A NOTE FROM THE PUBLISHER: It is not primarily a question of whether or not Joe Biden or Nancy Pelosi or any other politician should receive Holy Communion. It poses a question of truth and fidelity each and every communicant needs to ask themselves, each and every time they present themselves to receive the Sacred Host.
“I live because of the Eucharist.” That’s how Mother Angelica, EWTN’s foundress, once described the importance of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ made present to us in the Mass.
The depth of such a reliance upon the Real Presence is something that all Catholics should fruitfully ponder, as we approach the celebration of Corpus Christi on June 6. As is the case every year, the solemnity will be an occasion to witness publicly to the fact that Christ is present, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, in the Holy Eucharist. But Corpus Christi will have an added dimension of joy in 2021 in the United States, as it comes at a time when in many places pandemic restrictions are being lifted and dioceses are reinstating the Sunday obligation in order to call the faithful to return to Mass.
That’s exactly the kind of reinforcement we need in this pivotal moment. Before government edicts forced our churches to restrict access to the sacraments in response to the pandemic, it was clear already from statistics, parish closings and general observation that Catholic belief and practice was dwindling. And there are sad indications that a substantial percentage of Catholics don’t see a need to return to Mass attendance as COVID-19 restrictions are easing; in March, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York appealed to his flock to come back in light of the fact that attendance at that time was down by 50% in his archdiocese.
The malaise in belief and practice is also confirmed by recent polling. A 2019 EWTN/RealClear Opinion Research poll found that only 49% of Catholics believed in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. A Pew Research Center poll the same year placed the number even lower, reporting that “just one-third of U.S. Catholics (31%) say they believe that ‘during Catholic Mass, the bread and wine actually become the Body and Blood of Jesus.’”
Perhaps even more disturbingly, 43% of the Catholics polled by Pew believed that the position of the Church itself is that the bread and wine the faithful receive at Holy Communion is merely symbolic.
This pervasive misunderstanding of the nature of Catholicism’s central sacrament might make the actions of pro-abortion Catholic politicians who present themselves for reception of Communion somewhat more comprehensible, if no less disturbing. After all, a Catholic who thinks the sacrament is nothing more than a symbol, not Jesus himself, is far more likely to be unconcerned about receiving Communion while breaking with Church teachings on moral evils like abortion. Still, whatever degree of unbelief might be in play, it represents a scandal whenever a believer is willing to receive Communion despite knowingly breaking with the Church’s teaching on a matter of fundamental significance.
The melding of belief in Jesus’ Real Presence with consistent thought and action in union with the Church has been termed “Eucharistic coherence.” And the concept’s application to politicians was articulated most eloquently in the Latin American bishops’ 2007 Aparecida document. “We must adhere to ‘eucharistic coherence,’ that is, be conscious that they [i.e., legislators, heads of government and health professionals] cannot receive Holy Communion and at the same time act with deeds or words against the commandments, particularly when abortion, euthanasia, and other grave crimes against life and the family are encouraged,” the document stated.
Those who think that this forthright declaration — that dissenting politicians cannot receive Communion — is out of line with the thought of Pope Francis are completely mistaken. In fact, he was serving as the president of the Latin American bishops’ conference at the time the Aparecida document was formulated and approved.
But all Catholics should bear in mind that Eucharistic coherence doesn’t apply only in the case of abortion, even though it’s especially salient in the context of this preeminent moral issue of our time. Eucharistic coherence is not primarily a question of whether or not Joe Biden or Nancy Pelosi or any other politician should receive Holy Communion. It poses a question of truth and fidelity each and every communicant needs to ask themselves, each and every time they present themselves to receive the Sacred Host.
“Eucharistic coherence means that our ‘Amen’ at Holy Communion includes not only the recognition of the Real Presence but also a communion bound together by embracing and living Christ’s entire teaching handed down to us through the Church,” Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix instructed recently in a letter on Holy Thursday 2021 to the people of his diocese.
Bishop Olmsted’s letter is one of a number of communications to the faithful that have recently urged a greater Eucharistic coherence, especially for Catholics in public life. Others who have written on this theme include Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco and Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver.
Other bishops have recognized the need for a more robust evangelization and catechesis among the faithful by initiating a Year of the Eucharist, fittingly commencing on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi. Allentown, Pennsylvania; Baltimore; Boston; New Orleans; Seattle; and Spokane, Washington, are among the dioceses participating in such a year. The intention is to encourage belief in the Real Presence and to foster a better understanding that Jesus offers himself in Holy Communion to provide us the grace to go out into the challenges of the world and be a light in the darkness, as well as to share in eternal life through his salvific sacrifice on the cross.
The U.S. bishops are expected to discuss the matter of worthiness to receive Holy Communion during their upcoming Spring General Assembly. Cardinal Luis Ladaria, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has urged the bishops to seek unity as they “face the difficult task of discerning the best way forward for the Church in the United States to witness to the grave moral responsibility for Catholic public officials to protect human life in all its stages.” He also requested that any document address “the broad context of worthiness of reception of Holy Communion on the part of all the faithful, not just one category of Catholics.”
Unanimous consensus among all the bishops to a national policy on Catholic politicians and reception of Communion seems an insurmountable project, given the divisions already on display. Yet all the bishops should be able to agree that each of them has a responsibility to work to strengthen belief in the Real Presence among the faithful. There’s no way that Catholics can be leaven in the world without such faith.
“Lord God, if I truly appreciated the majestic humility of the Eucharist, if I fully grasped the opportunity to participate in Your very nature, it would change my life forever,” Mother Angelica prayed at the end of a Eucharistic meditation.
“Strengthen my love and my gratitude for this tremendous gift. Give me the faith to understand that the Eucharist makes everything possible.”
That’s the kind of faith that gives rise to authentic Eucharistic coherence, and it’s the kind of faith that the celebration of Corpus Christi should encourage in all of us — especially this year as we emerge from the pandemic.
God bless you!