Saturday, October 18, 2014

Questions of the Day: Can the Poor Receive Communion? What Is a Catholic Family?

At Iglesia Descalza, Rebel Girl offers a translation of an article by Father Jorge Costadoat, SJ, in Reflexión y Liberación, asking whether the poor can receive communion. Here's the problem: in Chile, "it's normal for the poor to form their families little by little." Many working-class couples simply don't have the resources to marry sacramentally in the church, when they lack land or lodging, and when a fiesta is expected to mark this important stage in their journey together as a married couple.

So they have often children, marry civilly, struggle to acquire land and a house, and then perhaps solemnize their marriage in a church. Meanwhile, they live as "irregular" (the church's word, not mind) families, as couples who, in the eyes of the church's strict constructionists, are not worthy to receive communion. Hence Costadoat's question . . . . 

His response to his question:

What piety is possible under these living conditions? A very deep one. I know. It's not a matter of talking about it. I would have to extend my remarks. I just want to make it known that the working class Christian communities are composed of people like these. They themselves are the ones who got land for the chapel, built it, and water the garden. These same people are responsible for the catechesis of their children. In these communities, at Sunday Mass, at the moment of Communion, no one is denied anything. 
If the poor couldn't receive communion, the Church wouldn't be the Church.

In the New York Times, Peter Manseau also asks a question: what is a Catholic family? As he notes, the top leaders of the Catholic church at the synod on the family are all abroil with questions about how to approach families or couples "living in sin" — who should be denied accees to the sacraments, should they not? There are the gays. And then there are the heterosexual couples who delay marriage or end marriages due to what the synod's initial report calls complex "cultural and socio-economic factors."

Manseau points out that the real family life of Catholic families has always been "irregular." Throughout the long history of the Catholic church, real-life families have seldom met the ideal for family life held up to them by the church's pastors. Today, the questions about "irregular" families and access to the sacraments are complicated by the real-life church the pastors of the church encounter everywhere, if they only open their eyes to what's around them: "the divorced, the remarried, the cohabitating; the two-faith marriages, the two-mother households, the two grooms who walked down the aisle."

Manseau insists that the bishops gathered in synod are hardly intending to open "a big tent welcoming all those mentioned to fully participate in the life of the Catholic Church, and indeed they are unlikely to do so." But then he adds:

As Cardinal Erdo read the bishops' relatio in a Vatican conference hall last week, anyone watching carefully could see on the desk before him a small sculpture of the holy family: Mary, Joseph and Jesus. To Catholics it is a depiction of a woman who conceived a child before she was married, a chaste stepfather who nearly divorced her as a result, and that original sign of contradiction, the human son of God. A church that claims to descend from this most untraditional of domestic arrangements might ask itself: Was any family ever more irregular than that?

And that iconic picture complicates things for the purists, the strict constructionists, for those intent on using the sacraments as weapons to punish those less pure and holy than themselves, doesn't it? Or if it doesn't, should it not? 

The graphic: a detail from Pietro Perugino's "The Marriage of Joseph and Mary" (1499-1504), in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Caen.

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