December 17, 2019

Article at Authory

Communion for the Cognitively Disabled

Warning: Rant ahead.

I'm not going to provide links because I have no desire to either instigate or participate in a social media storm over the Eucharist. But there are a couple of blog posts out there in Catholic Blogland today about a priest's decision to deny the Eucharist to an elderly woman with Alzheimer's.

During a recent Mass, she reportedly removed the host from her mouth and dropped it back on the paten. In response, the priest suggested to the woman's family that their relative should no longer receive Communion because she no longer seems to understand its significance. The family is understandably outraged and the pastor of the parish is backing his associate.

There is absolutely nothing in canon law that requires denying the Eucharist to adults whose mental faculties have deteriorated. In the Latin church, children must "understand what the mystery of Christ means" ("according to their capacity") in order to be initiated into receiving the Eucharist (in the Eastern churches, the Eucharist is given to infants), but adults already receiving Communion can't be denied Communion "unless forbidden by law" (canons 912–913).

Again, I'm not providing links, but it took very little online searching to find a prominent canonist who wrote over ten years ago that Communion ordinarily shouldn't be denied to Alzheimer's patients. So, while I'm not a canonist myself, I'm not winging it on the canon law requirements either.

Now, I agree that if the communicant is taking the Eucharist out of her mouth and discarding it back onto the paten that this poses a problem. There are ways to address this problem without denying the woman Communion. She and her caregivers may need more personal assistance for her to receive Communion and perhaps this might not be possible during Mass. If the pastor had suggested that Communion be brought to this woman at her home, I wouldn't have objected.

But I'm mad as purgatory that the pastor is backing the priest in denying Communion to an ill, elderly woman altogether. If that weren't bad enough, he's been patting himself on the back publicly over how "brave" he believes himself to be to face down the anger of the woman's family, supposedly to preserve belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

(Image: Extraordinary minister of holy Communion, holding the Eucharist; Pixabay.)