Tuesday, January 09, 2007

"Do not give what is holy to dogs"

In late November, an anonymous blogger wrote:
“On another note, how does one tell a non-Christian that they can not recieve the body of Christ? My sister- in -law (non-Christian) really wants to accompany me to Midnight Mass because she has heard from me and other Catholics how beautiful it is. I have no problem with her watching, listening, singing etc but I know she will go up and recieve the Eucharist. My brother and I have tried to explain it to her why she can't but she is determined to recieve it anyway. Should I just skip the Mass? This is one of the few Masses that my husband attends and we have had a tradition since we were married to go together. Any ideas anyone?”

Anon, thanks for the comments and questions, and I’m sorry that I didn’t respond before Christmas. I have a long list of questions from bloggers (which is great), and it has taken me this long to get through the queue to yours. I hope that Christmas went well with your family, especially with the Midnight Mass situation.

I had an excellent discussion with some parishioners and their friends one night over Christmas. One of the friends is a non-Catholic Christian who is in RCIA at another parish. He was asking why he couldn’t receive the Eucharist right now. He didn’t see any difference between the Eucharist and what Protestant churches offer in Communion. The more we talked about it, the more he saw the difference, and relented on his complaints. By the end of the conversation, he vowed to read John 6 -where Jesus teaches about the Eucharist- again to understand the Church’s teaching better.

One of the things that I mentioned to him was that as early as 100 A.D., the Church had laid out the rules for receiving Holy Communion. In “the Didache”, one of the earliest Christian documents, it made a statement that was mainly addressed to those who had not been baptized:
“Let no one eat or drink of this Eucharist with you except those who have been baptized in the name of the Lord; for it was in reference to this that the Lord said, 'Do not give that which is holy to dogs'” (c. 100 AD).

If your sister-in-law persists in her disobedience to the Church’s rules, you may want to use that command from our Lord (which is from Mt 7:6). It is powerful language which is mainly for those who are obstinate in their contempt for Christianity. But, the Eucharist is a powerful reality!

The best thing you can do is sit down with your sister-in-law – and have your husband present as well, especially if he skips Mass regularly – and discuss the Eucharist. Explain to her a) what Jesus teaches in John 6, b) that “this is my body” means “this is my body”, c) read with her 1 Cor 11:23-34 (“whoever eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for body and blood of the Lord”), and d) what transubstantiation means – the substances of bread and wine become the substance of the Body and Blood of Christ.

Or, you could just contact me or another priest and we could explain that to her. Just like the friend of the parishioners, I would bet that she really doesn’t know the full teaching on the Eucharist, and how significant a claim we make when we say we believe Jesus when he says, “this is my body”. It truly is Christ’s flesh and blood in the Eucharist. It’s the same flesh and blood that was on the Cross – John 6:51 tells us that. It is the flesh and blood of our Salvation. “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgement on himself” (1 Cor 11:29).

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