The U.S. Bishops just released a very important document last month entitled The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church. (For the full text, visit https://www.usccb.org/resources/The%20Mystery%20of%20the%20Eucharist%20in%20the%20Life%20of%20the%20Church.pdf. For a write-up on this document in a recent edition of Today’s Catholic, visit https://todayscatholic.org/communion-statement-aims-to-retrieve-and-revive-understanding/.) There was a lot of speculation around this document concerning what it may or may not say about whether Catholic politicians who promote policies that directly oppose the teachings of the Church should be allowed to receive Communion, and this is what much of the coverage in the secular (and even Catholic) press has focused on.
However, the document is much larger than any political issue and instead sets the stage for a greater national Eucharistic revival, which will begin next year. Clearly such a Eucharistic revival is critically important at this moment in the life of the Church given recent data that confirm that an astounding percentage of American Catholics do not understand or accept the Church’s teaching about the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. We are blessed that our own Bishop Rhoades (in his role as the head of the Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine) was instrumental in the drafting of this document.
Therefore this document beautifully elaborates on the fact that the Eucharist is not just a symbol, but rather is the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, freely given to us to eat and drink. It also discusses the idea of the Eucharist as a re-presentation of Christ’s sacrifice, quoting St. John Paul II: “The Church constantly draws her life from (this) redeeming sacrifice; she approaches it not only through faith-filled remembrance, but also through a real contract since this sacrifice is made present ever anew, sacramentally perpetuated, in every community which offers it at the hand of the consecrated minister” (16).
The document also emphasizes our response to this great self-sacrifice of Jesus’ Body and Blood, which should be one of thanksgiving and conversion. Since the Eucharist draws us into an intimate communion with the Lord (which foreshadows the perfect, eternal communion of heaven), we must receive this sacrament with the intent to lead Eucharist lives that reaffirm our desire for deeper communion with the Lord. This includes committing to build up the kingdom here on earth through fidelity to God and service to our brothers and sisters in need. While the document doesn’t specifically address the issue of Catholic politicians, it reiterates the Church’s teaching that we should be in a state of grace when we receive the Eucharist, affirming that Catholics who “obstinately persist in manifest grave sin” in their personal or professional lives should not receive Communion. They encourage us to take advantage of the Sacrament of Reconciliation so that we may receive the grace we need to partake of Communion worthily.
This bulletin column clearly cannot do justice to this document, and so I encourage all of you to read it. It’s not too long and it is very readable. I know that there will be more things associated with a Eucharistic revival coming in the following year or so, and reading this document is a good way to prepare! I hope and pray that it has a positive impact in the understanding of everyday Catholics on the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.