Prolific Catholic author, Elizabeth Scalia published a piece at Aleteia yesterday admonishing Catholics for being upset at the prospect that some of the Synod Fathers are considering the distribution of Holy Communion to notorious, unrepentant Catholics who are in a state of mortal sin. Her article, “Synod Fathers, Fellow Catholics: Do We Still Not Understand?” is not only theologically wrong, but morally dangerous. In fact, as will be seen in short order, Ms. Scalia expressed nearly every single objection St. Thomas Aquinas listed in his Summa Theologica, which the angelic doctor definitively answered, closing the door to this question altogether.
Jesus, of course, cannot be defiled; nothing we do can defile Jesus, and he, naturally, can never ever be a source of defilement. Our hearts and minds—what we entertain within them and emit from them—are what pollute our souls.
In this first point, Ms. Scalia is suggesting that Jesus is not defiled by those receiving Holy Communion while in a state of mortal sin. This is exactly what St. Thomas Aquinas identified as objection 1 to the question, “Whether the sinner sins in receiving Christ’s body sacramentally?” Here is how St. Thomas answers Ms. Scalia’s statement:
Reply to Objection 1. When Christ appeared under His proper species, He did not give Himself to be touched by men as a sign of spiritual union with Himself, as He gives Himself to be received in this sacrament. And therefore sinners in touching Him under His proper species did not incur the sin of lying to Godlike things, as sinners do in receiving this sacrament.
Furthermore, Christ still bore the likeness of the body of sin; consequently He fittingly allowed Himself to be touched by sinners. But as soon as the body of sin was taken away by the glory of the Resurrection, he forbade the woman to touch Him, for her faith in Him was defective, according to John 20:17: “Do not touch Me, for I am not yet ascended to My Father,” i.e. “in your heart,” as Augustine explains (Tract. cxxi in Joan.). And therefore sinners, who lack living faith regarding Christ are not allowed to touch this sacrament.
Ms. Scalia then attempts to justify Communion for unrepentant sinners because Holy Communion, as Pope Francis says, is a medicine for the weak. She said:
Yesterday, I finally reached my limit of synod related social media warnings that the Eucharist may indeed be medicine for sinners—but only for the good sinners—when someone wrote: “Francis said ‘medicine for the weak‘—not ‘for unrepentant sinners’!”
“The weak,” Pope Francis says, those in need of medicine are the unrepentant—the people who don’t even realize that repentance is needed because they are sustained by false, puffed-up foundations of modern feel-goodism.
As a friend of the Lepanto Institute pointed out recently, “medicine is for the sick, not the dead. The sacrament of reconciliation is the sacrament that raises the dead to life, which then makes the living capable of receiving Holy Communion.” St. Thomas Aquinas again has an answer for Ms. Scalia:
Reply to Objection 2. Every medicine does not suit every stage of sickness; because the tonic given to those who are recovering from fever would be hurtful to them if given while yet in their feverish condition. So likewise Baptism and Penance are as purgative medicines, given to take away the fever of sin; whereas this sacrament is a medicine given to strengthen, and it ought not to be given except to them who are quit of sin.
Ms. Scalia flippantly asks what St. Paul meant about receiving the Eucharist unworthily. Rather than turn to the Doctors of the Church for an answer, she admits ignorance and then presents a feel-good anecdote as evidence of her position:
What did Saint Paul mean when he warned about “unworthy” reception of communion? Did it have more to do with confessing real belief, or a sinless state? I don’t know. I know an atheist, though, who kept receiving Holy Communion because she felt drawn to it; now she is a nun. This suggests that Grace isn’t ours to boss around or to limit.
St. Thomas Aquinas has a the answer for Ms. Scalia:
I answer that, In this sacrament, as in the others, that which is a sacrament is a sign of the reality of the sacrament. Now there is a twofold reality of this sacrament, as stated above (Question 73, Article 6): one which is signified and contained, namely, Christ Himself; while the other is signified but not contained, namely, Christ’s mystical body, which is the fellowship of the saints. Therefore, whoever receives this sacrament, expresses thereby that he is made one with Christ, and incorporated in His members; and this is done by living faith, which no one has who is in mortal sin. And therefore it is manifest that whoever receives this sacrament while in mortal sin, is guilty of lying to this sacrament, and consequently of sacrilege, because he profanes the sacrament: and therefore he sins mortally.
