The Roman Catholic Church takes its sacraments seriously. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (Para 1129) teaches that the sacraments are indispensable for salvation. Among the Catholic sacraments, the Eucharistic sacrifice is at the heart of the sacramental system. For Catholic faithful:
What follows deals with Catholic doctrine, practice and hypocrisy. It should not be construed as a validation of Catholic theology or religious observance.
Evangelicals and others who have no experience of Holy Communion in the Catholic manner likely cannot understand the significance of this sacrament in RCC worship. Many of today's Catholics are only familiar with the Novus Ordo Mass. I doubt that they appreciate how the old way of celebrating the Mass concentrated everyone's attention on the mysterious activities taking place at the altar.
In my recollections of Catholic worship in the 1940's and 50's, the Catholic Mass was not a rushed affair, with priests hurrying through the motions in order to get the congregation out before they fell asleep. Not that sleep really was possible on those hard benches. Besides, under the old way of doing things, the congregation frequently changed position; standing, sitting or kneeling according to what was going on at the altar.
Kids were required to sit in the front pews, where Father Greg could keep an eye on them. Boys were on the right of the center aisle; girls on the left. Men wore suits and the ladies nice frocks. We boys wore white shirts with ties and the girls came in party dresses. 'Casual' or work clothing was only permitted on weekdays, at the 6:00 A.M. workers' Mass and the later Masses for school kids. Women did not wear slacks and no one wore shorts or T-shirts. For the Catholic faithful. Mass was an important occasion; it was time spent in the presence of Christ Himself.
In those pre-Vatican II days, the congregation did not really participate in the Mass, other than during responsorial prayers and Communion, and when contributing to the collection basket. The priest, aided by altar servers, carried out the real business of the Mass, and he did most of this at the altar, a good 40 feet from the front pews, with his back turned to the congregation.The priest and servers spoke in Latin, sotto voce. Little bells, like chimes, were rung four times during the Mass to call attention to and focus devotion on specific events at the altar.
Solemn High Mass was especially impressive - marked by beginning and ending processions, the cloying smell of incense and other trappings of pageantry. And it was long, with frequent intervals when the celebrant would sit on his throne as the liturgical choir intoned Gregorian chants or the sounds of the great pipe organ resonated throughout the church. Tall beeswax candles burned on the altar as the priest went about the business of consecrating the species and offering the Eucharistic sacrifice. When it came time for Communion, the faithful stood in long lines in the center aisle, waiting their turn to kneel at the communion rail to receive the host from the hand of the priest. Except for the very old or the disabled, no one received the host while standing. Upon returning to one's pew by way of one of the side aisles, the unchewed host on his tongue or stuck to the roof of his mouth, the communicant would kneel as he offered interior prayers of thanksgiving.
From what I have seen at my wife's Catholic church. Mass is nothing like that these days. In her church, there is plenty of ritual, but no pageantry. A mixed choir sings in the vernacular, usually about two octaves higher than anyone in the congregation can reach. From the outside, the building looks more like a factory painted in a hideous combination of colors than a place of worship. Inside, it is as sterile as a high school field house. The altar is a wooden trestle table set close to the front seats, and there is no communion rail. There are no kneelers because no one kneels. Lay men and women read Scripture selections for the day; something priests or deacons did when I was a kid. At Communion, the faithful receive the consecrated host in their hands or on their tongues from a member of the laity, male or female. Then, they line up to sip consecrated wine from a cup held by another lay man or woman. In these informal times, almost no one dresses for Mass. Wearing jeans or shorts and T-shirts or football jerseys, halter tops and miniskirts or plain housedresses, they come to worship the Catholic Jesus. It isn't the same as I remember.
Attendance at Sunday Mass was not optional, as was also the case on Holy Days of Obligation. This is still the case, however there seem to be fewer days of obligation. Perhaps they have, for the most part, been transferred to Sundays.
Another innovation is that attending Mass on Saturday evening is considered the same as being present for Sunday worship. If that was so before Vatican II, I was not aware of it.
At Sts. Peter and Paul, four Masses were celebrated every day except Saturday, when there were but two. I recall being told by a nun that priests were normally not permitted to celebrate more than one Mass per day, and were not required to officiate at a Mass every day. In cases of need, however, priests were awarded faculties to celebrate no more than two Masses per day. Given the size of the Catholic population in St. Pete's parish and the two schools on the church's property, all the Masses were well attended.
As a Catholic kid, I was taught that whenever the red oil lamp near the tabernacle was burning, that meant Christ, in the form of the Blessed Sacrament, was present inside the tabernacle. When one of the priests was present, the door of the tabernacle was left ajar, so that the faithful could see the monstrance holding the Reserved Host inside.
