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Collegiality and eucharistic integrity

Whether collegiality is “affective,” “effective,” or some combination of the two, it ought to be clear what truly “collegial” behavior isn’t.

A bishop reacts on the first day of the spring general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore June 11, 2019. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

The concept of the “collegiality” of bishops has been sharply contested since the Second Vatican Council debated it in 1962, 1963, and 1964. That discussion was sufficiently contentious that a personal intervention from Pope Paul VI was required to incorporate the concept of episcopal collegiality within the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church in such a way that the pope’s primacy and universal jurisdiction were safeguarded. The debate about collegiality has continued ever since.

Now, however, it’s focused more on what kind of collegiality exists within national conferences of bishops. Is it an “affective collegiality” of mutual support and encouragement? Or is episcopal collegiality within bishops’ conferences “effective,” such that a conference has real teaching and legislative authority?

Whether collegiality is “affective,” “effective,” or some combination of the two, it ought to be clear what truly “collegial” behavior isn’t.

It isn’t individual bishops attempting end-runs around their national conference, appealing for Roman interventions that would forestall debates that their brother bishops wish to engage. It isn’t bishops trying to browbeat the conference chairman into changing an agenda to suit the tastes of a distinct minority — and misleading their brother bishops as to what they’re about when soliciting support for such a gambit. And it isn’t trying to filibuster a conference meeting so that no action is possible on an agenda item that the great majority of bishops wish to consider and act upon.

If any of those three maneuvers qualifies as collegial, then “collegiality” has no more meaning than the claim that my poor Baltimore Orioles have a great starting rotation.

For years now — and by “years,” I mean long before the idea of a “President Biden” entered the stream of national consciousness — the bishops of the United States have been concerned that ours is becoming less of a eucharistic Church than Vatican II called us to be when it taught that the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of the Church’s life. Pope St. John Paul II reaffirmed that conciliar summons when, in his final encyclical, he taught that “the Church draws her life from the Eucharist,” which “recapitulates the heart and mystery of the Church.”

Yet all around us we see declining Sunday Mass attendance: a sadness that preceded the pandemic but has been further exacerbated by it.  Moreover, surveys suggest that too many Catholics think of Sunday Mass as essentially a social occasion, rather than an encounter with the living God in which Christ is offered to the Father and is given back to his people in holy communion — a communion in and through the body and blood, soul and divinity of Christ, received under the forms of bread and wine.

If the Church lives from the Eucharist and yet the people of the Church don’t participate in the Eucharist as often as they should, or don’t understand what they’re celebrating and receiving when they do, then the Church suffers from a serious eucharistic deficit. Those ordained to leadership in the Church are obliged to do something about that.

That is why the U.S. bishops have been determined for some time to undertake a comprehensive program of eucharistic education throughout the Church. For the great majority of bishops, that determination has been intensified by the fact that our eucharistic deficit is being compounded by the eucharistic incoherence of public officials who, rejecting authoritative Catholic teaching based on both revelation and reason, nonetheless present themselves for holy communion as if they were in full communion with the Church. The longstanding episcopal failure to address this incoherence exacerbates the eucharistic deficit in American Catholicism by implying that the Church really doesn’t mean what it teaches about the sacred nature of the Eucharist.

Those suggesting that this is all about “politics” are either ill-informed or deliberately misleading the Church and the gullible parts of the media. Concern for the eucharistic integrity of the Church includes, but goes much deeper than, concerns about the eucharistic incoherence of Catholic public officials who act as if the Church’s settled convictions on the life issues and on worthiness to receive holy communion don’t exist. That is why the U.S. bishops are forging ahead with developing a teaching document that will clarify for the whole Church why we are a Eucharistic community, what the Eucharist truly is, what reception of the Eucharist means, and why everyone in the Church should examine conscience before receiving Christ in the sacrament.

The wheels of collegiality may grind slowly. In this case, however, they are grinding truly, and for the sake of the Gospel


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About George Weigel 345 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 books are The Next Pope: The Office of Peter and a Church in Mission (2020), and Not Forgotten: Elegies for, and Reminiscences of, a Diverse Cast of Characters, Most of Them Admirable (Ignatius, 2021).

22 Comments

  1. This essay reveals that fundamentally un-Catholic ideas disorient or even animate the author.

    Mr. Weigel asks: “is episcopal collegiality within bishops’ conferences “effective,” such that a conference has real teaching and legislative authority?”

    Pope Benedict XVI pointedly reminded Catholics that national bishops conferences have no authority in the Church whatsoever. In the Catholic CHurch teaching authority is invested in the Bishop alone, and NOT in some fictious “collection” of bishops, which in fact get controlled by a small and powerful cabal of metropolitan archbishops and Cardinals, which is exactly what happens in the useless USCCB and the outright heretic and apostate German Conference, and is the untimate trajectory of every other conference.

