One of the curious things about the function of the Magisterium is that, so far from running around excommunicating people as the popular notion goes or “cracking down” on everything and everybody, one of the primary things it has done over the ages is stop self-appointed gatekeepers from barring people they deem impure from grace.
It’s a theme that runs through Catholic history from the circumcision sect trying to bar Gentiles from grace to Donatists trying to deny sinners grace to Jansenists trying to bar people from communion to today’s Reactionaries obsessing over trivia in the effort to restrict grace from the Impure. What the Pope has had to do repeatedly is not bar the doors to filthy sinners, but tell the Dwight Schrutes of every age and place that they have no right to act as Righteousness Police.
Not that the Pope does it perfectly. Peter, for instance, having proclaimed the liberty of the Spirit to Gentiles (see Acts 15) and announcing the availability of the sacraments to them, would later chicken out at Antioch and start hanging back from eating with them. It was a straight-forward cave in to peer pressure, something we humans are prone to. The notion at the time was that “All Christians are equal, but Jewish Christians are more equal than others.” The notion that faith in Christ was not good enough and some sort of special sauce (being the right ethnicity, speaking in tongues, the correct class, attending Latin liturgy, etc.) is what really does the trick is something to which Christians have fallen prey again and again. Relatedly, the itch to deny people access to the sacraments, despite the Church welcoming them, is something to which sundry sects have fallen prey, with the result that the Church often has been damned (as she is in the present hour by the Greatest Catholics of All Time) for being far too liberal.
An example of this can be seen in a recent letter by Pope Francis, which the Greatest Catholics of All Time have stooped down from Sinai to deem “heretical”. It’s not, of course, but is simply a restatement of the grace of God he desires to pour out on the world through the Jesus Christ, fully present in the Eucharist. Where Peter Is gives us a look:
A group of Catholic scholars, writers, and clerics—including four bishops—recently issued a statement claiming that Pope Francis contradicts the teaching of the Council of Trent in no. 5 of his June 29, 2022 apostolic letter, Desiderio Desideravi. The authors of this statement, which is entitled The Teaching of the Catholic faith on the reception of the Holy Eucharist, believe that no. 5 of Desiderio Desideravi contradicts canon 11 of the Council of Trent’s Decree on the Eucharist (Denz.-H., 1661).
Here is the alleged contradiction:
“The world still does not know it, but everyone is invited to the supper of the wedding of the Lamb (Rev 19:9). To be admitted to the feast all that is required is the wedding garment of faith which comes from the hearing of his Word (cf. Rom 10:17)” (Desiderio Desideravi 5).
Canon 11 of Trent’s Decree on the Eucharist says:
“If anyone says that faith alone is sufficient preparation for receiving the sacrament of the most Holy Eucharist, let him be anathema.” [Si quis dixerit, solam fidem esse sufficientem praeparationem ad sumendum sanctissimum eucharistiae sacramentum, anathema sit.]
I think the signers of the statement have taken the cited passage of the Holy Father out of its proper context. The Holy Father is speaking about the desire of Christ for all to be united with Him in the heavenly banquet of the Supper of the Lamb. This is clear from his references to Revelation 5:9 in no. 4 and Revelation 19:9 in no. 5. The wedding garment of faith is required for entrance into the banquet, but no. 5 of Desiderio states that “the Church tailors such a garment to fit each one with the whiteness of a garment bathed in the blood of the Lamb. (Rev 7:14).” We should assume that the way the Church tailors this wedding garment takes note of the possibility of losing the whiteness of the garment by mortal sin. Pope Francis has noted this in other contexts. After his General Audience of March 14, 2018, he reminded some Polish pilgrims that serious sin makes one unworthy to receive the Eucharist. Moreover, in no. 6 of Desiderio, the Holy Father speaks of the need for “the most demanding asceticism” in approaching the Mass. What Trent teaches in canon 11 of its Decree on the Sacrament of the Eucharist (Denz.-H. 1661) is certainly true. I don’t see Pope Francis denying this truth in the passage cited. Trent is talking about the worthy reception of the Holy Eucharist. Pope Francis is speaking about the desire of Christ for all to receive the invitation to come to the Supper of the Lamb. This invitation requires a commitment to missionary outreach (which no. 5 of Desiderio highlights).
