This objection is that, as the exclusion of the D&R from Holy Communion has been the constant and unchanging practice of the Church, the exclusion is of itself an unchangeable doctrinal proposition.
6.1 Doctrinal Background of the Objection
Pope St John Paul II, in confirming the reservation of priestly ordination to men alone was of a doctrinal rather than merely disciplinary nature in OS 1 and 4, included in his reasons “the constant practice of the Church”.
Further Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI), in his 1998 CDF Commentary at Footnote 17, stated:
“It should be noted that the infallible teaching of the ordinary and universal Magisterium is not only set forth with an explicit declaration of a doctrine to be believed or held definitively, but is also expressed by a doctrine implicitly contained in a practice of the Church’s faith, derived from revelation or, in any case, necessary for eternal salvation, and attested to by the uninterrupted Tradition: such an infallible teaching is thus objectively set forth by the whole episcopal body, understood in a diachronic and not necessarily merely synchronic sense”.
In this regard, there are a number of precedents which illustrate that the exclusion of the D&R from Holy Communion has deep and ancient roots in the practice of the Church, including but not limited to the following:
- Council of Elvira (c. 305) Canons 8 and 9.
- Council of Arles (c. 314) Canon 10.
- Apostolic Canons Canon 48 (c. 400).
- Pope Innocent I’s Letter to Exsuperius, Bishop of Toulouse (c. 405).
- Council of Angers (c. 453) Canon 6.
- First Synod of St. Patrick (c. 456) Canon 19.
- Council of Vannes (c. 465) Canon 2.
- Second Council of Orleans (c. 533).
- Pope Zachary’s Letter to Pepin (c. 747) Canon 7.
- Pope St. Nicholas I’s Letter 61 Fateor Veraciter (c. 864).
- Admonishment of Lothair II by Pope Adrian II (c. 869).
- Pope John VIII’s Letter 95 to Archbishop Ethelred of Canterbury (c. 877).
- Council of Tours (c. 1061) Canon 9.
- Rituale Romanum (1614) 49.
- Pope Benedict XIV’s Encyclical Ex Omnibus (1756).
- Canon 855 of the 1917 CCL.
- Canons 2356 and 2357 of the 1917 CCL.
Further while there are contrary precedents from the Greek east, from as early as Origen’s (c. 184 – 254) Commentary on Matthew 14:23, these practices were not legitimate as:
- They, and the modern Eastern Orthodox practice into which they developed, accept a divorced person can contract another marriage during the lifetime of their first spouse (refer the 1998 CDF Memo at 2).
- Canon 7 of the 24th Session of the Council of Trent declares anathema anyone who says the Church has erred in teaching “even the innocent party … cannot contract another marriage during the lifetime of the other”.
6.2 Propositional Nature of Doctrine
However even the constant practice of the Church cannot of itself be doctrinal, as doctrine is propositional, as shown by Canon 750:
“[O]ne who rejects those propositions which are to be held definitively is opposed to the doctrine of the Catholic Church”.
Therefore, the constant practice of the Church can be at most evidence of some underlying proposition, which may form part of the doctrine of the Church (i.e. the proposition is implicitly contained in the practice). Any propositions thus evidenced must then be interrogated to determine if they are of a doctrinal nature, rather than say of a contingent or erroneous empirical matter. For example, in the case of OS, the doctrinal proposition was that the Church following the example of Christ does not have the authority to ordain women as priests.
Accordingly, by itself without further propositional argument, a constant practice cannot provide a doctrinal impediment to a novel pastoral practice.
Further, when the propositions underlying and implicit in the precedents for excluding the D&R from Holy Communion are examined, it is clear that they in fact relate to mortal sin (refer 1.0 Mortal Sin) and public scandal (refer 3.0 Public Scandal).
For example, the following precedents justify the exclusion based on public scandal:
- Pope Innocent I’s Letter to Exsuperius, Bishop of Toulouse – “But since the commission of the crime by the husbands is hidden, it would not be expedient to keep them away from communion on mere suspicion”.
- Council of Vannes Canon 2 – “[W]e decree are to be excommunicated, lest the sins overlooked through our indulgence entice others to the license of error”.
- Rituale Romanum 49 – “All the faithful are to be admitted to Holy Communion, except those who are prohibited for a just reason. The publicly unworthy, which are the excommunicated, those under interdict, and the manifestly infamous, such as prostitutes, those cohabiting … and other sinners of the public kind, are, however, to be prevented, unless their penitence and amendment has been established and they will have repaired the public scandal”.
- Pope Benedict XIV’s Encyclical Ex Omnibus – “[A]s long as they are opposed publicly and notoriously, viaticum must be denied them; this follows for the universal law which prohibits a known public sinner to be admitted to Eucharistic communion, whether he asks for it in public or in private”.
- Canon 855 – “The publicly unworthy … 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 … 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”.
- Canons 2356 and 2357 – “Bigamists, that is, those who, notwithstanding a conjugal bond, attempt to enter another marriage, even a civil one, as they say, are by that fact infamous; and … they are to be excommunicated … Whoever publicly commits the delict of adultery, or publicly lives in concubinage … is excluded from legitimate ecclesiastical acts”.
And these further precedents justify the exclusion based on subjective mortal sin:
- Admonishment of Lothair II by Pope Adrian II – “Receive this communion if thou art innocent of the adultery condemned by Nicholas. If, on the contrary, thy conscience accuse thee of guilt, or if thou art minded to fall back into sin, refrain; otherwise by this Sacrament thou shalt be judged and condemned”.
- Council of Tours Canon 9 – “[H]e is to be excluded and withdrawn from the body and blood of Our Lord Jesus and from the precincts of the Church and to be regarded by all as a putrid member cut off from the sound body by the sword of the spirit”.