Dementia and holy Communion
Q. My father is 86 years old and was raised in the Catholic Church. He was considered an intellectual and earned his Ph.D. in philosophy. He became a nonpracticing Catholic and in fact rejected the church, although he had a thirst for justice and continued to treasure the church's teachings on human rights.
Now he has dementia and has begun to join me at Sunday Mass. Last week, he followed me up to Communion and received the Eucharist. I feel conflicted and am unsure as to whether I should encourage him to do this. Please advise. (Peachtree City, Georgia)
A. I would let your father take the lead; if he is inclined to take Communion, he is entitled to do so. Let me offer some background.
In the present-day Latin-rite Catholic Church, one must have the use of reason to receive holy Communion. (Eastern-rite Catholics are given Communion as infants, and this was also true in the early centuries in the Roman rite.)
In 1995, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops published a document entitled "Guidelines for the Celebration of the Sacraments with Persons with Disabilities," which included the following statement: "The criterion for reception of holy Communion is the same for persons with developmental and mental disabilities as for all persons, namely, that the person be able to distinguish the body of Christ from ordinary food, even if this recognition is evidenced through manner, gesture or reverential silence rather than verbally."
Quickly that same document goes on to note that "cases of doubt should be resolved in favor of the right of the baptized person to receive the sacrament." Since it likely is difficult to ascertain exactly what your father comprehends, I would award him the benefit of the doubt and encourage him to take Communion, if that is what he wants.
(Nor would I "grill" him on just what he understands the Eucharist to be; after all, how does it hurt anyone for him to be receiving reverently?)
If, on the other hand -- and I have seen this on a couple of occasions in nursing homes -- someone were to take the host in and out of their mouth repeatedly and not consume it, I would not offer that person Communion again and would simply give a blessing instead.
Q. Recently I went to confession because I felt that my big sin was that I had utter disdain for our country's leader, Donald Trump. (Admittedly I am a staunch supporter of the Democratic Party.)
I told the priest that I had been so traumatized by the presidential election that I had become physically as well as emotionally ill -- and that I had, in fact, been compelled to undergo a heart catheterization and an echocardiogram.
The priest proceeded to tell me in the confessional that my party had had its way for eight years and that it was the Republican Party's turn. (He also said that I was being selfish.)
I have prayed about this and have asked God to forgive me. The priest absolved me from my sin, but I continue to be haunted by the whole experience. I would appreciate your thoughts so that I can put my mind and my heart to rest. (Illinois)
A. Assuming that you heard the priest correctly and have conveyed his comments accurately, the priest was out of line and I apologize on the church's behalf. A priest -- from the pulpit, in the confessional or anywhere as a public representative of the church -- must take care to advocate only for issues and not be seen as endorsing or opposing particular candidates or political parties.
As for yourself, I'm not sure what you thought your sin was; people's response to public figures runs the gamut and is not necessarily sinful. But your health should be your paramount concern, so maybe you need to shield yourself a bit from the daily avalanche of political news.
- Father Kenneth Doyle is a columnist for Catholic News Service