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Guess who's not coming to dinner? The list of those "not worthy" to be called to Christ's supper keeps getting longer.

THE RECENT WEDDING OF A HIGH SCHOOL FRIEND included the expected accessories: elegant bridesmaids and groomsmen, well-dressed attendees, a beautifully appointed church. But on the now-standard wedding program, I was surprised to find that the greatest amount of ink--about 500 words--was devoted to who could and couldn't receive Communion.

These regulations far outweighed the verbiage devoted to identifying the processional music and the uber-cute 3-year-old twins who accompanied their grandmother down the aisle. Said my mother, among the theologians of common sense in my life, "Isn't that terrible?" It was the first thin I noticed as well, and it left me sad that at a special occasion like my friend's wedding, we Catholics are still unable to invite other Christians who share our eucharistic faith to join us at the Lord's table.

Unfortunately we have just seen some further additions to the list of who can't receive Communion, and on it will be no small number of Catholics. A document approved by the U.S. bishops at their November meeting discourages from Communion those who "knowingly and obstinately" reject "the defined doctrines of the church" or its "definitive teaching on moral issues." While 'Happy Are Those Who Are Called to His Supper': On Preparing to Receive Christ Worthily in the Eucharist lists the expected grave sins that would prevent reception of Communion--acts of hatred, abuse of minors, murder--it also targets those who give only "selective assent" to the church's moral teachings or miss Mass on Sunday.

Given the controversy about Catholic politicians in recent years, this document probably isn't surprising. But I have always found lists of who is "worthy" to receive Communion a little sad. Apart from the legions of divorced-and-remarried Catholics, Mass-skippers, birth-control dissenters, and murderers whom this document would exclude from Communion, I think also of a former co-worker of mine.

At the time she was preparing a quinceanera for her oldest daughter, intent on giving her teenager what she herself had never had. She poured herself, and a considerable portion of her meager salary, into providing a beautiful celebration, knowing full well that her two other daughters would also be turning 15 in the next three years.

But when she asked her pastor if she could receive Communion at the quinceanera Mass, the priest's answer was a simple no: She and her common-law husband of nearly 20 years had never married in the church. Period. This woman who was for me the living sacrament of eucharistic self-giving wasn't "worthy" to receive Communion.

That's what happens when we start making lists of worthy and unworthy. In our attempt to protect the defenseless eucharistic Jesus from sinners, we inevitably drive away the very people Jesus spent his time with. And we also forget, at least as Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell it, that the biggest traitor of them all, Judas Iscariot, ate at the Last Supper.

John's great eucharistic passage, the Bread of Life discourse (John 6), comes on the heels of Jesus feeding thousands of hungry and poor, who were surely not screened for orthodoxy before the miraculous event. And yet how quick we are to point fingers, forgetting Jesus' warning about judging others (Matt. 7:15) and his parable about the Pharisee and the tax collector, in which the latter's prayer for mercy wins favor over the former's self-congratulations (Luke 18:9-14).

IN THE END, THOUGH, IT'S UP TO EACH OF US TO DECIDE IN good conscience if we are "worthy" enough to receive Communion. I most certainly am not. Apart from occasionally missing Mass, my doubt sometimes surely borders on "selective assent." And though I'm not up there with the murderers, my baptismal record isn't exactly spotless.

But I think I'm going to go to Communion anyway, not because I deserve the reward for good behavior some seem to think Christ's Body and Blood is, but because I need the medicine the church has long taught the Eucharist to be. My salvation depends on that communion with Christ, and on communion with the rest of the unworthy--though baptized and beloved--masses who gather on Sunday for praise and thanksgiving, hope and healing. And I'd like to think that they, even the bishops, need me, too.

My "Lord, I am not worthy" response to the invitation to Communion will still be true, of course, but I'll trust that Jesus' invitation to the table still stands.

By BRYAN CONES, associate editor of U.S. CATHOLIC.
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Title Annotation:the examined life
Author:Cones, Bryan
Publication:U.S. Catholic
Date:Jan 1, 2007
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