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The challenge of Eucharistic coherence

The word “crisis” is vastly overused today. But not when the issue is the reception of holy communion.

A priest elevates the host during a Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City in 2020. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

In his encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, Pope St. John Paul II invited Catholics to “rekindle” our sense of “Eucharistic amazement,” for “the Church draws her life from the Eucharist,” which “recapitulates the heart of the mystery of the Church” – Christ’s glorified, abiding presence with, in, and through his people, fulfilling his promise to remain with us “to the close of the age” (Matthew 28:20). In the Eucharist, the Church meets her Lord “with unique intensity.” Thus the celebration of the Eucharist is not just something the Church does; the celebration of the Eucharist singularly embodies what the Church is.

That profound sense of Eucharistic amazement is why the Latin American bishops, in their 2007 Aparecida Document, insisted on “Eucharistic coherence” in their Catholic communities. And according to those bishops (whose number included the man who would become pope six years later), the Church’s Eucharistic coherence required that holy communion not be distributed to those Catholics in politics and medical practice who were not in full communion with the Church because they were facilitating or participating in such grave moral evils as abortion and euthanasia.

The question of Eucharistic coherence has been sharpened in America since the inauguration of a brother Catholic, Joseph R. Biden, Jr., as president of the United States. Less than 48 hours after Mr. Biden took the presidential oath of office, the White House issued a statement celebrating the 48th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that summarily mandated today’s American abortion license – one of the most radical in the world. The White House statement also pledged that the administration would codify Roe’s abortion license in federal law. What is the challenge to Eucharistic coherence here?

From a Catholic moral perspective, Roe v. Wade was the worst Supreme Court decision since Dred Scott v. Sanford in 1857 – and for the same reason. AsDred Scott declared black people outside the community of legal protection, Roe declared indisputably human beings, the unborn, beyond the boundaries of the law’s protection. Both Dred Scott and Roe thus violated the bedrock Catholic social justice principle of the inalienable dignity of every human life; both decisions rested on the claim – biologically false and morally unsustainable – that the lives in question were not really human. It is impossible to be a coherent Catholic and to affirm the degradation of human dignity that underwrites Roe v. Wade.

And incoherent Catholics receiving holy communion make for a Eucharistically incoherent and thus evangelically diminished Church.

This incoherence is the sad by-product of many factors:  inadequate catechesis and Catholic formation; theological dissent from settled Catholic convictions; vulgarized liturgy that undercuts the majesty of the Eucharist; a weakened sense of what it means to live in the “state of grace” and thus be worthy to receive holy communion; pressures to conform to distorted notions of empowering women; the failures of  bishops to challenge those in their pastoral care to deeper conversion to Christ; lay Catholics’ failures to follow the Lord’s injunction in Matthew 18:15-16 and fraternally correct incoherent fellow-Catholics.

The word “crisis” is vastly overused today. But if Eucharistic incoherence in a Church that “draws her life from the Eucharist” isn’t a crisis, what is?


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About George Weigel 323 Articles
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington's Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies. He is the author of over twenty books, including Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II (1999), The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II—The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy (2010), and The Irony of Modern Catholic History: How the Church Rediscovered Itself and Challenged the Modern World to Reform. His most recent book is The Next Pope: The Office of Peter and a Church in Mission (2020), and his new book, Not Forgotten: Elegies for, and Reminiscences of, a Diverse Cast of Characters, Most of Them Admirable (Ignatius, 2021).

25 Comments

  1. This issue has been with us for decades – the issue of giving Holy Communion to ‘catholic’ politicians who support abortion, but never at this level, and the ‘catholic’ President of the United States has, by his own actions, elevated it to this level.

    The meek compliance of the Archbishop of Washington will be swept aside, because somewhere there is a Priest, a Bishop, maybe even a Cardinal who will summon the courage to deny this man the Sacrament in public. He has already been denied it as a candidate, but to deny that most precious of sacraments to the most powerful ‘catholic’ in the world would surely finally send that long-awaited message from our world to the rest of the world – enough is enough.

