At a recent funeral at St. John Neumann Catholic Church, Gaithersburg, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C., a woman, the daughter of the deceased, was refused Communion because, as the priest explained to her when she presented herself, she was the “partner” of a woman. The Washington Post, with its daily pro-gay agenda, placed the story on its front page.
Apparently, the priest learned of the relationship just before the funeral started when a woman identified herself to him as the daughter’s “partner.” It is unknown whether the priest knew or expected that the daughter would present herself for Communion, but Reuters reports that he announced before Communion that only those in a state of grace were welcome to receive. The Archdiocese has sent the woman an apology for the “lack of pastoral sensitivity.”
The Archdiocese said, in a statement, that the priest should have addressed the matter privately. Perhaps this means the priest should have delayed the start of the funeral until he had spoken to the daughter in the sacristy. What if she had refused to come into the sacristy? Or, what if, in the sacristy she acknowledged she had a woman “partner,” but during the Mass she presented herself for Communion anyway?
For my part, I would like people who are considering presenting themselves for Communion to show sensitivity to, above all, Our Lord, and secondarily to His Body the Church, and to His members -- His bishops and the priests who are His bishops’ assistants, and to the faithful congregation.
With respect to priests or Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist: They and we adore Our Lord in the Real Presence. How is it possible for someone who adores Our Lord in the Real Presence to distribute Communion to a man or woman known to be in an intimate relationship with another person outside marriage? Wouldn’t one’s entire being shudder before doing this?
I am reminded of an early martyr. In my hometown, Chicago, there is a parish called St. Tarcisius (pronounced tar-ci-see-oos). St. Tarcisius is the patron saint of altar servers and of First Communicants. He was a 12 year old altar server in the Third Century. One day he was asked to substitute for a deacon and bring Communion to prisoners. On the way, some boys, with whom he had played before, asked him to play with them but he declined. This, together with their knowledge that he was Christian and their observation that he was holding something to his breast, aroused their curiosity. They wanted to know what he was carrying. Knowing they were pagan, he declined to say. The boys became more than curious. They became demanding. They tried to force him to show what he had. They attacked him -- until he died.
Acknowledging that not one of us sinners is worthy to touch the Host with tongue or hand, much less receive Our Lord, can we nonetheless learn something from Tarcisius, and from what the Church teaches when It venerates him, when we are faced with the problem of persons who are objectively and publicly living in grave sin yet are obstinately demanding to receive Communion? Tarcisius knew that only persons in communion with Christ and His Church should receive Him in Communion.
Spero columnist James Thunder is a Washington DC-based attorney.