The desire of God for all to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth is revealed in Sacred Scripture (cf. 1 Tim 2:4). If God desires all people to be saved, then he also wishes all people to be invited “to the supper of the wedding of the Lamb (Rev 19:9),” which is a reference to the heavenly banquet of salvation. This, though, is what Pope Francis teaches in Desiderio 5. The wedding garment of faith is a reference to the parable of the wedding banquet found in Matthew 22:1–14. Those not dressed in a wedding garment are cast outside of the wedding feast.
I don’t think there is a tension between what Pope Francis says in Desiderio 5 and what Trent teaches in canon 11 on the Eucharist when each text is read within its proper context. The wedding garment of faith is understood by the Church as a faith that includes hope and love (cf. the Council of Trent, Decree on Justification, chap 7; Denz.-H. 1531). This is the faith that gives life. What Pope Francis says in Desiderio 5 should be read within this Catholic understanding of faith as well as its more immediate context. When St. Paul says “a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law” (Rom 3:28), he assumes a faith “working through love” (Gal 5:6). We should assume that Pope Francis understands faith in the same way. The Council of Trent speaks of faith “as the foundation and root of all justification” (Decree on Justification, chap. 8; Denz.-H., 1532). The wedding garment of faith is necessary for entrance into the heavenly banquet, but, as Pope Francis says, “the Church tailors such a garment to fit each one with the whiteness of a garment bathed in the blood of the Lamb. (Rev 7:14).” The whiteness of the garment can be lost by mortal sin, which makes one unworthy to receive the Eucharist. Both Trent and Pope Francis affirm this truth.
There is no contradiction between Desiderio 5 and the Council of Trent when each is read within its proper context. It is sad that a group of Catholic priests, scholars, and four bishops—Most Rev. Joseph Strickland, René H. Gracida, Robert Mutsaerts, and Athanasius Schneider—would sign a document stating the Roman Pontiff has contradicted an infallible teaching of the Council of Trent. The accusation of this statement is based on a rather tendentious and misguided reading of one passage of the Holy Father’s apostolic letter.
The authors of The Teaching of the Catholic faith on the reception of the Holy Eucharist, however, claim that they are looking at the statement of Pope Francis in Desiderio 5, according to its “natural meaning.” The “natural meaning” of a text, however, cannot be understood in isolation apart from its intended message and context. If we applied the same standard of the “natural meaning” to Scripture, all types of problems would ensue. For example, the natural meaning of Jesus’ statement that “the Father is greater than I” (Jn 14:28) would indicate that Jesus is less than divine. Other passages of Scripture, of course, counteract this view, and Pope Leo I makes it clear that Jesus is less than the Father according to his humanity, but equal to the Father in his divinity (cf. Denz.-H., 295 and the Pseudo-Athanasian Creed, Denz.-H., 76). The “natural meaning” of Jn 14:28 might indicate that Jesus is not equal to the Father in any sense. The Church, however, understands the text differently.
With Scriptural texts, we need to keep in mind the manner of speaking and the intended effect of what the text says. Otherwise, we might believe that Jesus approves of self-mutilation in Mt 5:29-30 and that He opposes the burial of the dead—a corporal work of mercy—by what He says in Lk 9:60 to a would-be follower. If we understand such Scriptural texts according to their context and intent, why should we not do the same for what Pope Francis states in Desiderio 5?
What I love about Francis (and Jesus and his gospel) is the open-heartedness. Jesus welcomes people because he is not afraid of them, even when they are desperately afraid of him and of everybody else. That’s why so many are consumed with creating systems and strategies for keeping people out, barring them from grace, excluding them from the love of God, and turning the sacraments into reducing valves to limit access to the love of Christ. Francis is about making that love accessible.