    • Where is the Pope on this? has he forgotten his earlier position? Shame on the Pope elevating Gregory to cardinal. When will the churches politicians get the courage to do the right thing deny and Biden the Eucharist? I would like an answer, hopefully before I die.

  2. There are an uncomfortably large number of the Church hierarchy who are cafeteria Catholics. How many of them would be able to deliver the kind of fraternal correction that St. Paul did in 1 Corinthians? St. Clement also had to deliver fraternal correction to the Church at Corinth. There are responsibilities that go along with Apostolic Succession that cannot be outsourced to the laity. The shepherd is supposed to be the leader of the flock.

  3. Like Weigel, I think our new president is wrong about abortion. However, I do not think I have so completely mastered the mysteries of God that I would feel confident in barring Biden from holy Communion. Indeed, I hope Biden, like me, looks upon the Eucharist as the medicine of mercy that it is.

    As Pope Francis clearly taught in Evangelii Gaudium, partly quoting St. Ambrose: “The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak. These convictions have pastoral consequences that we are called to consider with prudence and boldness. Frequently, we act as arbiters of grace rather than its facilitators. But the Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems”.

    Weigel’s stance evidences the hubris of the Pharisee in the synagogue: “The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector’ ” (Luke 18:11).

    Weigel thinks grace can come to him and those like him, but he can decree to whom grace cannot come. He seems not to recognize that grace works in mysterious ways, that it rarely comes in an instant but works its way gradually into the human soul. He should re-read Pope Francis’ observations in Gaudete et Exultate:

    Those who yield to this pelagian or semi-pelagian mindset, even though they speak warmly of God’s grace, “ultimately trust only in their own powers and feel superior to others because they observe certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style.” When some of them tell the weak that all things can be accomplished with God’s grace, deep down they tend to give the idea that all things are possible by the human will, as if it were something pure, perfect, all-powerful, to which grace is then added. They fail to realize that “not everyone can do everything,” and that in this life human weaknesses are not healed completely and once for all by grace. In every case, as Saint Augustine taught, God commands you to do what you can and to ask for what you cannot, and indeed to pray to him humbly: “Grant what you command, and command what you will.”

    • Lan Baode:

      The Pontiff Francis orchestrated idolatry in Rome in 2019. Appealing to him has the same moral authority as appealing to Jezebel.

      • Your disrespect and disloyalty to the Pope makes you Uncatholic. Try being Pope yourself like Martin Luther and the Protestants.

        • Lan Baode, the idolatry orchestrated by the Pontiff Francis is a fact that cannot be denied. The idolatry orchestrated by the Pontiff Francis shows his contempt for God and his mockery of the 1st Commandment. It is not enough for a lawless tyrant to show his contempt for the lower commandments, for a man like the Pontiff Francis, his impulse is to mock God.

          We are all taught by candid Catholic teachers that there have been bad Pontiffs, and even evil ones. Our respect and loyalty is to the office of authority, and such respect and loyalty coneys to the men who faithfully serve in their office. A man who has no respect for God has no basis for believing that other men owe him the respect he withholds from God.

        • Francis’s hypocritical behavior and chatchetical ambivalence is one thing but as to your suggestion that Biden should receive Communion because it will heal his soul, that is indeed a rationalization that has been proffered by some priests to justify continuing. Oner problem with that is that there is an unambiguous directive in the catechism that those who persist in grave sin should not present themselves for communion not receive it. The other point is that the medicine does not seem to be working. Christ was endlessly merciful with sinners during his time on earth but after he forgave sin, he always said, “go and sin no more.”

        • Just remember, Lan Baode … It was the pope who said early on, “Who am I to judge?” When a pope abdicates his responsibilities, it isn’t disrespectful or disloyal to point that out.

