St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI both taught clearly that the Church has norms for “determining the objective conditions under which communion may not be given” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia #42 and Redemptionis Sacramentum #82). While Pope Francis has indicated that the Eucharist is “not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak,” the teachings of his predecessors on these “objective conditions” has never been abrogated. The question of reception of Holy Communion for the divorced and remarried has been recently explored in our diocese, as it has in other places such as Malta, as if there had been some substantial reason to suddenly dispense with the objective conditions in place of a softer, gentler subjectivity. In Canada, however, this question has become a matter of life and death.
In June 2016, Canada legalized physician-assisted suicide (PAS). The bishops of Alberta and the Northwest Territories soon released guidelines to help priests in their care for terminally ill persons considering PAS. They were encouraged to “implore the sick person with gentle firmness,” but, in the objective reality of an obstinate choice for PAS, affirmed that “the anointing cannot be celebrated.” The bishops of the Atlantic Episcopal Assembly argued oppositely, citing Pope Francis and “accompaniment,” and placing the reception of the sacraments in the context of Jesus’ encounter with the disciples on the road to Emmaus. One rightly questions, however, if Christ intended the anointing and the Eucharist as Viaticum (“food for the journey”) to accompany the sick on the path to suicide.