Garrigou-Lagrange & Communicating Under Both Species

St. Alphonsus thinks it not improbable that more grace is given in Holy Communion under both species, and all theologians agree that if the ardour of charity is increased by receiving the second species, then greater grace is conferred accidentally by reason of the better disposition. Therefore a layman who wants to become a priest in order to communicate under both species so as to receive this greater grace is not to be dissuaded. (Garrigou-Lagrange, The Priest in Union with Christ, "The Priest's Communion", emphasis added)

I'm not sure exactly why Garrigou-Lagrange draws this rather strange conclusion (I highly doubt that St. Alphonsus would hold it), but it's perhaps a sign of some problematic approachs or views in many modern scholastics: an ultra-formal way of speaking about things; in regard to the moral life, an excessive concern with tidily categorizing all kinds of actions; in regard to the priesthood and other sacraments, a tendency to over-reify (admittedly, this last tendency was not limited to scholastics, nor were all subject to it).

Also striking is that he draws this conclusion despite remarking that in general nothing is lost by the fact that people only receive Christ's body under the species of bread, and not the Sacred Blood.

"Nothing is lost by this (that is, by the body being received by the people without the blood): because the priest both offers and receives the blood in the name of all, and the whole Christ is present under either species" (Summa Theologiae, III, q. 80, a. 12, ad 3). Under the species of bread there is also present, by concomitance, the precious blood. Thus the faithful are not deprived of any notable grace, and a fervent Communion under one species is far more fruitful than a tepid Communion received under both species.

Detachment and Discernment

In order to discern, we have to be detached. Why? First of all, having a pure heart, or a heart detached from temporal and limited goods, enables us to have the spiritual vision by which we can see God's will. "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." While this primarily pertains to future happiness with God–"they shall see God"–it begins also now, in the living knowledge that springs from divine love. A heart attached to temporal goods hinders this perception of divine light. St. Alphonsus says that if we want to know what state of life God wants us in, we have to pray for God to show us. But he goes on to say:

To have this light [from God], you must pray to him with indifference. He who prays to God to enlighten him in regard to a state of life, but without indifference, and who, instead of conforming to the divine will, would sooner have God conform to his will, is like a pilot that pretends to wish his ship to advance, but in reality does not want it to: he throws his anchor into the sea, and then unfurls his sails. God neither gives light nor speaks his word to such persons.

If we are set upon what we want to do, even before we begin the process of discernment, then (in most cases) we will be inclined to judge accordingly, and see our own attachment to what we want to do as an indication of God's will. (A few persons may from the outset understand vocation as something essentially contrary to what one wants, and so be inclined to take their desire or attachment as a sign that it is not God's will. This happens for the lesser part, and it is also unhelpful.)

Moreover, if we are attached to some way of living, we may fail to carry out what we perceive to be the will of God, and then discernment is in vain. "Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize?" (1 Cor 9:24) It is not enough to find God's will, but we have to do it, and that means denying our own will, in the sense of taking God's will over our own. "Any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Mat 16:24).

Consequences of failing to follow a vocation

Is not following a vocation a sin? If someone does not follow his vocation, is it more or less impossible for him to live a holy life? Sometime ago I received such questions by e-mail, and now post them here (in edited form), with responses, with the hope that they will be helpful to others.

Are the harsh conclusions [drawn by St. Alphonsus de Liguori and Hans Urs Von Balthasar] that we risk even our salvation if we do not respond to a vocation (which seems to imply that it is a sin to say no to a vocation) is really a consequence of taking the personal approach to vocation? Don't these conclusions rather overlook a distinction that should be made within the personal approach? Don't they somehow present a unilateral idea of God's will or God's call? Even with God, there is a difference between His commanding something and offering something, between an invitation and a law. This is a rudimentary distinction and obviously these authors knew this: perhaps rejecting even an invitation from God, whose knowledge and will are perfect, must somehow come from a preference for something other than His will. But then what is the difference between a commandment and an invitation? There is clearly a difference in kind? One must be done and the other may be done. What does "may" really mean if rejecting it is saying no to God's will or loving something else in place of God's will? How can anything that comes from God really be an invitation?