    • Where is the Pope on this? has he forgotten his earlier position? Shame on the Pope elevating Gregory to cardinal. When will the churches politicians get the courage to do the right thing deny and Biden the Eucharist? I would like an answer, hopefully before I die.

    • Read carefully, the “crisis” is Eucharistic coherence. Coherence meaning correspondence between teaching in word and in action. But what is coherent action? Dialogue, accompaniment, admonishment, judgement, condemnation, punishment? Is it about personal conversion, changing hearts, saving souls? Is it about suffering embarrassment, apparent hypocrisy, public scandal?
      The Church hierarchy has failed miserably on the latter, and squandered its moral authority with the sexual abuse scandal. Making a lot of noise about politicians’ worthiness will advance confusion not coherency..

  4. Please stop, Weigel. I’m tired of this subject. Biden is going to continue to receive communion, as will every other pro-abortion Catholic politician … thanks to bishops who don’t care about “Eucharistic coherence.” They care more about a president they hate showing up at the JP2 Center. Or pulling publicity stunts like having Mass and distributing communion through “the wall.” All this endless philosophizing and theologizing, please stop. Cardinals Cupich and Gregory and Tobin, and Bishop McElroy and others knew Biden would not and will not budge on his pro-abortion promises … and they voted for him anyway. It is not important to them. Get it? It’s not important to the pope. All of them are pleased as punch that Biden is president. And Biden knows it. He doesn’t have to change. For those bishops and the pope, it is those crazed, ignorant Catholic pro-lifers who need to change.

  5. So for Mr Weigel and any other Apologist, what are we lay people, those who teach Catholic Formation preparing for the recption of the Holy Eucharist and Confirmation; our bishops are at odds Cardinals, the Pope makes statements that are difficult to understand and left for us to “discern”. Bishops call out Bishops and the laity is left “holding the bag” so to speak; one that has had holes cut in the bottom and everything we have been taught and hold as Truth starts to fall out. If a “Catholic” who supports abortion, believes it is OK and they are allowed to receive the Holy Eucharist what about those who are having an affair in or out of marriage; what about the person who believes euthanasia is OK or supports laws that allow it, what about the pornographer, the robber, defrauder, any of these? With the reasoning of some “leaders of the Church” they should be able to receive the Holy Eucharist as well, no questions asked. We are all sinners, yet we are asked and told to “be Holy as God is Holy”, we were taught we must reconcile with God through the Confessional for grave/mortal sin, where has that sacrament gone? Is that now no longer necessary if as some Cardinals, Bishops suggest all we have to do is examine our conscience as the to whether what we are doing is “right”. All of this is going on around the Laity and it does not appear any of these “leaders of the Catholic Church” seem to care that they are clearly not being Shepherds as they are supposed to be.

    • Just as long as they believe in climate change and open borders … that’s the creed these days. Get with it, Brother. Oh, yes, and they must be democrats who check their consciences and convictions with the party.

  6. Due to the pandemic and other circumstances, I haven’t received Communion for about sixteen months. Don’t miss it. So all these people talking about the “hunger” for the Eucharist being experienced by God’s people? I don’t get it. Eucharistic amazement? That’s not my experience. Lifelong Catholic, product of first grade-College Catholic education. Attended Mass faithfully my whole life. And I don’t miss the Eucharist. Hmm…

