The Epistle for Maundy Thursday’s night Mass, Missa in Coena Domini, presents Saint Paul’s account of the institution of the Holy Eucharist. In it, the Apostle admonishes all who receive our Lord’s Body and Blood to examine their consciences, for “he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment to himself, not discerning the body of the Lord” (I Cor. 11:29).
Two verses later, the Apostle restates the point in more positive terms: “But if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged” (I Cor. 11:31).
The point? If we effectively examine our consciences according to God’s law and proceed accordingly (either to confession and absolution first, or straightaway to the reception of Holy Communion), we will not be judged (as in condemned) by Our Lord. Thus, judging ourselves by a rightly formed conscience is intimately bound with the most exalted thing a Catholic does in his life: receiving Jesus in Holy Communion.
Catholics are often accused of being “judgmental” because we hold that man ought to conform to God’s law, which is identical to the Catholic rule of Faith superadded to the natural law. We are often reminded that our own Scriptures admonish us to “judge not,” for “vengeance is mine, saith the Lord.” Of course, our own saints, more than the partisans of fashionable immorality, remind us of those things all the time. Witness, for instance, how Saint Francis de Sales, in the Introduction to the Devout Life uses the verse I just cited:
Moreover, man’s judgments are hasty, because each one has enough to do in judging himself, without undertaking to judge his neighbour. If we would not be judged, it behoves us alike not to judge others, and to judge ourselves. Our Lord forbids the one, His Apostle enjoins the other, saying, “If we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.” But alas! for the most part we precisely reverse these precepts, judging our neighbour, which is forbidden on all sides, while rarely judging ourselves, as we are told to do.
But what our progressivist worldly critics attack the Church for is not that we “judge” them — as in passing self-proclaimed definitive sentences on their subjective state of soul. Their objection is that we believe that certain moral absolutes constitute “normalcy,” “rightness,” or “goodness.” They also object — strenuously — that we would have society governed according to these absolutes, which are quite different than the absolutes according to which they would govern society. (Yes, progressivists have moral absolutes. Even to say “there are no moral absolutes” is to postulate a moral absolute.)
One would think, because of their loud protestations of advocating “liberty” and “rights,” that progressivists would run a society with fewer laws and more liberties. But no; the very opposite is true. In order to ensure non-extant “rights” for artificially-defined categories of humanity, some would even, e.g., craft legislation to make the “transgendered” feel safe in public bathrooms. How do we explain this perfectly logical irony? To answer this, let’s make a very brief digression into the Christian conception of law.
The New Law of the Gospel, the law of love, was a law that demanded the interior renewal of the heart of man, not one dependent on exterior coercion. So the Scholastics taught that the Old Law, with its 613 mitzvot, gave minute prescriptions as one would give to a child, complete with palpable material rewards and punishments. By contrast, they held, the New Law is for adults. The prescriptions are relatively few and intended for those who are mature.
In Christendom, when the pastors had instructed the majority of men to live according to the New Law — even if they weren’t consistently keeping it — there was a social order less in need of minute legislation from the civil government. Why? Because men’s consciences had been formed by a high moral code. Further, while it is true that society ought to be ruled according to God’s will and not man’s, this does not mean that all sin was to be outlawed. The Catholic ideal of society was never so law-ridden as the progressivist ideals of socialism, communism, or liberal democracy. Witness Saint Thomas on whether human law is to forbid all vices:
Now human law is framed for a number of human beings, the majority of whom are not perfect in virtue. Wherefore human laws do not forbid all vices, from which the virtuous abstain, but only the more grievous vices, from which it is possible for the majority to abstain; and chiefly those that are to the hurt of others, without the prohibition of which human society could not be maintained: thus human law prohibits murder, theft and such like.
His argument is that civil government ought to maintain the common good of rational beings — neither a merely amoral “public order” (as in an anthill or a communist state), nor an unachievable, sinless “city of the saints” wherein all the inhabitants are perfect.
We moderns have gotten away from judging ourselves by the reasonable standard of the natural and revealed law. Moreover, in liberal fashion, we have declared that the most unnatural behavior carries certain “rights” with it, rights which need to be protected by laws. This two-fold erosion of the human conscience is not a recipe for anarchy; it’s a recipe for tyranny.
A society whose members order their lives so as to receive Jesus in the Holy Eucharist — that is the freest and noblest society on Earth.