The primitive discipline of the Church established a different punishment for certain crimes according as they were committed by laymen or clerics. The former entailed a shorter and ordinarily lighter penance than the latter, which were punished with a special penalty. The layman was excluded from the community of the faithful, the cleric was excluded from the hierarchy and reduced to the lay communion, that is to say, he was forbidden to exercise his functions. The nature of the latter punishment is not quite certain. According to one opinion, it consisted in excommunication, together with a prohibition to receive the Blessed Eucharist; according to another, the penitent was allowed to receive Holy Communion but only with the laity. Canon xv of the so-called Apostolical Canons (see CANONS, APOSTOLIC) forbids any priest, residing outside his diocese without authorization, to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice, but grants him permission to receive the Eucharist along with the faithful. The canon lxii ordained that clerics who apostatized during the persecutions were to be received among the laity. In 251, a letter of Pope Cornelius to Fabius, Bishop of Antioch, informs us that the pope, in presence of all the people received into his communion, but as a layman, one of the bishops guilty of having conferred sacerdotal ordination on the heretic Novatian. A letter of St. Cyprian of Carthage mentions a certain Trophimus, who was admitted to communion among the laity. It would be easy to mention similar cases, in which we find it stated that the penitent was admitted to receive communion among the laity. The Council of Elvira (c. 300) which reveals to us in many ways the religious life of an entire ecclesiastical province, in canon lxxvi, àpropos of a deacon, mentions the same discipline. This is the most ancient canonical text that speaks of the custom of lay communion. We do not cite the Council of Cologne (346) since its authenticity may yet be questioned. But from that time forward we find, in a series of councils, declarations which show conclusively that, when lay communion is mentioned, there is question of the reception of the Blessed Eucharist. Besides the Council of Sardica, those of Hippo (303), canon xli; Toledo (400), canon iv; Rome (487) canon ii, are too explicit to admit of any doubt that we have here an established discipline. We may also cite the Councils of Agde (506), canon 1; Lérida (524), canon v; Orléans (538), canon ii; etc.
Speaking generally, the expression "lay communion" does not necessarily imply the idea of the Eucharist, but only the condition of a layman in communion with the Church. But as the Eucharist was granted only to those in communion with the Church, to say that a cleric was admitted to the lay communion is equivalent to saying that he received the Holy Eucharist. The person who passed from the condition of a penitent to the lay communion, had necessarily to be received by the bishop into the bosom of the Church, before being admitted to communion. There are no grounds for supposing that this transition implied an intermediate stage in which he who was admitted to the communion was deprived of the Blessed Eucharist. This discipline applied not only to those who were guilty of a secret sin, but also to those who had for some time belonged to an heretical sect. But there was no absolute rule, since the Council of Nicæa (325) received back the Novatian clergy without imposing this penalty on them, while we see it enforced in the case of the Donatists. In modern times lay communion is sometimes imposed, but only in exceptional cases, which need not be treated of here.
More Catholic Encyclopedia
Browse Encyclopedia by Alphabet
The Catholic Encyclopedia is the most comprehensive resource on Catholic teaching, history, and information ever gathered in all of human history. This easy-to-search online version was originally printed in fifteen hardcopy volumes.
Designed to present its readers with the full body of Catholic teaching, the Encyclopedia contains not only precise statements of what the Church has defined, but also an impartial record of different views of acknowledged authority on all disputed questions, national, political or factional. In the determination of the truth the most recent and acknowledged scientific methods are employed, and the results of the latest research in theology, philosophy, history, apologetics, archaeology, and other sciences are given careful consideration.
No one who is interested in human history, past and present, can ignore the Catholic Church, either as an institution which has been the central figure in the civilized world for nearly two thousand years, decisively affecting its destinies, religious, literary, scientific, social and political, or as an existing power whose influence and activity extend to every part of the globe. In the past century the Church has grown both extensively and intensively among English-speaking peoples. Their living interests demand that they should have the means of informing themselves about this vast institution, which, whether they are Catholics or not, affects their fortunes and their destiny.
Browse the Catholic Encyclopedia by Topic
Copyright © Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company New York, NY. Volume 1: 1907; Volume 2: 1907; Volume 3: 1908; Volume 4: 1908; Volume 5: 1909; Volume 6: 1909; Volume 7: 1910; Volume 8: 1910; Volume 9: 1910; Volume 10: 1911; Volume 11: - 1911; Volume 12: - 1911; Volume 13: - 1912; Volume 14: 1912; Volume 15: 1912
Catholic Online Catholic Encyclopedia Digital version Compiled and Copyright © Catholic Online