    Mr. Weigel’s essay is stocked with management buzzwords like “eucharistic coherence” and “eucharistic community.”

    Here’s what “would be” convincing: a single Bishop standing against the USCCB’s current “McCarrick Eucharistic Doctrine,” and doing his duty and enforcing Canon 915, and witholding Holy Communion from a “Catholic” politician who promotes abortion or gender ideology, etc etc etc.

    Perhaps Mr. Weigel should read Phillip Lawler, and Dr. Ed Peters, and others, who have pointed out that “Canon 915 comes BEFORE Canon 916.”

    https://www.catholicculture.org/commentary/canon-915-comes-first/

    Mr. Weigel increasingly comes off sounding like the public relations director of “Catholic-Lite” (the anemic and disoriented Church that he purports to be against).

    • I’m generally leery of authors like him, particularly the ‘neoistic’ inclinations, excessive self promotion and near adulation of favorite subjects (one admittedly a saint, but nonetheless a man with flaws like ours), etc.

      I agree about the collegial issue, at least as far as I understand the issue and the VCII document on it.

      I couldn’t locate it within ‘Sacramentum Caritatis,’ but Benedict may have first penned and placed the term “eucharistic incoherence” there.

      So many are so very disoriented today. I blame the Big B. If you listen to his Wed. audience catechesis of6/23/21, you’ll likely agree.

    • Your last sentence sums up my loss of respect for Weigel. I had read all his books up until his last three which have become boringly repetitious defenses of his life’s work which fell apart when he lost his integrity when his never-Trump hatred, and his obliviousness of how God uses former reprobates for His purposes, led him to abandon the unborn, triggering denial processes that spilled over into his capacity for coherent and honest assessment of the current crisis of this pontificate. He still believes the next pope, elected by Francis’ appointees, will be some sort of JPIII.

  2. I am beginning to wonder if I should turn to Joe Biden and “Catholics” in the Democrat Party for all instruction on the official teachings of the Catholic Church. It seems that some of our bishops have vacated the rightful role of the episcopal order to teach and have, instead, conferred this role onto the Democrat Party. Is this the case Cupich, Tobin, McElroy, Gregory and Co.?

  3. They’re very effective at affecting moral cowardice and selling out Jesus Christ and the unborn. And George Weigel continues to delude himself that things will work out in the end.

  4. The bishops MUST speak the truth with ONE voice. Any who dissent from the teaching of the Catholic Church should not be bishops or cardinals. The proposed document will be welcomed by those of us who believe Church teaching. Any who claim “devout” Catholic status will welcome clarification, and so should those who have excommunicated themselves by not learning and supporting the authentic, centuries-old teaching about the Eucharist. Bishops, do your jobs!

  5. “The longstanding episcopal failure to address this incoherence exacerbates the eucharistic deficit in American Catholicism by implying that the Church really doesn’t mean what it teaches about the sacred nature of the Eucharist.”

    Sorry, George, but American Catholic Church *cannot* mean what it teaches about the Eucharist or about abortion.

    If she did, our bishops could not possibly have conducted business as usual for the past half century, sharing daises and toasts and banquets — and, for God’s sake, Communion! — with death-dealing politicians who are intent on destroying everything the Church stands for.

  6. Spot on. If we truly are a Eucharistic people and the Eucharist is the source and sumit of Church life, I don’t understand what the confusion is with some of the Bishops in clarifying the need to recieve the Eucharist with a spotless soul. If some Bishops can’t believe in this basic truth of the Eucharist, they need to get out of the way and resign because they are distraction to the faithful and are no better than irreverent politicians.

  7. If, “It isn’t bishops trying to browbeat the conference chairman into changing an agenda to suit the tastes of a distinct minority”, then who are the instigators? Obviously the immediate culprits aren’t bishops, it’s Cardinals, Cardinals Cupich, Tobin who are alluded to by Weigel browbeating CDF prefect Cardinal Ladaria and Archbishop Gomez USCCB pres. This scenario is affective, related to feelings, personal leanings on the Eucharist. Distinction must be made when referencing effectiveness, on that which defends and promotes Catholic doctrine and that which is merely affective. That is the crux that seems left out of this rundown of what’s occurring regards Eucharistic cohesion. And that points to Cardinal Ladaria’s admonition to the Conference to consider alternative issues to Eucharistic cohesion, warning not to be divisive, warning on censure of a president, that whatever is achieved on consensus final implementation rests with the local ordinary. That leads to, who is foisting these restrictive guidelines, rendering the bishops conference ineffective? Is it Ladaria or the Pontiff? Certainly Ladaria doesn’t receive policy orders from Cupich and Tobin. What this article doesn’t address is that crucial issue of a collegial conference of bishops prepared to defend the faith on Eucharistic cohesion, well within its bailiwick, coming under restrictive admonitions that render that defense ineffective. Restrictions and side stepping that by all logical inference involves Pope Francis.

