Pope Francis’ accessibility to the secular press has provided for many teaching moments. The opportunities are welcome especially on the light of this statement of the late Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen:
“There are not more than 100 people in the world who truly hate the Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they perceive to be the Catholic Church. ….As a matter of fact, if we Catholics believed all of the untruths and lies which were said against the Church, we probably would hate the Church a thousand times more than they do.”1
The discussions around the pope’s various comments have also brought to light one misconception which a surprising number of Catholics have. The issue involves whether divorced Catholics may receive Communion. The lifelong nature of the marriage commitment is why the Church discourages divorce. However, the key point is that divorce, by itself, is not a sin. It is not objectively wrong as sex outside of a valid marriage between one man and one woman is.
Merely securing a divorce does not require the individual to abstain from receiving Holy Communion.2 Living chastely after a divorce is a virtue, certainly not an impediment to receiving the sacraments!
The item which has the secular press abuzz is the problem of divorced Catholics who marry outside the Church, and live as husband and wife without an annulment being granted. For this situation the words of Christ are definitive:
“I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery.”3
Christian marriages are for life unless it can be proven that not all of the necessary elements for this commitment were present at the time of the wedding.
As the verse goes, “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.”4 No civil court has the authority to break a covenant created by a Christian marriage. Only the Church can determine that the bond was not sacramental and therefore no covenant exists.
The plea to fellow Catholics is: don’t miss out on Holy Communion if your only concern is that of being divorced. The Eucharist must be respected5 but it’s very unfortunate when it’s avoided unnecessarily.
So we can see that it is entirely possible for a good Catholic to be divorced! Since this is the case, why is it that we hear the Church teaching that divorced Catholics cannot receive the Eucharist?
2 – “The fact is, that Church does not teach that Catholics are forbidden to receive Holy Communion if they are divorced. Rather, it teaches that a Catholic who has been divorced and remarried, without having first obtained an annulment of the first marriage, is not permitted to receive the Eucharist.” http://canonlawmadeeasy.com/2012/01/03/divorced-catholics-and-the-eucharist/
3 – Matthew 19:9 from The New Catholic Answer Bible,” Fireside Catholic Publishing; Wichita, KS, 2005.
4 – Matthew 19:6, Ibid.
5 – “Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself.” (1 Corinthians 11:27-29), Ibid.