Last week in Florida, a woman demanded Holy Communion from a 66 year old priest named Fr. Rodriguez.  When he quietly informed her in that Communion line that she had to be a practicing Catholic, she grabbed numerous hosts (the body of Jesus Christ) in his ciborium.  As she crushed them in her hand, he had no arms to push her away, so he lunged at her and bit her forearm to defend the Holy Eucharist.   I do not believe he broke the skin, but it appears he was still charged by police.

The question of a priest physically repelling a lay-assailant upon a ciborium or chalice is essentially a debate on last-line defense against Eucharistic sacrilege.  Shortly after that event in Florida, I made this video in my truck explaining we as the Catholic Church in America need to have debates not on last-line defense against Eucharistic sacrilege, but rather first-line defense against Eucharistic sacrilege.  I didn’t get into the biting incident and I spent almost no time on the fact that the assailant upon the Eucharist was apparently a non-Catholic with a same-sex partner.

Still, I do not want to repeat what I said in that video.  Rather, I want to write here about other ways (separate from the above video I made) that Apostolic Catholicism (in both the Roman and Byzantine traditions) protected the Eucharist from not only non-Catholics, but even Catholics who were not prepared to receive Holy Communion.  Granted, it is usually “liberal Catholics” that like to talk about how hyper-individualized is the average Catholic’s understanding of sin.  Those “liberal Catholics” like to speak of social-sin, never personal sin.  I’m clearly not bringing my readers in that direction.  Rather, I am now asking you to look at history with me to see why and how priests gave permission on an individual basis to each Christian to either receive Holy Communion, or refrain from it.

Of course, most of you are already used to me writing about not receiving Holy Communion in a state of mortal sin without prior sacramental confession.  For the (perhaps maximum 20%?) American Catholics who even care about this at all, the discussions on mortal sin as a barrier to Eucharistic worthiness usually focus around the potential communicants’ own appraisal of their lives.  While this is good (for that 20% who care) we are going to see a little later in this article that this decision used to involve your priest even outside the confessional!

The only other discussion we often have as conservative Catholics discussing public Eucharistic-worthiness surrounds politicians.  That is, we often ask: May two people in their second “marriage” receive Holy Communion without an annulment?  May a pro-abortion politician like Joe Biden receive the Holy Eucharist without confession and reparation for the millions of children he has helped to kill?  You all know the Catholic Church’s answers to those two questions, so we will not delve into that. As I said on a recent video, according to the new Code of Canon Law, a priest who knows of a private sin may not deny Holy Communion to his parishioner. And I’m fine with that rule.  But now we’re going to see a public aspect to the priest even helping private people is a part of tradition in both East and West.

First of all, realize that most Eastern Catholics and Traditional Western Catholics for nearly 2,000 years saw the value in attending Liturgy every Sunday without the need to receive Holy Communion, except maybe but 1-10x a year.  (I am glad Pope St. Pius X increased that number, but stick with me in Church history for a minute here.)  When your average Italian or Russian or Greek, say, 1300 years ago only received Communion 1-10x a year, and when parishes were much smaller, it was easy for the priest to keep track of Eucharistic worthiness at the communal level without this being a hyper-judgmental decision.

Here’s what happened and continues to happen in some traditional parishes:  During Lent, every parishioner who went to confession was given a little ticket from the parish priest.  This ticket was presented to the priest at Easter in a rapid but subtle way in line to receive Holy Communion at the Paschal Liturgy.  This process of protection is also currently done at a Traditional Latin Mass parish in Texas (that is canonically regular and in union with its diocese!)  This ticket system is also done in ROCOR (Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia) parishes today.

Furthermore, when a lay Orthodox man or woman travels across the country from one Orthodox parish to another, his or her pastor will sometimes communicate on e-mail or text to the receiving priest.  What purpose does this serve?  This confirms that the lay person traveling to the other Orthodox Church is in fact a member in good standing.  At least, that communication between the two priests is required if the lay person is going to receive Holy Communion while traveling.  I like this idea, as I’m 95% sure we in the West did it too, at one point.

The Eastern Orthodox never built MegaChurches like the Roman Catholics did after Vatican II.  (The parish outside of Denver where my father worked on computers for over a decade had something like 14,000 families registered.)  Now, part of the reason that the Eastern Orthodox always maintained smaller parishes was because they did not keep the Apostolic tradition of celibacy for their priests.  That is, Greek Orthodox monks (and the bishops that come from monasteries) are celibate.

However, each little Greek island might have maintained an Orthodox parish serviced by a non-monk priest.  The Eastern Orthodox felt it was better to have these parishes stocked by married men, not celibate men.  While I obviously disagree with a decision to overturn celibacy for most parish priests in the East, it is not as bad as our current modernist suburban MegaChurch where 20,000 people receive Holy Communion (often sacrilegiously) from lay EMHCs.  Clearly this modernist-Roman plan of infiltration seems even farther from God’s plan than Eastern Orthodoxy.

But this was our tradition in the West in our Latin or Roman Churches, too, before we had modernist infiltration.  Here too in the West, the priest would personally approve of each potential communicant being in a state of grace (or at least frequenting confession) in order to approach the Holy Mysteries at Holy Mass.  In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if in Medieval France and Germany and Italy, the traveling knights, Crusaders and vagabond-pilgrims would carry little verification seals in their satchels from their home parish priest.  This would be evaluated by the receiving priest before giving the lay traveler communion.  Clearly, this would be done not to be hyper-judgmental of people, but simply in order to validate the stranger was in fact a baptized Catholic and/or that he was either never-married (as a celibate vagabond pilgrim/hermit) or only once-married (as a knight.)

I imagine all this may sound a little heavy-handed even to a few of my most avid traditional readers.  I can see how our hyper-individualized eyes might read this as sacerdotal babysitting.  But that is exactly the problem:  We Christians today see evaluating ourselves and approaching Holy Communion as an extremely private event.  That is our problem, not our own tradition that was probably inspired by the Holy Ghost.  Of course the early Church had public confessions before the bishop absolved the penitent, and I am not advocating for that here.  From the 6th century onwards, confessions were private, and I think that is clearly the best option.  I’m not going against that.

But while confession is a private sacrament, communion is a public sacrament.   Let’s transfer this analogy from public spiritual health to public physical health.  Can you imagine every patient entering an Emergency Department deciding how to triage himself?  Of course, such a hospital would be quick to fail.  Every hospital needs subject-matter-experts, namely, nurses and physicians.   Like physicians in hospitals, we priests used to be subject-matter experts on issues of who was worthy to receive Holy Communion (again, a public event, not a private event like confession.)  Such an appraisal wasn’t an emotional one, but simply an evaluation of each person’s public status as a Catholic (such as determining who was once-married or who was actually going to confession.)

Even if you disagree with our ancient practice in East and West, you must admit that if each parish priest knew each one of his Communicants (and if the West had never adopted that sick and sacrilegious idea of EMHCs) that event in Florida probably would not have happened last week.  Then again, Fr. Rodriguez would have also had the protection of several lay male acolytes and an altar rail if the attack had happened at the TLM.