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 CNS Story:

EUCHARIST-RECEIVE Feb-22-2011 (850 words) With photo. xxxn

Pastors take different approaches when parishioners skip Communion

By Angela Cave
Catholic News Service

ALBANY, N.Y. (CNS) -- Father Adam Forno occasionally notices parishioners skipping the Eucharist at St. John the Evangelist and St. Joseph parish in Rensselaer, where he is pastor.

Sometimes, a Massgoer doesn't receive Communion because he or she has remarried without having a first marriage annulled. Other times, it is because of personal shame.

"We've got some people who just feel they're not worthy," Father Forno explained. "People have a strong sense of not being in right relationship with God, and so they honor that by not going to Communion as they were taught. But my sense is that you need Communion more than ever then."

A man in one of Father Forno's former parishes attended daily Mass, but he never received Communion. Father Forno approached him and said: "You come to supper with the Lord, but you don't eat." The priest asked if the man needed to reconcile anything with God and offered to help.

Several pastors throughout the Albany Diocese said they have spotted handfuls of Catholics at their parishes abstaining from the Eucharist, occasionally or habitually. They noted that many parishioners falsely believe being divorced or forgetting to pray are reasons to abstain.

Massgoers who stay seated during Communion present pastors and parish leaders with complex tasks of spiritual guidance. Whenever possible, parish leaders are advised to teach about church rules but help people differentiate between mortal and venial sin.

"It calls for such pastoral nuancing," Father Forno said. "It's not black and white."

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, parishioners who are "aware of having committed a mortal sin must not receive holy Communion, even if (they experience) deep contrition, without having first received sacramental absolution, unless (they have) a grave reason for receiving Communion and there is no possibility of going to confession."

For a sin to be considered mortal, its object must be grave matter and it must be committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent, according to the catechism.

Often, people falsely believe they are in a state of mortal sin because their actions contradict church teaching, said Father Peter Sullivan, assistant judicial vicar to Albany Bishop Howard J. Hubbard.

Father Sullivan said pastors and spiritual directors should counsel people based on their individual situations. He offered the example of 19th-century Eskimos leaving their elders to die on the ice to prevent them from experiencing long, excruciating deaths without the aid of morphine: Today, this might be considered murder; back then, it was mercy.

Culture, Father Sullivan said, "programs you -- and sometimes programs you poorly. You just absorb it. You don't even know how you absorb it."

In turn, culture can affect a Catholic's feelings of worthiness before the Eucharist.

"I tell people Communion is not a reward for having been good, but the spiritual food necessary to continue the journey," Father Sullivan said, recalling the Gospel story of the vine and the branches: "(Jesus is) saying, 'If you do not receive my body and blood, you do not have my life in you.'

"You need to go to Communion, and you can do so very humbly. You're not doing this with pride; you're doing this out of a need and out of a command."

Father Forno recalled the prayer recited immediately before receiving Communion: "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed."

"If we say those words and believe it," he said, "then the Lord should be able to heal (us)."

Further, Father Sullivan said, no one should discourage others from receiving; conscience decisions are private.

Father Anthony Barratt, pastor of Annunciation Parish in Ilion and Our Lady Queen of Apostles Parish in Frankfort, also notices abstainers every now and then. In his experience, they are usually Catholics who feel they are overdue for confession.

"I'm always amazed at people's love for the Eucharist, their reverence for it," he told The Evangelist, Albany diocesan newspaper.

Marianne Lee, a parish eucharistic minister, agrees that few "sit out" Communion, but older Catholics might be influenced by the culture of their youth, when people went to confession more frequently.

"There are still some people who feel they need to have the sacrament of reconciliation before they receive," Lee said.

Father Paul Catena, pastor at Sacred Heart Parish in Margaretville, said he often faces the task of making people aware of outstanding sins. But approaching them about the need for confession before receiving Communion is no easy task.

"It's hard to go up to somebody and say they shouldn't," Father Catena said. "I think every priest struggles with, 'What do I say? When do I say it?' The best I can do is try to teach over time."

Christianity, he said, is about continual conversion; followers should always learn and grow in faith.

Church teachings can also confuse Catholics. "They're not easy to understand," Father Catena said. "It takes time and effort to understand the teachings, and it takes a certain openness."

Along the way, Father Sullivan said, the Eucharist is there to help: "It is the nourishment that is demanded by the Lord in order to walk the way."

END


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