  8. This gives the virtue of hope a run for its money, for sure—-well maybe – this time–they’ll do something–right?

    As the dawdling delegates dialogue Catholics wander another 40 years in the desert, or possibly two more generations are lost to indecisiveness— continuing Liturgical and Catholic Doctrinal decline.

    Meanwhile the anti-Christians are honing their skills and swords.

  9. When Cortez visited the New World, he burned his ships to ensure that his men would be properly motivated. The recent USCCB vote to no longer ignore the donkey in the living room is irreversible and gives cause if not for false optimism, then at least for watchfulness and the long view.

    Might we also be reminded of the Donatist controversy in North Africa at the time of St. Augustine? While the issue there was the nature of the Second Person of the Trinity, rather than the nature of the Eucharist, the rough parallel presents itself. Instead of a 75/25 split among the bishops, the split was more like 50/50. At the Council of Carthage in A.D. 411 there were 285 Catholic bishops and 279 Donatists (almost always infesting the same dioceses).
    In Africa, because of the atrocities of the Donatists, the power of the Empire was solicited to help restore order. The contrast today is that under Biden, the successor-Donatists have claimed the power of the secular State to impose on society and on the Church, both, the Aztec cult of abortion plus the equally anti-human cult of gender theory in all of its deformities.

    In North Africa, with the coming of Islam, in the 7th century, the number of Catholic dioceses was reduced to zero. And, today, with the coming of radical and infiltrating Secularism, what will be the number of faithful Catholic dioceses in America in, say, the 22nd century or later? Weigel writes, “That is why the U.S. bishops have been determined for some time to undertake a comprehensive program of eucharistic education throughout the Church.”

    Weigel then concludes that the “wheels of collegiality” grind “slowly,” but also “truly.” Possibly there is something more here than alleged “management buzzwords” or the alleged and mere psychology of “optimism.”

  10. I misspoke, above. The Donatist controversy had to do with who were the legitimate bishops. A second parallel is with Arianism which had to do with the nature of the Second Person of the Trinity (the Council of Nicaea, A.D. 325). I propose that both parallels give some historical perspective and weight to our current moment.

  11. Forget about collegiality. Vatican II taught that collegiality consisted in a national body of bishops acting with and under the Pope, and likewise together with other national conferences of bishops make consultations when needed. This time the USCCB not only not consulted other conferences as asked by the Vatican but also has not acted with and under the Pope by defying his wishes to defer their issuance of their eucharistic coherence teaching document. The majority of them are guided less by this conciliar teaching and more by ideological motives to get back at President Biden for toppling down “the most pro-life friendly president ever” (even though he’s widely rumored he had abortions forced on some of his women from extramarital affairs) under the guise of pro-life advocacy. They have to get schooled with the theology and practice of the Council.

    • In a word, the Bishops need to ASSERT themselves in matters of the faith.That is their RIGHT and their JOB. The Church has been in decline for some time for a variety of reasons. Not the least of which is the failure of Bishops and clergy to push back against the dubious values of secularism in the area of abortion and sexuality in particular. In the past year or two of social upheaval, some of it justified but most of it NOT, the opening was provided to ram through ever more leftist ideology in our society. That included Democrat leaders opining that a baby born LIVE of a botched abortion might be left to died, depending upon what the “mother” wished.It included twisted sexual narratives of unnatural sex acts which are now taught routinely in the lower grades and include leftist support for the physical “transitioning” of minor age children, who cannot possibly know their own minds on this score at that age. It includes the teaching of the racist critical race theory, and debunked works such as the 1619 Project. Much of this because people, including the Bishops, are afraid to assert themselves to protect truth and reality. Finally much of this has been allowed to run wild as a politician who provided ample proof of his NON-Catholic beliefs, asserts himself to be a devout Catholic, all in an effort to pander for votes. In this he is not alone. Sadly there are MANY Catholic politicians in this category. It is time they are asked to make a private decision between their party and their religion. One can guess what they will select. This week a group of Democrats issued a letter to the bishops essentially daring them to assert their own authority, as if the Democratic party owned the Catholic Church and had any say in it’s beliefs and content. Today, a Democrat capped this piece of gall by suggesting if the Bishops did ban from Communion errant Catholic public figures, the party should consider withdrawing the Church’s tax exempt status. Given the free wheeling way in which the left gladly shut down churches for months on end using a flu as the excuse, undoubtedly causing permanent damage, one should not be shocked. One should also not imagine the Communist-like crowd from which these actions emanate hold the moral high ground. They do not. Finally, if any of the slanderous accusations you just leveled against President Trump had even a jot of truth, the Pravda media minions who lemming-like support the DEM party would have been glad to smear him with it. Since they did not dare to do so, one concludes that like ALL the DEM accusations against Trump, it is FALSE.

