaks. For Scripture records that Jesus said to the apostles and their successors, “He who hears you hears me.” Hence, our communion with Christ is not just an abstract Christ, a Christ of our own making, it is communion with the Christ defined in the Scriptures who also has a Body, the Church which actually speaks in his name. Holy Communion is thus communion with Christ and his body the Church, which speaks in his name. In recent months Congressman Kennedy has made declarations that it is possible for him to vote for abortion rights and to vote to fund abortion and still be a Catholic in good standing. He has repeated this claim over the objections of his own Bishop and he has done this publicly. His Bishop has instructed that he cannot consider his communion with the Church to be intact by such actions. Hence Holy Communion cannot rightfully be celebrated when such a lack of communion on a serious matter is lacking. If communion means something, and it does: communion with Christ and communion ALSO with his Body the Church, then it is not possible to celebrate a communion that is severely lacking.
There can be a further reason for a Bishop, or any pastor for that matter, to advise someone to refrain from communion and that is the matter of serious sin. One of the first Pastors of the Church, St. Paul instructed the faithful to receive Communion worthily:
Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. 29For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. 31But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. 32When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world. (1 Cor 11:27-32)
Notice therefore that since we recognize the Eucharist as the Body and Blood of the Lord, to receive communion unworthily, that is in serious sin, is to sin against the Body and Blood of the Lord and to bring judgment upon oneself. Any good Pastor ought to warn the faithful who seem to be in objectively sinful situations to carefully examine themselves and confess lest they come under further judgment by unworthy reception. Notice too that St. Paul sees this being disciplined as a kind of medicine. Hence if we accept the judgement of the Church and the disciplining of the Lord we may well be saved when the world is condemned on Judgment Day. Discipline at the time it is administered seems obnoxious (cf Heb 12) but if it is accepted it can lead to a change of heart and ultimately to salvation on the Day of Judgement. It is an objectively serious sin to promote abortion and even more serious to vote to fund it. It is to be hoped that Congressman Kennedy and others might think seriously about what they are doing and come to a whole hearted acceptance of the Lord’s teaching on Life.
Thus we have the background issues as to why a Bishop might instruct a member of his flock to refrain from Communion.
Patrick Kennedy unfortunately is not alone. He speaks for a lot of Catholics who think they can invent their own Church and establish communion with that Church. Further, that they can call the Church that they invent the “Catholic Church” and claim that they are in union with a this fictional Catholic Church and ultimately with Christ, who is supposedly the head of this fictional Church. Bishop Tobin has warned Mr. Kennedy and others like him that they cannot simply invent their own Church and call it Catholic. There is an actual Church, founded by Christ, that is defined by him. It is not a Church of our own invention. It is rooted in the teachings of Christ and cannot simply be refashioned according to the whim or recipe of anyone other than what Jesus Christ has given. Even the bishops and the Pope cannot recast the Church. We have clear tradition and the Scriptures which must serve as the basis of the of how we understand ourselves. The Church is the servant of the Word of God, not its master. We must interpret and understand the Word of God but we cannot and must not over ride it.
Bishop Tobin has asked Congressman Kennedy to be honest and understand that he is not in communion with the real Catholic Church. Communion with the real Church has real parameters. There are just some things not compatible with being a Catholic and in communion with the real Catholic Church. There is a “bridge too far” that cannot be crossed for me to claim I am still in my homeland. At some point I have left the motherland , at some point I no longer speak my mother-tongue, the language of faith.
In the video below Congressman Kennedy has indicated that the bishops and the Church are simply guilty of being divisive and “fanning the flames of dissent and discord.” But Mr, Kennedy you have it exactly backwards. In the Catholic Church the bishops in union with the Pope ARE unity and accord! It is those who break union with the Bishop and Pope who are guilty of dissent and discord. If you claim to be Catholic you cannot also claim to be working for unity when you oppose the Pope and bishops in union with him. They ARE the source of our unity. This is not new idea. St Ignatius of Antioch stated it all pretty clearly when he said:
It is therefore fitting that you should, after no hypocritical fashion, obey [your bishop], in honour of God who has willed us [so to do], since he that does not so deceives not [by such conduct] the bishop that is visible, but seeks to mock Him that is invisible….I exhort you to study to do all things with a divine harmony, while your bishop presides in the place of God, and your presbyters in the place of the assembly of the apostles, along with your deacons, who are most dear to me, and are entrusted with the ministry of Jesus Christ,… As therefore the Lord did nothing without the Father, being united to Him, neither by Himself nor by the apostles, so neither do anything without the bishop and presbyters…. let there be one prayer, one supplication, one mind, one hope, in love and in joy undefiled. (Ignatius to the Church at Magnesia 3,6-7)
It is simply impossible to speak of unity in the Catholic Church apart from the Pope and the bishops in union with him. Congressman Kennedy, you are the one guilty of disunity and discord if you walk away from the Pope and the Bishops in union with him on important moral issues of our day. It is a strange sort of logic to break union union with the Pope and bishops and then accuse them of breaking union and sowing disunity and discord. The bishops in union with the pope are not the source of disunity, they are the STANDARD of unity and the source of union for every Catholic.