Earlier today I read Elizabeth Scalia’s latest article over at Aleteia that discusses Mo Rocca’s presence as a reader at the papal Mass in New York City last week. As I read the article I realized rather quickly that I disagree with Scalia’s assessment because it is theologically wrong in its understanding of what mortal sin and obstinacy do in the soul and in relation to the Church community. Mo Rocca has publicly announced that he is homosexual and lives that lifestyle. At this point, he is still publicly living that lifestyle in disobedience to the teachings of the Catholic Church.
Let me first begin by highlighting what I agree with Scalia on in her recent article. It is true that everyone is welcome at Mass. Whether a person is in a state of grace or is not, all are encouraged to celebrate the Liturgy. Not all people are invited to receive Holy Eucharist, which she rightly mentions. In fact, it is said that Mo Rocca refrained from reception of Holy Communion at the Mass for which he was a lector. That is a wonderful witness to our obligation and love for Christ in the Eucharist. I applaud his honesty and respect for the Blessed Sacrament. But how do his lifestyle choices impact his relationship with the Mystical Body and therefore how he is to live within the worshiping community? This is the heart of the issue and where Scalia’s article misses the theological implications of our choices.
St. Thomas Aquinas was very practical about the notion of grace in the soul, either we are in a state of grace, or we are not. If we are in a state of mortal sin, the soul is dead. There is no grace in the soul. We are cut off from Christ and have turned from Him. Not only is there no grace it also means that we have cut ourselves off from the Mystical Body, the Church. In order to return to full communion with the Mystical Body, we must make a public act of repentance to the hierarchical Church through the Confessional. Yes, Confession is a public act in the eyes of the Church because it is an individual coming before the hierarchical Church seeking reparation and the healing of division that their sins have caused. This can be seen in CCC 1462. While Confession is the direct confessing of sins to Christ through a priest it is also to repair the damage our mortal sins have caused to the Mystical Body. Christ restores grace in the individual through the Sacrament and heals their division from Himself and the Church. Everything we do within the Mystical Body has a public component to it, even if only at a mystical level. What are the implications of this in light of Scalia’s article?
First, I want to clarify that theologically there is no such thing as “public dissent”. That is a term our culture uses to try to soften such terms as heterodoxy or heresy. From a theological point of view I cannot be in public dissent and still be a member of the Church on my own terms. When we ignore Church teaching in a willful manner and in a particularly public manner, we severely damage our relationship with the Mystical Body, in the case of grave sin, we cut ourselves off from the Body and Christ. Our sins have far reaching consequences that are outside of our own sphere. They radiate throughout the Mystical Body in a profound way.
Second, when we have cut ourselves off from the Mystical Body through grave sin, we no longer have a right to the fruits of that union. We no longer have a right to receive Holy Eucharist because we have in some way denied our Baptismal promises. This also means that we do not have a right to serve *publicly* in the Liturgy or as a head of formal ministry in the Church. If we have chosen not to live the life of a Catholic of our own free will, then we do not have a right to lead in any capacity within the Mystical Body. We gave up that right when we chose our sin over Christ. That is, rather than go to Confession and seek to amend our lives, we persist in that sin willfully.
It is important for us to remember in a culture such as ours, that we are not entitled to anything. What has been given to us through the Holy Eucharist and the Church is a gift from God. That gift comes with a price. It comes with the call to remain in a state of grace. In those moments that we fall into sin, we must get back up and crawl back to the Confessional. This is a life-long battle that all of us will wage until the end. The difference comes down to obstinacy and weakness. One has no desire to live the Truth while the other falls in a moment of weakness, seeks forgiveness in Confession, and returns to full communion with the Church. They desire to overcome that sin and remain within the Mystical Body. The latter has ceased the battle and chosen to remain in their sin. Until the moment of repentance comes, then they should not serve publicly in the Church. Why should someone who willfully chooses to live outside of the faith serve it in a public capacity? The answer is quite simply that they shouldn’t. This smacks of an entitlement mentality that flies in the face of the free gift given to us by Christ.
Does this bar them from other charitable works? Absolutely not. As long as the individual is not spreading error and is just serving others, then charity is to be commended. We have an obligation to love and serve our neighbor. The issue really comes down to the fact that the Liturgy is a public assent to the truths of the faith. It is an expression of the Mystical Body that is reserved for those in full communion with Rome, at least in a public capacity. If we have cut ourselves off from grace, then we must return to the hierarchical Church, typically a priest, to return to that public community.
I understand that Scalia wants to highlight that all are welcome to come to Mass. That is absolutely true, but she falls short when she does not understand the distinction between the public nature of the Church and the individual. It does happen that people in the parish community have reconciled themselves with God and the Church without the knowledge of others. We don’t know the movements of another person’s heart. The problem with celebrities or politicians is that they publicly espouse a life that is counter to the Mystical Body. So they have to cease and desist in their public refusals to submit to Holy Mother Church. The same should be true at the parish level for those who publicly flaunt Church teaching. As brothers and sisters in Christ we need to be charitable and understand that people do have conversions all of the time.
While I applaud Scalia’s desire to portray the Catholic Church as the welcoming community that it truly is for the world, I found the theology of the piece to be lacking. In our desire to share the Gospel we cannot oversimplify our position to a point where it no longer looks like what the Church teaches. I am afraid that she has taken a position that is not theologically sound and that demonstrates confusion as to the nature of the Mystical Body. It is illogical for a person who willfully refuses to live the Christian life to serve in a public position within the worshiping community.