  12. “an encounter with the living God in which Christ is offered to the Father and is given back to his people in holy communion — a communion in and through the body and blood, soul and divinity of Christ, received under the forms of bread and wine,” a good beginning description of the Eucharist. But it implies two actions, when in fact, our reception of the sacrament is an integral part of Christ’s offering to the Father, not something separate from it. If this were understood, the social atmosphere at many Masses would be transcended.

  13. The true Church of our LORD AND GOD JESUS CHRIST has only one VICAR OF CHRIST on earth in the person of our HOLY FATHER, POPE FRANCIS. He is the first among all the apostles (cf LUKE 22:31-32). We must all listen to him with loving and humble obedience whether we are conservative Catholics or liberal Catholics. This is extremely urgent today, otherwise we stand the high risk of finishing the race but being disqualified (cf 1 Corinthians 9:27). Our HEAVENLY MOTHER’S message to the late Rev Father Stefano Gobbi on August 7, 1976 also warns us not to obey any other voice other than the voice of the VICAR OF CHRIST ON EARTH.

    May our HEAVENLY MOTHER intercede for us all and keep us all faithful to Christ through his Church headed by his VICAR ON EARTH,POPE FRANCIS.

  14. I am a simple person. I claim no great knowledge, but I know why many friends and I have lost interest in church & eucharist. When it was always proclaimed that Eucharist was the body & blood of Christ, I longed for the sacrament. Then it was suddenly “a meal” and without a congregation, Eucharist was empty of Christ because WE make Christ present by our presence. Then we needed to show community by greeting each other, talking, laughing, sharing pictures,complaints, plans and news all in church before Mass. Those conversations used to be left outside at the door. So, I can’t prepare for Mass ’cause of the noise around me, and I can’t have a private conversation with my Lord during communion since it’s all about my sharing with my neighbors, so why go at all? I can pray inpeace at home.

    • Loretta know that Christ is really present in the Eucharist and only wishes that you receive him and adore him despite the clamor and nonsense round you.

  15. I continue to be confused by the phrase “source and summit” in Lumen Gentium 11. Mr. Wiegel suggests that the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of the Church’s life. I have heard other Catholic speakers and writers make a similar claim.

    However, the words in the document are “Taking part in the eucharistic sacrifice, the source and summit of Christian life, they offer the divine victim to God and themselves along with it.” This seems to be an obvious reference to the Divine Liturgy, not to receiving Holy Communion.

    Worship of God is participating in sacrifice. The Perfect Sacrifice is offered to God the Father by the Perfect Priest, His Son. And we participate through our Baptism as priest, prophet, and king. Participating in Mass is the source and summit of our Christian life on earth.

    Holy Eucharist is important, but it is one of seven Sacraments Christ left for us to help us on our journey. I may be wrong, but I don’t see how you can rank God’s gifts in this regard.

    Still, the author’s points regarding the Bishops and collegiality are well taken. And with regard to the Eucharist and Catholic politicians, St. Paul’s warning in 1 COR 27-29 about worthiness to receive Communion still applies, as do many other references to our worthiness before God in Scripture.

    • Not sure how it’s confusing. The Eucharistic sacrifice is, well, the Eucharist. Weigel and others are not saying that reception of Holy Communion is the “source and summit”, but that the Eucharist is. Which is exactly what the Catechism states in explaining its centrality among the sacraments:

      The Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life.” “The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it. For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch.” (CCC 1324)

      All of the sacraments convey and communicate grace, that is, divine life. But the Eucharist is unique in that it is the true Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ. Hence its singular position, so to speak, as “source and summit”.

  16. I am blessed to be able to attend weekly a fully reverent so-called Extraordinary form of the Mass. The people are aware of what is going on, including the many children, to the extent of their ability. If more Catholics and Catholic clergy and Catholic experts had eyes to see they would know there’s been a Eucharistic Renewal going on for quite a few years and it isn’t in the NO Church. I have my doubts that decades of actions that have been contrary to Eucharistic awareness will be “fixed” by some collection of religious buzz words put together by the USCCB, no matter how erudite.

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