In the end, Ms. Scalia issues a snide comment about Our Blessed Lord rolling His eyes at the possibility of sacrilege as if the question of whether Communion should be denied to public, unrepentant sinners is open-ended. She says:
My dear synod fathers, my dear co-religionists, I am a nobody and am the first to admit it—I am shocked to hear myself ask this question. But what if Christ Jesus is rolling his eyes at us because we are still wondering whether people should disperse and go find bread elsewhere, when the True Bread is before us and abundant? What if, as the debate rages over whose hands are clean enough to eat the Food that cannot defile, he is sighing and asking us, “Do you still not understand?”
Once again, St. Thomas Aquinas has already answered this question seven and a half centuries ago in “Article 6. Whether the priest ought to deny the body of Christ to the sinner seeking it?” St. Thomas Aquinas says:
I answer that, a distinction must be made among sinners: some are secret; others are notorious, either from evidence of the fact, as public usurers, or public robbers, or from being denounced as evil men by some ecclesiastical or civil tribunal. Therefore Holy Communion ought not to be given to open sinners when they ask for it. Hence Cyprian writes to someone (Ep. lxi): “You were so kind as to consider that I ought to be consulted regarding actors, end that magician who continues to practice his disgraceful arts among you; as to whether I thought that Holy Communion ought to be given to such with the other Christians. I think that it is beseeming neither the Divine majesty, nor Christian discipline, for the Church’s modesty and honor to be defiled by such shameful and infamous contagion.”
Ms. Scalia would not only do well to brush up on what the Church fathers have said about the worthiness to receive Holy Communion, but she has a moral obligation to correct what she has written, lest she scandalize unrepentant sinners into believing that they do not condemn themselves by receiving the Holy Eucharist while in a state of mortal sin. Consider the sublime words of Fr. Michael Muller (1825-1899), who in his book, “The Blessed Eucharist” wrote a chapter titled, On Unworthy Communion. (page 170-171)
Herod concealed a wicked and cruel design. He was determined to destroy the new-born King of the Jews, and when he found that he had been disappointed, he slew, in his fury, all the children of Bethlehem and the neighborhood thereof. He did not, however, succeed in destroying the Divine Infant. St. Joseph, in obedience to the command of God, carried Him into Egypt. There he remained until the Angel of the Lord appeared again to St. Joseph and said: “Take the Child and His Mother, and return to thy country, for those that sought the life of the Child are dead.”
O Angel of God! What dost thou say? They are dead who sought the life of the Child? Ah! Would that it were true! Are not those wicked Christians who outrage their Saviour in the true Bethlehem, the house of bread, that is to say, at the very foot of the Sacred Altar, are they not so many Herods? They present themselves at the table of the Lord in the attitude of adoration; they strike their breasts as if in sorrow for their sins; they fold their hands as if in deep devotion, and they open those lips defiled by sin; they receive the innocent Lamb of God and make Him a prisoner in a sinful and polluted heart. Mortal sin is so opposed to God that, if He could die, sin would destroy Him. To receive our Lord into a heart that is defiled by mortal sin is to bring Him into the power of His greatest enemy – it is to treat Him with even greater cruelty than Herod. Herod was an unbelieving Jew; but those who receive Him unworthily are Christians and Catholics. They know whom they maltreat; Herod did not know Him. Our Lord does not work a miracle to deliver Himself out of their hands as He did to free Himself from the hands of Herod; He does not send an Angel to inform the priest who, among the throng that presses to the altar, are in the state of mortal sin ; and even if He were to do so, the priest is not at liberty to make use of this knowledge, at least not unless the criminal should be a notorious sinner, so tender is Jesus of the reputation of those very men who are heaping outrages upon Him.
That the long-settled question regarding the presentation of Holy Communion to notorious, unrepentant sinners is even up for discussion at this Synod is a tragic scandal. But for this consideration to be promoted by a prominent Catholic writer who has a reputation for orthodoxy? Ms. Scalia … please retract your article.