    • You have my sympathy.That is a sad remark, and I can relate as I have been there. I left the church for almost 20 years after experiencing a personal tragedy I shall not go into here. Made my way back via a series of incidents which could not have been coincidence in my opinion, and found that yes, indeed I had been missing something special . Now when I miss Mass and Communion, a rarity as I am a daily Mass goer, I do indeed feel a hunger for it. My life would look perfectly ordinary to anyone who does not know me. I am neither crazy nor a fanatic. Also highly educated. But my day starts with Mass and Communion, for which I am profoundly grateful , and without it I feel off kilter all day. Many Catholics were not well educated in the faith, so it is no shock that many feel it is an irrelevant part of their lives. .Regarding your own situation, I wish for you the life changing moment I experienced when it finally came to me how much Jesus loved me. Enough to die for me, enough to find me when I was lost.I had always known it in my intellect; I too am a cradle Catholic. But to feel it in your heart and soul and finally KNOW it, is a profoundly different thing. I was starving, and only realized it when I returned. The first Mass I attended after my long absence hit me like a ton of bricks. I did not expect any such thing. You might start by attending a weekday Mass which is smaller and quieter and less distracting. Sit closer to the front and really watch the priest. LISTEN to the words. Often it is not just another reading, but something intended especially for YOU. Good luck.

    • And your point is what? That COIVD has helped you discover you are not a Catholic? Or you are trying to say something else?

    • SJ Your experience is very typical of cradle-through-college “Catholic” education. As the saying goes: “there is nothing more unwelcome than the answer to a question that has not been asked.”

      This situation is complicated further by the lack of real answers or questions in the decades of coloring-book Catholicism. Too bad the original, personal and religious questions don’t come first, before the “lifelong” education. But, despite fraudulent schooling, by our very nature we are all philosophers. So says Pope St. John Paul II in his Fides et Ratio (1998). Also recommended is his conversational Crossing the Threshold of Hope (1994).

      It might even be that the sacramental life is actually something to be “missed” rather than simply forgotten…Hmm.

      • Peter, you raise the central issues that too many are (willfully?) blind to.

        The human being has the potential to be so strongly addicted to all manner of beliefs and practices that some are willing to die for. It seems we are able to romanticize and make ourselves dependent on almost anything (with a plethora of examples from the touching and beneficial, to the revolting and damaging).

        Devotion to Christ’s Body and Blood sacramentally provided at Holy Mass ranks among the most touching and most beneficial of all addictions. Yet, this gift-above-all-gifts was not and is not provided for us by King Jesus so as to satisfy our tendencies to religious addiction and/or our need to feel authenticated.

        When Jesus tells us that we cannot have Life in us unless we eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood He is not appropriating the pagan religious traditions of sympathetic magic (that qualities are transferred to a person by consuming specific food or drink); a heresy that’s often taught to Catholics.

        Christ’s action follows the whole covenant basis of His Jewish family and forebears, of sabbath meals, Passover, etc. It’s intended to draw us into covenant relationship, where receiving His Body signifies our intention to be like Him in obeying God’s commandments. Receiving His Blood is supposed to signify our willing and joyous participation in His New Covenant of unlimited, faith-filled, self-giving love; even for our worst enemies.

        The Holy Eucharist is the unifying covenant of Christ’s New Creation, for those willing and eager to live their new lives re-born by water and Holy Spirit.

        Addictive religiosity, though almost always socially benign, is gravely spiritually harmful in blocking our comprehension of what we are supposed to be covenanting with as we receive the Body and Blood of Christ, Lord of God’s New Creation.

        Our debates about Holy Eucharist (and, more important, the Church’s ability to minister to this troubled world) would benefit from proper appreciation of what God and we are covenanting together at Holy Mass. A major change is possible.

        • Dr. Rice: Thank you for your remark. Might we propose that “a major change is possible” only if and when we directly confront the deceits and evasions of the past over-sixty years? Tough love.

          Of the symptomatic (and now central) problem of Eucharistic coherence, Weigel supplies in one place the needed diagnostics:

          “This incoherence is the sad by-product of many factors: [1] inadequate catechesis and Catholic formation; [2] theological dissent from settled Catholic convictions; [3] vulgarized liturgy that undercuts the majesty of the Eucharist; [4] a weakened sense of what it means to live in the ‘state of grace’ and thus be worthy to receive holy communion; [5] pressures to conform to distorted notions of empowering women; [6] the failures of bishops to challenge those in their pastoral care to deeper conversion to Christ; [7] lay Catholics’ failures to follow the Lord’s injunction in Matthew 18:15-16 and fraternally correct incoherent fellow-Catholics.”

