I once worked with a man who often confused words and their meanings. One night he told us a story about a man in Minnesota who lost both of his arms at the elbows in a concubine. Imagine the look of horror on our faces, and not for the reason he thought it was there. Finally, someone asked him if he knew what a concubine was. He said yes, it was that green tractor that harvests corn.
Um, no Wade…
The truth of the matter is that words do have meanings despite how we choose to use them. You would never hear a doctor say that he was going to perform an appendectomy if he were going to remove your tonsils. You would never ask a mechanic to fix your drive shaft if your car wasn’t stopping properly.
Take the word communion as an example. From a general religious understanding it is a communal meal shared with all present. Most Christian faiths celebrate some sort of communion where all are invited to partake in the community meal representing the Last Supper. Catholics in particular are often criticized for only allowing only Catholics in a state of Grace to present themselves for communion. How is this considered communion if the entire community present is not invited to partake?
If we break the word down into its parts we get “com – union”. The deeper sense of the word means “with – union” or “in union with”. Receiving Catholic communion isn’t simply the getting the bread and wine that represents the Last Supper. Catholic communion is a Sacrament, which, when traced to its original is “an oath to the death”. When one presents himself for communion how is he taking an oath to the death?
When I present myself for communion (actually the reception of the Holy Eucharist) I am making a public statement, and renewing my oath to the death, that I am in union with the Catholic Church and all of her teachings, that I will live my life for Jesus and die for him if necessary. If I do not live up to this oath I forfeit that which I gave as collateral for this Sacrament, namely my eternal life. It would be intellectually dishonest for someone who doesn’t hold the Catholic faith to present themself to receive the Eucharist and take this oath. They are not in union with the Roman Catholic Church.
Likewise, Catholics are barred from receiving communion from another faith tradition for the exact same reason. That faith community may very well view it as nothing more than a communal meal all are invited to share but to a Catholic it is a public affirmation of being in union with that faith. We are not in union with that faith so we must not partake in that communion.
Unfortunately we live in an age where more and more Catholics stand at Mass and utter the creed, “I believe in one God…” but then only make it as far as the Narthex before they are willing to say, “But the Church is wrong on (insert any number of issues)”. There is no shortage of Catholics who say that the Church needs to change Her teachings to get with the times. You cannot possibly be in union with the Church when you believe that the Church is wrong. If you are not in union with the Church you cannot honestly take an oath to the death stating that you are.
We are required by our faith to believe and accept all of the Church’s teaching on faith and morals even if we do not understand them. When you disagree with a Church teaching you disagree with Christ directly. To say that the Church is wrong in the matters of faith and morals is to say that Jesus is wrong. To say that Jesus is wrong is to cease to be Catholic.