Catholic puns are too hard to resist.
Over the weekend I attended a lecture here at Notre Dame on Religion and American Public Life that focused on the speech given by John F. Kennedy on the separation of Church and State. One of the panelists made the point that as religious people, we have the right to practice our religion and have our faith inform our decisions even in the public life, but in America we also have the responsibility to be good citizens. It's a two-sided coin (like a lot of things...) I did a write up on it that will appear in the Irish Rover, a student run publication here on campus.
Further thinking, of course, led me to think of this in terms of our Catholic faith. It is easy to take our religion for granted because of this freedom extended to us by the US of A. It is easy to go to Mass. It is easy to call yourself Catholic, cause it's just another religion that is tolerated here in America.
Notwithstanding the argument that this can lead to lackadaisical worship and/or lukewarm faith and practice of the faith, we as Catholics have this same two-sided coin. We have rights and responsibilities as well, within the Church itself. We have the right to go the Mass, to pray daily, to practice theology, to interpret scripture (within a framework set forth by St. Augustine). However, a lot of people would think that these are actually burdens set upon the shoulders of the faithful that they have to do in order to get to heaven. As St. Augustine knew, though, we don't deserve heaven. We can't do things and think we have the "right" to get to heaven.
What's kind of funny is that all of these "rights" that we have come with an integral responsibility. Just as the right to vote, or to protest in America must be done in a specific way, Mass, prayer, theology and scriptural interpretation must be done responsibly, within the framework of the teachings of the Church.
With that introduction, I'll dive into a specific question: The "right" to Communion. First of all, it's "Communion Rite", so now that we have that cleared up, we can discuss this thing.
I know that most of us have heard about the controversy of certain politicians receiving Communion. However, the question is broader than that. Who has the right to Communion? I think the simple answer is no one. No one deserves it. No one is owed it. We deserve damnation, not a foretaste of heaven. It is such an integral part of the Mass and so the faithful, understandably, think that to participate in the Mass we should get in line to receive the Eucharist as part of this participation. The thing that we often miss however is that that which we receive isn't just something we receive, but also something we worship. It is God. It is Jesus Christ Himself. If that's true, we shouldn't even THINK about approaching Him unless we have first washed ourselves in and out, unless we first let him purify us. There's a reason that we have Mass and not just a Communion Service. We need to be directed toward the worship of Him Who will soon be here. We need to be prepared to see him by purifying our hearts through a general confession, opening our minds through hearing Him speak through Scripture etc. There is a reason for the Rites of Mass. And it isn't just so we can get our "Communion Right". This is why the Sacrament of Penance is so important. This is why the "other-worldliness" of the Mass is important. It MUST be something different than what we are used to or we may take it for granted and not approach the Lord with a God-centered heart and mind. The only thing we have a right to do is fall on our faces and plea for forgiveness.
But God takes our hand and picks us up. He offers us what we have no right to. He gives us Himself in a way that we can take without dying from ecstasy (St. Immelda notwithstanding). His Grace is more than we deserve but he still gives it. We shouldn't take this for granted but should strive to make ourselves as interiorly ready to receive this Grace. Although he gives freely, it is up to us to freely accept it or reject it. And accept it in the fullness of its truth is what we must strive to do. This means sometimes not going forward to Communion. It is not our right, it is God's Rite and why should we sully it?