          Finally, a concise and long-needed modern Litany (!), worthy of repetition and the lights-on attention from a hopefully emergent leadership in the USCCB, supported by we laity [7].

          Yes, St. Peter is always to be remembered: “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).

          But, for all this, Peter does not exactly prohibit, or even speak to the needed housecleaning of termites now within the Barque of Peter.

          • Thank you, Peter for your percipient words. Our current situation is indeed grim. However, has it not always been so?

            In Paul and John’s epistles there’s plenty of evidence of the Apostles having to cope with: ‘termites now within the Barque of Peter’. In Eamon Duffy’s: “Saints and Sinners: A History of the Popes” (Yale University Press) we see the same problems occurring again and again, at every level of the Church, through nearly two millennia.

            Even so, for those who persistently seek, there’s: ‘a treasure not made of gold’ hidden among the ignorant religiosity, self-serving clericalism, factionalism & politics, greed, hypocrisy, abuses, & betrayals. There’s: ‘a Pearl of Infinite Value’ to be discovered by all who tirelessly seek for God amidst this shambolic marketplace.

            Jesus Christ is truly enthroned as loving Ruler of our universe and Head of all those who are genuinely Body of Christ. He promised never to leave us. Though mountains may fall and the seas turn to dust, Jesus Christ remains faithful. This we can be certain of, rely upon, and build our eternity upon.

            No matter what the state of the Church, in our Eucharistic Celebration we are freely able to physically covenant with the Lord: to personally obey God’s commandments and to love others as God in Christ loves us.

            I pray we would never underrate how totally privileged & awesome that is.

            As Jesus told Martha, this is the one thing God requires of us.

            Stay safe Peter; with blessings from Marty

    • I feel so sorry for you and I have you on my prayer list. I received the news that I would not be able to go to Mass while I was parked in my car and I wept for 30 minutes. Thankfully, people in my diocese were able to return after a six week interdict and I wept again when I was finally able to return to Mass. I am so sorry that you feel nothing for the Eucharist and it is my sincere prayer that you will come to see and hunger for it. I wish that for everyone.

  7. The US Bishops, like most Bishops of the world I am sure, follow the McCarrick Communion Model. It was McCarrick, with his fellow fraud then-Archbishop Gregory (then president of the USCCB), who publicly lied to the USCCB in Denver in 2004, and falsely asserted that the CDF (Ratzinger) supported their fraudulent scheme that Bishops were not bound to enforce Canon 915.

    Think about that: the Communion policy of the 2021 USCCB was established by the sociopathis sex-abusing fraud McCaarick, in a public lie, and the USCCB still adheres to the policy of the sociopath, sex-abusing, fraud.

    I can only assume because they remain in communion with McCarrick as fellow-frauds. They have NOT “the mind of Christ” as St. Paul declared.

    They have “the mind of McCarrick.”

  8. The crisis Mr. Weigel addresses has been brewing since the 1980s when politicians realized they could loudly trumpet their Catholic identity and vigorously support abortion with bishops looking on and doing nothing,- Mario Cuomo, Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, Nancy Pelosi, Tim Kaine, Andrew Cuomo, etc. and now Joe Biden. Each Sunday they could parade up the Communion line. And when these people die, a splendid Catholic funeral awaits them (M. Cuomo, Ted Kennedy) with bishops again acquiescing.
    From what I see, these politicians have no qualms of conscience, no soul searching. Their behavior is routine, easily and painlessly followed.
    Some bishops naively talk of “dialogue” with such politicians. Please – I see no example of a prominent politician changing from pro abortion to pro life because of a “dialogue” with a bishop. They know they are going against teaching, but ambition, power, success are more important to them. And, the bishops indulge them time and again.

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