In November, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops published their “teaching document” on the Eucharist after years of Catholic faithful pleading for more clarity on the Eucharist and worthiness to receive it and for how to teach and deal with wayward politicians. Here are some of my thoughts.
Well, it’s out. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) published their highly anticipated document, The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church. I give it a ‘C,” as it could have been more complete and emphatic. While most of the important information is there, its presentation is weak and there are a few critical elements that are missing.
For example, while the issue of prominent figures, especially “Catholic” politicians who consistently act contrary to Church teaching is in the document, Canon 915 is relegated to a footnote. Nor does it reference the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) document, Doctrinal Notes on The Participation of Catholics in Political Life, which explicitly addresses the responsibilities of Catholic politicians to follow Church teaching on the integrity of the human person. There is no discussion of catechesis and its importance in educating the Body of Christ, the Church. The discussion of scandal needed to be stronger, as what Catholics in the pews see going on in the public square influences their thoughts and actions every bit as much as the teaching of the Church (and sometimes more so, since their understanding of Church doctrine is, in many cases, weak).
Without turning the document into a political statement, it needed a stronger discussion of how wayward public figures should be dealt with possibly recommending excommunication, recalling that excommunication is not a punishment but an opportunity for conversion. As St. Augustine noted:
“Then when it is necessary let us apply discipline. Otherwise, the evil may grow by the relaxing of discipline.
“If the sin is private, correct the sinner in private. If it is public and manifest, apply the correction in public so that the sinner may be led to betterment and others may conceive a salutary fear.”
Furthermore, excommunication would preclude them from shopping for a parish or diocese that would allow them to profane the Body and Blood of our Lord with impunity. The document mentions the humility of Christ in becoming a man but is lacking in addressing the humility we must have to be worthy of receiving the Blessed Sacrament. It does nothing to address the arrogance of those public figures who claim their devoutness while blatantly acting and promoting programs and policies directly contrary to Jesus and the Catholic faith. Nor does it address the critical issues of negotiable versus non-negotiable actions which can highlight the distinctions between worthiness and profanity. Just as the offering of Cain was rejected by God due to its imperfection, so the offering of oneself by unworthily receiving the Eucharist does not bring grace but rather blocks or rejects it.
The document speaks of attending mass as an act of love, which it is. But it doesn’t emphasize the importance of participating in mass (even in a state of sin) and receiving the Eucharist worthily. This and other statements it leave open the idea that one can receive the Eucharist regardless of one’s state. The condition of worthiness to receive the Eucharist (paragraph 34) should have been emphasized by bolding or italics or both.
The discussion of venial and mortal sins is an important one that should have received more emphasis especially relating to actions of public figures (again, the aforementioned exhortation from the CDF applies). The discussion of the sacrament of confession needed more emphasis on the importance of repentance, amendment, and the resolution to sin no more. The continued actions of so many public figures to support, and most sinfully, promote the culture of death is a blatant and arrogant indication that any sense of amendment is totally absent.
Many of these public figures claim that they are personally opposed to abortion but do not want to impose their position on others (something they do with every law they pass). If they truly wanted to avoid imposing their will on the citizenry, they would remain neutral by abstaining from votes on the issue. Instead, they actively promote pro-abortion politics, thereby doing what they say they are opposed to, and, in the process, imposing their will on others.
In several places the document talks about the need to oppose our throwaway culture, particularly of the unborn and the elderly, or other activities which damage or harm human integrity. But it fails to connect that with the scandal of Catholics in the public square who promote the culture of death and the destruction of family values while presenting themselves as if they were worthy to partake of the Eucharist. It is important to note that Jesus was often in the presence of sinners, to the dismay of the Pharisees, but His aim and His teaching was always towards healing and repentance, admonishing them to “go and sin no more,” the implication being that further sinning would negate the grace that Jesus had bestowed.
When couples are dating or when someone holds a baby in their arms, they often say, “I love you so much I could eat you up,” This is what Jesus asks of us – to love Him so much that we prepare ourselves to be worthy of “eating Him up” in the Eucharistic feast. The document misses this point. It notes that “Saint (Mother) Teresa of Calcutta reportedly once said: ‘When you look at the crucifix, you understand how much Jesus loved you then. When you look at the Sacred Host you understand how much Jesus loves you now,” It went to lengths to describe Jesus’s love for us resulting in this beautiful sacrament but is weak on enticing US to love Jesus so much that we will ensure our worthiness to receive Him.
All in all, without significant additional effort to educate Catholics, I don’t think this document will do much to change our situation, especially with respect to public figures.