Those conclusions don't really follow from the "personal approach" to vocation, but follow from misunderstandings that are often associated with the personal approach. But indeed, the mistake is not as simple as overlooking the distinction between a command and a invitation. (St. Ignatius is the only one I've seen who suggests that the words, "he who can take it, let him take it," may be a precept, rather than an invitation. This is possibly just an inexactness of language–something he said on the basis of a kind of intuition regarding the matter, but because he was not a learned theologian, articulated without the most precise terms.)

The severe conclusions seem to follow from a twofold narrow view of God: first, thinking of God as though his plan's for man were made independently of men's choices, and so are "ruined" by them; secondly, thinking of God as a human lover, who is really moved by disappointment or anger, and acts on this basis.

Both Alphonsus and Von Balthasar suggest strongly that it is often a mortal sin to knowingly reject a vocation. But even supposing this to be true, it would not follow that such a rejection would have the severe consequences they speak of–God could forgive this sin just as he forgives other sins, if one repents. Actually, for Alphonsus it seems to be rather the other way around: it is not so perilous because it is a sin, but it is a sin because it is so perilous for our salvation.

The difference between a commandment and an invitation is that a commandment is something imposed as necessary in order to be in loving union with the one commanding, an invitation is something presented as a way to be better united with the one inviting, but not necessary for such union. And therefore disobeying the commandment implies that one values something else more than one values union with God, and is a mortal sin, while rejecting the invitation implies only that one values something other than God without entirely referring its value to God. In itself, this is only a venial sin, or even only an imperfection.

The positions of Alphonsus de Liguori and Von Balthasar are presented in the book Paths of Love: The Discernment of Vocation According to Aquinas, Ignatius, and Pope John Paul II. You can also read more texts of Alphonsus on vocation and Von Balthasar on Vocation.

See also the post on Commandments and Counsels.

Generous or severe interpretation

In the book Paths of Love the question is touched upon about how to interpret the Fathers when they seem negative towards marriage. Here is another example of how we may interpret a theologian in two quite different ways, one positive and the other negative.

St. Alphonsus de Liguori, writing to a woman deliberating about whether or not to become a religious, gives a very stark response :

Live Jesus, Mary, Joseph

Arienzo, September 27, 1769.

I answer your letter.
A young person can save her soul by remaining in the world; but it cannot be denied, that in the world, especially at the present time, there are many more dangers of committing sin and losing one’s soul.
The rule then to follow is this. If any person loves chastity, she ought to choose what is more perfect, that is, she should consecrate her virginity to Jesus Christ. By acting thus, she will be much less exposed to damn herself; and this is the counsel that I give you…

Alfonso Maria,
Bishop of Sant’ Agata.

Advice like this is sometimes rejected out of hand, on the grounds that the reason St. Alphonsus thinks like this, is that he almost sees marriage as the lesser of two evils (being less bad than fornication), and doesn't appreciate the goodness of marriage.

But whatever true there is in the claim that St. Alphonsus doesn't appreciate the goodness of marriage (as indeed there is some truth to it), it is somewhat simplistic, and ultimately incorrect to suppose that his position derives from this lack of appreciation. Rather, he is doing nothing other than trying to express what Christ himself expresses, when speaking about voluntary and perpetual celibacy, he says "Him who can take it, let him take it!" And again St. Paul, saying, "Whoever is firmly established in his heart, being under no necessity but having his desire under control," and resolves to remain single for the sake of the kingdom of God, "he will do well" (1 Cor 7:37).

Naturally when a theologian speaks about the superiority of celibacy or virginity to marriage, if he does have any kind of negative view of marriage, this view will probably become manifest. But it is erroneous to therefore think that his positive position, argument, or claim is based upon this negative view.

In all cases we should be inclined to a generous interpretation, rather than a critical one. It is not only more charitable, but also usually more accurate. This applies above all when it comes to the saints; when it is possible to interpret what they say so as to be true and good, we should generally do so.

Read more texts of St. Alphonsus – more balanced texts on vocation.