As a Catholic kid, I knew that when I was in church it was important to behave oneself, and especially so when that red oil lamp was burning. It was drilled into me that one should not even look at the Blessed Sacrament in anything but a reverent manner, for it was Christ Himself Who was present in some miraculous way. When we crossed in front of the tabernacle while the red lamp was burning, it was expected that one manifest his submission to and reverence for Jesus by genuflecting and making the sign of the cross. And we were taught to extend our tongues when receiving the communion so that the priest might place the consecrated wafer on them.
For someone not sacramentally pure, as we surely were not, even though we had been to Confession, to touch the real and substantial body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ in the form of the wafer, other than having it placed on one's tongue, would be sacrilegious. Such was my awe of Jesus in the consecrated host that I truly believed I would die if I took communion unworthily. I was young then.
The Roman Catholic Church no longer appears to be as concerned over such things as sacramental purity or taking Communion unworthily as it once was. I find the willingness of the RCC hierarchy to turn a blind eye to what surely must be sacrilegious strangely paradoxical, given this teaching:
Read again these words: "Sacrilege is a grave sin especially when committed against the Eucharist..." Keep them in mind as you read the remainder of this paper.
In case the above were not sufficiently clear, the Catechism spells it out: anyone who knows that he committed a grave sin cannot receive communion until he has been to confession and had that sin forgiven.
For those Catholics who may consider the CCC to be no more authoritative than a theology textbook, the following is from a Vatican source, citing Canon 859 of the Code of Canon Law:
As appears to be the case with most of Roman Catholicism's "ironclad rules," there is an escape clause for those who find themselves "in a case of necessity," and have no access to a confessor. All he need do is make am "act of perfect contrition." This raises the question: What is an act of perfect contrition? The CCC defines such an act in these terms:
All the above should make it clear to Roman Catholic faithful that they are required to examine their consciences prior to receiving communion. Should a Catholic discover any unconfessed grave sin he must not receive communion until he has received the sacrament of Penance (confession), lest he receive communion unworthily and thereby incur condemnation.
There is more to confession than simply whispering one's sins to a priest. Actually, in order to result in the forgiveness of sin, according to RCC teaching, there are three requirements to be met by the penitent:
Confession to a priest is self-explanatory. Satisfaction involves doing the penance assigned by the priest.
This pretty well covers the obligations of the Roman Catholic laity desirous of receiving communion. What about the Catholic priest? He not only dispenses communion to the laity, but also takes communion himself as a part of the Eucharistic sacrifice. Does he have to meet the same requirements? According to the Council of Trent, not necessarily:
In an ideal world, a priest would never commit a grave sin and so might need to go to sacramental confession but once a year, which is required of all Roman Catholics. We do not live in an ideal world, however, and Catholic priests are just as vulnerable to sinning as anyone else. When a Catholic priest is guilty of grave sin, he is required to go to confession, like any other Catholic, prior to celebrating Mass. This is the way I read the above words from the Decree on the Most Holy Eucharist. This is backed up by Canon 11 of that decree (Denzinger 893 )
What if the priest officiating the Mass has committed grave sin that has not been forgiven through the Sacrament of Penance? If there is no one to confess him, then he just makes a perfect act of contrition that includes the intention to get to confession at an early opportunity. Having done this, the priest may then celebrate the Mass, in the process of which he takes communion.
If the priest is carrying a burden of unconfessed grave sin, even though he has made an act of perfect contrition, can the sacrament be efficacious in imparting grace? According to RCC teaching, the holiness of the officiating priest, or lack of same, has no effect on the sacrament, because the priest is rather like a channel through which the Holy Spirit performs His work. The recipient, however, needs to be sacramentally pure, lest the sacrament not work for him and he be found guilty of partaking of the sacrament unworthily.
Apparently, the sacrament still works as Catholic doctrine says it does, even when the celebrant has committed grave sin and has neither confessed nor made an act of perfect contrition, so long as the lay Catholic conforms to all the requirements placed on him.
I am not a canon lawyer. I cannot understand why the Catholic priest is not held to the same standards of holiness where the Eucharistic sacrifice is concerned as are the Catholic laity. Forget the part about the sacrament's effectiveness not being connected to the holiness of the minister; that doctrine falls into the area of mystical esoterica and is not the issue at hand. Let us concentrate on the priest's taking communion, which is a part of the ritual. Canon law seems clear enough:
One would imagine that in urban dioceses, where a Vicar of Priests or some other priest, surely would be available to hear sacramental confession, it would rarely be necessary for a priest to apply the "grave reason and no opportunity" escape clause. Catholic faithful should be able to reasonably believe that their priest, who celebrates at least one Mass a week, must be relatively free of sin throughout the intervals between celebrating Mass and completely free of the corruption of grave sin when he celebrates the Eucharistic sacrifice. Is this always so?
