Should what you wear prevent reception of a sacrament?
The short answer is NO. The long answer is no friggin way.
The story is a bit old, but recently I was listening to a radio show that was rehashing the case of a young girl who chose to wear a white pantsuit for her first Communion (early October). The pastor (and other church leaders) prohibited her from receiving her first Communion with the community when it was indicated that she was going to be wearing a pantsuit. They claimed it sent the ‘wrong message’ about, well, who really knows, but something along the lines of gender stances is likely the force that pushed the decision.
My belief is that the church here caused the scandal, not the girl.
And here’s why I believe the church caused scandal in refusing a sacrament.
PSUstock-Law-Gavel by Penn State via Flickr.
1. She was not in a state of mortal sin due to wearing a white pantsuit.
This is the big valid reason the Eucharist can be restricted to the faithful. There is no other valid reason to restrict Communion to the faithful who have been prepared (most pertinent to this age. Older ages have possibilities). Where do I get this from? Canon law. The law of the church. It actually has much stronger language than I:
Can. 912. Any baptized person not prohibited by law can and must be admitted to holy communion.” (emphasis mine)
“Can and must”. This is more than a ‘I don’t think I like their theology and understanding of humanity.’ There is an absolute responsibility by the pastor to provide Eucharist to the faithful. There is good reason we have this rule, which is the first rule in Canon Law under the section of ‘participation in the most holy Eucharist,’ (order matters in the Law) and largely it is there for the protection of the faithful and bring them into Christ’s salvation. Most of Canon Law surrounds this intrinsic desire that all need salvation and the Church is commissioned by Jesus to evanglize and bring the world to him.
2. Spiritual and mental preparation is what is needed, not a dress.
The next Canon says this:
Can. 913 §1. The administration of the Most Holy Eucharist to children requires that they have sufficient knowledge and careful preparation so that they understand the mystery of Christ according to their capacity and are able to receive the body of Christ with faith and devotion.
The church and its ministers have the ability to help parents prepare their children. In this process, the pastor has a duty “to take care that children who have reached the use of reason are prepared properly and, after they have made sacramental confession, are refreshed with this divine food as soon as possible” (Can. 914) (emphasis mine.)
There is no indication that white pantsuits prevent a child from preparing herself to receive Jesus in the Eucharist. It was only after the staff were inadvertently notified that she would be wearing a pantsuit that they sent a letter saying she must wear a dress. To me, this indicates that her preparation for the sacrament was sufficient.
To further this, upon reading several media articles (as well as the mother’s testament on facebook), her daughter has loved pantsuits since a young girl and has worn them on many occasions. When I was a little girl I liked dresses, but heck, not so much as an adult; I don’t like them most of the time. This girl called them ‘itchy.’ She’s allowed to dislike certain types of clothes, just like I do, and still receive Jesus.
3. Creating barriers to the sacraments
In response to the publicity, the church issued a statement saying that it is a ‘dress code’ issue:
“St. John the Evangelist uniformly enforces dress codes at our parish school and for religious rites,” the statement said. “We often have requests for exceptions to the dress code, ranging from sneakers to the color of one’s shirt; thus, we have consistently chosen to adhere to the dress code rather than allowing a myriad of exceptions to it.” Source
The problem with this is that it has become a barrier to the sacraments. No one has the authority to create a barrier to the sacraments where Canon Law does not have a barrier:
Can. 18. Laws which establish a penalty, restrict the free exercise of rights, or contain an exception from the law are subject to strict interpretation.
Strict interpretation means not altered in any way, shape or form. No if, ands or buts (apart from what is in the Law). Exactly as it is written, it should be enforced. This church has forced their own interpretation of the law (forcing dress code to receive sacrament of the Eucharist). This is wrong.
Their statement, to me, highlights a very poor understanding of the role the Church plays in bringing people to the sacraments for salvation. Our Church’s highest calling is to bring people to Jesus! Not to mention a poor understanding of the law of the Church.
Ask any Canon lawyer and they will tell you that all of the Church’s law must be viewed through the second part of the last sentence of the whole of the book of Canon Law:
Can. 1752. the salvation of souls, which must always be the supreme law in the Church, is to be kept before one’s eyes. (emphasis mine)
Knowing this, I ask you to read the last paragraph of the mother’s testament and tell me if you feel the church has done her right duty in this:
But I am sorry I stayed in your parish for as long as I did. I am sorry you made me dread going to Mass. I am sorry you made me question my faith. I am sorry I quit receiving communion many months ago because the feelings I have for you made me feel unworthy. I am sorry I watched you terrify my children and did nothing to stop you. I am sorry that when I spoke to my youngest daughter about the possibility of a new school she was happy to leave sje. But mostly, I’m sorry my children will never forget your hatefulness and will probably always associate those feelings with Catholicism. Source
To me, and I certainly am no expert, this seems to be a situation of abuse of power, to the point that souls are on the verge of being lost. This is explicitly against everything the Church is and who she represents.
Let’s pray that no more souls will be lost to the abuse of power. Also that the Church would rightly respond to properly rectify situations like this, in a most humble manner, knowing the damage she has caused to the beloved faithful, the body of Christ.