Given the importance of this matter, and how it is a special teaching moment, here is an article from the archdiocesan newspaper . . .
Incident at St. John Neumann spurs reflection on significance of Holy Communion
Special to the Standard
Recent news accounts have reported an incident at St. John Neumann Parish in Gaithersburg, where a woman was initially denied Communion at her mother’s funeral Mass (she did, however, receive Communion from a Eucharistic minister) and the celebrant did not attend the burial. (Another priest did preside at the graveside service.) In response, the Archdiocese of Washington issued a statement (below) and Auxiliary Bishop Barry Knestout, vicar general, personally contacted members of the family.
This is the statement issued by the archdiocese on February 27:
“In matters of faith and morals, the Church has the responsibility of teaching and of bringing the light of the Gospel message to the circumstances of our day. When questions arise about whether or not individuals should present themselves for Communion, it is not the policy of the Archdiocese of Washington to publicly reprimand the person. Any issues regarding the suitability of an individual to receive Communion should be addressed by the priest with that person in a private, pastoral setting.
“The archdiocese is looking into the incident at a funeral Mass that was celebrated by Father Marcel Guarnizo and will handle this as a personnel issue.”
This situation provides an opportunity to refresh our understanding of the Eucharist, its importance and the guidelines on how it is to be administered and received.
For Catholics, the Eucharist is the most important of the seven sacraments because we believe that through this mystery, we literally receive the Body and Blood of Christ. It is not just a symbol. Jesus is truly present Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. It is an intimate encounter with Christ, in which we sacramentally receive Christ into our bodies, and become more completely assimilated into his.
Therefore, because the Eucharist is Christ himself, who is the center of all Christian life, the Church teaches that Catholics must be properly disposed to receive the Eucharist worthily. Catholics should examine their conscience and make use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation if they have committed grave sin before receiving the Body and Blood of Christ.
The following guidelines, issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, clarify how Catholics should prepare prior to receiving the Eucharist:
“As Catholics, we fully participate in the celebration of the Eucharist when we receive Holy Communion. We are encouraged to receive Communion devoutly and frequently. In order to be properly disposed to receive Communion, participants should not be conscious of grave sin and normally should have fasted for one hour. A person who is conscious of grave sin is not to receive the Body and Blood of the Lord without prior sacramental Confession except for a grave reason where there is no opportunity for Confession. In this case, the person is to be mindful of the obligation to make an act of perfect contrition, including the intention of confessing as soon as possible (canon 916). A frequent reception of the sacrament of penance is encouraged for all.”
The priest has an obligation to make sure that the sacraments are respected. Since it is difficult to know what is in a person’s heart, it is also important that when doubt arises regarding whether a person is properly disposed to receive the Eucharist, it is handled in a pastoral and compassionate manner, privately between the priest and the communicant.
The reception of the Eucharist is a blessing and a grace. We should receive Jesus with the intention of becoming more like him. No one is entitled to the Eucharist. It is a free gift that should be received with humility and reverence. It is also a sign of unity with the Church’s teaching on faith and morals.