AP, Apr. 18, 2003
AP – Pope John Paul II has issued a stern reminder that only priests can celebrate Mass and divorced Catholics who remarry cannot take communion, expressing alarm over what he called unacceptable practices in his flock.
John Paul also warned Catholics against receiving communion in non-Catholic churches, an admonition that is likely to stir up protests in the United States and other countries where inter-faith services are a fundamental part of efforts to bring Christians closer together.
The denunciations of practices which clash with Vatican teaching were contained in an encyclical issued on Holy Thursday, a commemoration of Jesus’s Last Supper with his apostles.
Encyclicals are a special kind of letter dealing with matters of extreme importance to the Church.
The 78-page document is aimed at combating abuses related to the Eucharist, commonly called communion, a sacrament central to the life of the Church.
“It is my hope that the present encyclical letter will effectively help to banish the dark clouds of unacceptable doctrine and practice,” the pope wrote.
Added John Paul: “In various parts of the Church abuses have occurred, leading to confusion with regard to sound faith and Catholic doctrine concerning this wonderful sacrament.”
In parts of Western Europe, as well as in the United States, many divorced Catholics who have remarried have been clamouring for the Church to allow them to receive communion.
But John Paul cited centuries-old teaching that all faithful must confess grave sins before taking communion.
“The judgment of one’s state of grace obviously belongs only to the person involved, since it is a question of examining one’s conscience,” the pope said.
“However, in cases of outward conduct, which is seriously, clearly and steadfastly contrary to the moral norm, the Church, in her pastoral concern for the good order of the community and out of respect for the sacrament, cannot fail to feel directly involved,” wrote John Paul.
He reiterated Church law that those who “obstinately persist in manifest grave sin” be denied communion.
The Vatican does not permit divorce and teaches that those who remarry after divorce are living in sin unless couples refrain from sex.
“That is what the Vatican is saying for years about the non-admission of public sinners to the Eucharist whether they be divorced or Mafia or people who are notorious criminals,” said the Reverend Thomas Reese, editor of America, a Jesuit magazine.
The pontiff is “articulating a general principle of not admitting public sinners to the Eucharist, while not necessarily getting into the details of each person’s life,” said Reese, based in New York.
John Paul also expressed concern about parishes that are without priests.
But while he said it was “praiseworthy” that nuns or laity in these communities lead the other faithful in prayer, only priests can celebrate Mass.