BALTIMORE — The U.S. bishops approved a statement on the Eucharist with 222 “yes” votes Nov. 17, the second of two days of public sessions during their Nov. 15-18 fall general assembly.
At the June gathering, a major focus highlighted whether the document would address denying Communion to Catholic politicians who support abortion.
Some bishops said a strong rebuke of President Joe Biden, a Catholic, should be included in it because of Biden’s recent actions protecting and expanding abortion access, while others warned that this would portray the bishops as a partisan force during a time of bitter political divisions across the country.
The document the bishops discussed and approved does not mention any Catholic political leaders, but it addresses the seriousness of the sacrament.
Discussion prior to the vote focused on some of the statement’s wording. Specific amendments were approved and additional comments about wording changes, that were raised on the floor, did not.
The bishops also approved plans for a three-year National Eucharistic Revival, to start on Corpus Christi, June 16, 2022.
Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, outgoing chairman of the U.S. bishops’ pro-life committee, stressed the prelates must not forget the responsibility they have to “take care of the souls” of Catholic politicians who do not publicly support Church teaching on abortion.
The document on the Eucharist states: “One should not celebrate Mass or receive holy Communion in the state of mortal sin without having sought the sacrament of reconciliation and received absolution.”
It also says that if a Catholic has “knowingly and obstinately” rejected the doctrines of the Church or its teaching on moral issues, that person should refrain from receiving Communion because it is “likely to cause scandal for others.”
In presenting the statement titled “The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church,” Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, chairman of the bishops’ doctrine committee, said it “addresses the fundamental doctrine about the Eucharist that the Church needs to retrieve and revive.”
Bishop Rhoades said the document is addressed to all Catholics in the United States and “endeavors to explain the centrality of the Eucharist in the life of the Church.”
He also said it is intended to be a theological contribution to the bishops’ strategic plan and to the bishops’ planned eucharistic revival “by providing a doctrinal resource for parishes, catechists and the faithful.”
Bishop Richard F. Stika of Knoxville, Tennessee, wondered how the document would be understood by college students, high schoolers or children, noting that “a lot of it’s over their heads” and they would have to have some kind of theological foundation to grasp it.
In response, Bishop Rhoades said the document “as it stands is really meant for adults,” but he could see it being used in high schools with a teacher who would explain it better. He also said it could be developed by publishers as a resource for catechesis for grade school students.
The draft of the document explains the importance of Communion, often calling it a gift, and uses references from Scripture, prayers of the Church and Second Vatican Council documents to back this up. It also explains, citing words of the saints, how Communion is not just a symbol but the real presence of Christ.
This transformation of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, the document says, is “one of the central mysteries of the Catholic faith” which is a “doorway through which we, like the saints and mystics before us, may enter into a deeper perception” of God’s presence.
It notes that the Vatican II document “Lumen Gentium” (The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church) describes the Eucharist as “the source and summit of the Christian life.” It also says that as Catholics understand what the Eucharist means, they should more fully participate in Mass and reach out to serve those in need, citing the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which says: “The Eucharist commits us to the poor.”
It concludes with examples of saints who were transformed by their reception of the Eucharist and their deep understanding of what it means.
Guidelines for exposition of Eucharist
The U.S. bishops Nov. 17 approved a fresh version of ritual texts dealing with the distribution and reception of Communion outside Mass during their fall general meeting in Baltimore.
The original Latin text was issued in 1973 and a translation approved by the bishops in 1976.
The vote was 200-14 with four abstentions. Approval was needed by two-thirds of the Latin-rite bishops. The vote requires a subsequent “confirmatio” by the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments.
The collection of rites and rubrics is called “Holy Communion and Worship of the Eucharistic Mystery Outside Mass.” It was introduced as part of the bishops’ agenda Nov. 16, the first of two days of public sessions during their Nov. 15-18 fall assembly.