Unfortunately, based on reports published by the news media and elsewhere, it appears that a significant number of officiating priests have been taking communion unworthily. Does this have an effect on their suitability to act as shepherds caring for the Lord's sheep? I believe it does for, as Jesus said:
The iniquity I am concerned with in this paper is sexual sin with children and adolescents. Pedophilia/ephebophilia is not something that comes up just once in a priest's life. It is a sexual appetite that seems incapable of being satisfied. The pedophile/ephebophile is sexually attracted to the young victims he preys upon. Pedophile/ephebophile priests often are in positions that give them easy access to children who are entrusted to their care for education and religious training. Even when their unspeakable sins become known, they often are protected from public outrage and the judicial consequences of their crimes against the innocent little ones who are their prey. And so they continue to perpetrate their evil deeds.
I realize that Catholic priests are not the only ministers who betray the trust of those who look to them for spiritual care and guidance. Certainly, the news media have catalogued the sexual sins of many a non-Catholic shepherd, and I do not doubt that many others have evaded public denunciation. When the sexual sins of the non-Catholic minister become known, he generally is called to account for them. When the sexual sins of the Catholic priest are reported to his diocesan officials, unless the police or the press also have been informed, though he may be reprimanded, transferred or sent to a facility operated by the Order of Paracletes, he rarely is denied future opportunities to prey on the chicks huddled under the wings of Mother Church.
Thomas Doyle, a Catholic priest and canon law expert, used to work in the Vatican Embassy in Washington, D.C. In a paper he prepared for the attorney of one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the Diocese of Dallas, Doyle wrote:
'Father' Doyle is uniquely qualified to discuss diocesan handling of sexual misconduct by priests in this country. While assigned to the Vatican's embassy, one of his duties was to inform the Vatican of all reported incidents of such activities. Egerton's article continues:
A former priest, now a psychologist, who has worked with a large number of priestly pedophiles also was quoted by Egerton:
As might be anticipated, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops disagreed with Sipes' statement:
This study is not about diocesan cover-ups of the immoral, illegal and unnatural acts of some priests. It is about the priests themselves and their suitability to occupy positions as shepherds for the Catholic flock or to officiate at the celebration of the sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church - in particular the Eucharistic sacrifice.
Recall, if you will, that RCC doctrine requires that all who would receive communion must examine their consciences to determine whether they might do so in a worthy manner. Should a Catholic be aware of unconfessed/unforgiven grave sin, he is forbidden to receive communion until he has received the sacrament of Penance, except in cases of grave need. Should grave necessity be present, the individual may receive communion after making an act of perfect contrition, which includes the resolution to turn away from sin and to make sacramental confession at the earliest opportunity.
Pedophiles are not likely to end their abominations after only one event, but generally tend to continue abusing the children and adolescents who are their chosen prey for so long as they are able.
Given this understanding, it would appear that the pedophile/ephebophile priest is rarely in a state of grace/has a relationship with his God. It matters nothing that he might confess his sins of lust and/or commission to another priest, for forgiveness requires an act of perfect contrition. In that priestly pedophiles/ephebophiles tend to continue their sexual wrongdoing, it would seem that their imperfect contrition does not result in their sins being forgiven.
Should the pedophile/ephebophile priest make a sacramental confession in which he conceals one or more of his sins of lust or sexual abuse, not only would his confession be of no effect in obtaining forgiveness, but he may then be guilty of sacrilege:
The priest who is guilty of unforgiven mortal sin as a consequence of imperfect contrition and habitual lusting for and sexual abuse of children and adolescents is out of communion with God. He has turned away from God.
A question that comes to my mind, and for which the RCC surely has a ready response, is: How can a priest who is turned away from God and out of communion with Him, still be considered qualified to perform his priestly duties before God?
Another question that arises is: How can a priest who is known to be a pedophile/ephebophile be permitted to occupy the position of shepherd?
This gives rise to yet another question: When authorities in the pedophile/ephebophile priest's diocese are aware of his perverse proclivity, yet act to cover it up and then re-assign the priest to another parish, are they not guilty with him? On paper at least, Mother Church seems to think that way.
Before closing this study, I wish to make it clear that my references to Roman Catholic doctrine and practice, and my citations from RCC sources should in no way be construed as an indication that I consider those doctrines and practices to be biblical.
I should also like to mention that I do not believe all Roman Catholic priests or religious to be pedophiles/ephebophiles or sexual deviants. However, if the figure given by Reverend Doyle in 1997 is accurate, that some 1000 pedophile priests had been exposed as a consequence of criminal or civil court cases in the previous 15 years or so, that works out to about 1 priest in 50 whose alleged crimes were made public. Add to that figure the names of all the priests identified as sexual predators since then and I believe it would be reasonable to suggest that 1 priest in 40 probably is a sexual predator. Only God knows how many others were able to avoid exposure.
I invite every Catholic who reads this to consider whether he should remain affiliated with a religious system that considers priests given over to such sins and who may be guilty of sacrilege and other mortal sins worthy to celebrate the sacraments and to shepherd YOUR children; and whose overseers (bishops) cooperate in covering up their sins.
You do not need a priest to help you know God. You can meet Him directly, through faith in Jesus Christ that is a gift of God's grace. To find out how, read the Bible.
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