Tuesday, September 25, 2007

More on Canon 855 (1917 Code)

Since the attacks against Archbishop Burke are beginning yet again, especially since his article, The Discipline Regarding the Denial of Holy Communion to Those Obstinately Persevering in Manifest Grave Sin, do we not benefit by learning what the Church has always held, from the time of St Paul to the present? If so, allow me to share some insights from some commentaries concerning the 1917 Code of Canon Law. Archbishop Burke, in the article above, provides an excellent background on Canon 855 (1917) which has become Canon 915 in the new (1983) Code.

Can.855 §1 . The publicly unworthy, who are the excommunicated, the interdicted and the manifestly infamous, unless their penance and conversion have been established and they will have first made up for the public scandal, are to be excluded from the Eucharist.

§2. The minister is also to refuse occult sinners, if they request secretly and he will not have recognized them as converted; not, however, if they publicly request and he is not able to pass over them without scandal. [62]

From a book by the by Very Rev. H.A.Ayrinhac, S.S., D.D., D.C.L., we read, concerning canon 855, the following:

III. Dispositions for Communion. (Can. 855-858.)

145. I. External Worthiness. 1. Divine and ecclesiastical law command absolute exclusion from the Holy Table of all persons publicly un­worthy of it, unless they have shown signs of conversion and amendment and repaired the scan­dal given to the community.

(a) The unworthiness is legally public when it has been formally confessed in court or pro­nounced by sentence of the judge; it is public in fact when it has become generally known. Some canonists do not consider as absolutely or strictly public the guilt known to the majority of the per­sons present, when, for example, the party who asks for Holy Communion is not known to the community generally. (Cappello, 1. c., n. 74.)

Public here has the sense of notorious in fact. Benedict XIV, who first formulated this law, used the two terms together, public and notorious, to qualify the offence excluding from the sacraments. (Ex omnibus, Oct. 16, 1756.)

The Code names as publicly unworthy the excommunicated, interdicted, or notoriously infamous. Excommunication and personal interdict have that effect only after a condemnatory or declaratory sentence or after general divulga­tion (Can. 2232; Penal Legislation, n. 57); in­famy must be notorious legally or in fact. (Can. 2197, 2293; Penal Legislation, n. 6, 161.) We may consider also as public sinners or publicly unworthy persons commonly known as living in concubinage or married outside of the Church in­validly, or belonging to a forbidden society, or engaged in gravely sinful occupations.

(b) When there is no scandal to repair, the mere fact of going to confession in presence of witnesses will ordinarily suffice as evidence of the necessary amendment, and often also approaching the Holy Table will be interpreted as an indica­tion of conversion.

But when the case calls for the reparation of an injustice or a scandal, or for the removal of a proximate occasion of sin, fulfillment of these con­ditions must precede the administration of the Holy Eucharist.

146. 2. Occult sinners, that is, those whose un­worthiness although real does not come under the provision of the law just considered, may ask for the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist privately or publicly. In the first case the sacred minister should repel them, unless he knows that they have amended; but if they ask publicly and he can not pass them over without scandal he must give them Holy Communion. By acting otherwise he might injure the sinner in his reputation, which he has not yet lost entirely; he might also turn away from the sacraments other people who would fear lest through levity, passion, or mistake the same humiliation should be inflicted on them.

In cases of doubt the exclusion should ordina­rily not be pronounced, nor probably when the unworthiness, although public elsewhere, remains occult in the place and will likely continue so, at least for a good period of time.

Present conditions usually do not permit the same strict enforcement of the law as in times past and demand always great caution in its ap­plication.

147. 2. State of Grace and Previous Reception of Absolution. Holy Communion demands the state of grace regained regularly by absolution if one had lost it by mortal sin. As was said of the minister of the sacrifice, the faithful when conscious of a grievous fault must either go to con­fession and receive absolution or abstain from Holy Communion. Should they find both of these morally impossible they must make an act of perfect contrition, not simply of attrition, and then they may approach the Holy Table. (Cf. Can. 807, supra.)

(a) This impossibility of going to confession exists when access to a confessor offers really serious inconveniences because either of distance, sickness, rules, or other conditions, but this in­convenience should not be intrinsic to confession itself.

(b) It may occur for the faithful also, al­though more rarely than for priests, that they would find it a real hardship to stay away from Holy Communion under certain circumstances. Authors give as an example the case of a person who would remember an unforgiven sin when he is already actually or equivalently at the altar rail. Some accept as a sufficient excuse the neces­sity of fulfilling the precept of paschal Communion, but they do not admit as valid such reas­ons as the embarrassment of a daily communicant who would have to abstain on a day when all the other members of the community approach the Holy Table.

Source: Legislation on the Sacraments in the New Code of Canon Law
by Very Rev. H.A.Ayrinhac, S.S., D.D., D.C.L
Copyright 1928

And from Stanislaus Woywod, O.F.M., LL.B., in his "A Practical Commentary on the Code of Canon Law," we read:


753. Catholics who are publicly known to be unworthy (for example, those who have been excommunicated or interdicted, or who are manifestly of ill repute) must be refused Holy Communion until their repentance and amendment has been established, and satisfaction has been made for the public scandal which they have given. Occult sinners, who secretly ask for Holy Communion, shall be refused by the minister if he knows that they have not amended; if, however, they seek Communion publicly and the priest cannot pass them by without scandal, he shall not refuse them (Canon 855).

These rules are a restatement of the former law. It may be difficult in some cases to judge when a person is to be re­garded as a public sinner. No general rule covering all cases can be given for distinguishing a public sinner from an occult one, and the circumstances of every individual case must be considered. The case of an occult sinner asking for Holy Communion publicly: or secretly, is fully discussed by the moralists.

754. Nobody who is conscious of having a mortal sin on his soul shall go to Holy Communion before making a sacramental confession, no matter how contrite he may believe himself to be. If necessity urges the reception of Holy Communion, and there is no opportunity to go to confession, an act of perfect contrition shall be made before receiving Communion (Canon 856).

This law is taken from the Council of Trent [Sessio. XIII, cap. VII, SS. Euchar.] The Council states that the words of St. Paul to the Corinthians, "Let a man prove himself," [1 Cor. xi, 28] are by ecclesiastical usage understood to refer to the confession of mortal sins before receiving Holy Communion (cfr. n. 707).
Source: A Practical Commentary on the Code of Canon Law Volume 1
by Stanislaus Woywod, O.F.M., LL.B.,
Copyright 1925

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