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The Eucharist should not be received unworthily, says Nigerian cardinal

Courtney Mares   By Courtney Mares for CNA

Nigerian Cardinal John Onaiyekan speaks at the International Eucharistic Congress in Budapest, Hungary, Sept. 9, 2021. / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Rome Newsroom, Sep 9, 2021 / 07:17 am (CNA).

Priests have a duty to remind Catholics not to receive the Eucharist in a state of serious sin and to make confession easily available, a Nigerian cardinal said at the International Eucharistic Congress on Thursday.

“It is still the doctrine of the Church that anyone who knows himself or herself to be in a state of serious sin which distances him from the love of God should not move forward to receive the Holy Communion simply because everybody is going,” Cardinal John Onaiyekan said in the Hungarian capital, Budapest, on Sept. 9.

“He must first avail himself of the sacrament of reconciliation with God through confession.”

“But unfortunately, what we see is a general stream of people going for Communion at Mass, and it seems like they don’t really bother about whether they are in the right spiritual state to receive it.”

“It is the duty of pastors to remind the faithful about this, without introducing unnecessary exaggerations in the matter. It is also the duty of pastors to make access to confession easily available for the faithful.”

Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Cardinal Onaiyekan served as the archbishop of Abuja from 1994 until 2019, when Pope Francis accepted his retirement at the age of 75. He delivered an hour-long catechesis on Catholic doctrine on the Eucharist at the 52nd International Eucharistic Congress taking place in Hungary on Sept. 5-12.

The 77-year-old cardinal recommended that priests preach on the worthy reception of the Eucharist so that people will know when they are in an irregular situation and “will regulate their behavior without waiting to be publicly pulled out of the Communion rails.”

“There is a debate going on in some countries about whether a politician who for political reasons votes for an immoral law should be stopped from Holy Communion,” Onaiyekan said.

“If voting for an immoral law, even in a secular state, amounts to becoming an accomplice to the crime, then we would be dealing with a moral decision that is incompatible with receiving Holy Communion.”

Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

“But from a pastoral point of view, it is not so clear whether if such a person actually presents himself at the altar rails for Communion, we should publicly refuse to give him Communion, thereby causing a major uproar and scandal. Both St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas propose caution in handling such cases.”

The African cardinal added that “a Catholic politician who disagrees publicly with his Church on a moral issue should do well to avoid deliberately provoking controversy around the Holy Eucharist.”

Onaiyekan said that as a bishop he had tried his best to encourage Catholic politicians to “always stand out clearly and oppose any law that is against the law of God.”

Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

“If, for political reasons, he is unable to stop an immoral law, he should at least be on record as having opposed it,” he added.

“A recent situation that has generated a lot of discussion has to do with the responsibility of Catholic politicians to uphold the laws of the Church in their political choices and decisions, especially with regard to the serious sin of abortion,” the cardinal said.

He lamented that abortion is considered normal in many “so-called developed nations.”

Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

“Nevertheless, the position of the Catholic Church resolutely insisting that abortion is the killing of innocent unborn children continues to hold. Any Catholic who commits abortion, or who cooperates in the committing of abortion, should know that he has committed murder and should keep away from Holy Communion, unless and until he has gone for confession,” he said.

“It is not so difficult to get back to God, even after doing such a thing,” he added. “The problem is when people are proud of what they have done.”

Onaiyekan said that the question of whether a Catholic politician must always necessarily vote against any law that is permitting abortion or immoral action is “more delicate and problematic.”

Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

“The important issue here is that very often, once it comes into the arena of party politics, it is necessary that the Church be careful not to drag the Holy Eucharist into political wrangling, lest more damage is done than we try to avoid,” he said.

Onaiyekan has been a bishop for 38 years and previously served as the president of the Nigerian Catholic bishops’ conference.

He said that his experience of living alongside Muslims in Nigeria who insist on the Sharia law had taught “useful lessons on how not to impose the religious laws of a faith community in a multi-religious nation.”

“I wish I had time to speak about Nigeria, and about what God is doing in our midst, but that is not my task for this morning,” he said, noting that he was asked to speak about Catholic doctrine on the Eucharist.

“In the Holy Eucharist, we have an intimate union with Jesus Christ, the Son of God the Father, through the action of the Holy Spirit. In other words, we have an intimate union with the Holy Trinity. Through the Holy Eucharist, God not only comes to us but God lives in us and we in him,” Onaiyekan said.

“We can say first and foremost that, strictly speaking, nobody is worthy to receive the Holy Communion. We are all sinners before God. That is why when, at the beginning of Mass, we recite the Confiteor — ‘I confess to almighty God’ — we must do it sincerely. It is not just a formality,” he said.

“We should thank God for admitting us into union with himself, and making us worthy to celebrate the Eucharist with him, through his mercy.”

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  1. “It’s necessary that the Church be careful not to drag the Holy Eucharist into political wrangling, lest more damage is done” (Cardinal Onaiyekan). Onaiyekan says all the right things then leaves us with the same ambiguity that’s destroying faithful adherence to Christ’s and the Apostles’ teaching. Perhaps some instances require discretion. However, if a person is widely known to publicly support, and promote abortion even seeking to strike down State legislation to limit, that person is an abject opponent to the Catholicism, never mind the sensitivities he seeks to protect. What then of the immense scandal to the faithful? Wrangling over the Eucharist is rhetorical drivel. More soul numbing Yinyang Catholicism.

    • “Whether a Catholic politician must always necessarily vote against any law that is permitting abortion or immoral action is more delicate and problematic” (Cardinal Onaiyekan). This is a poorly veiled reference to President Biden and the US Bishops’ Conference, particularly at this time Archbishop Cordileone. An apparent hat tip to Vatican policy. A well known American Bishop Robert McElroy San Diego holds similar orthodox views on Catholic doctrine, particularly the Eucharist. And similar to what Cardinal Onaiyekan suggests he doesn’t agree that the Eucharist should be denied pro choice politicians, “to avoid political wrangling” as Onaikeyan would say, or McElroy weaponizing it. Can anyone provide this writer with the essential difference between Cardinal Onaiyekan and Bishop McElroy on Eucharist coherence? And if they agree with these prelates on liceity for pro choice pols to receive the Eucharist, how that would strengthen the faith of a rapidly dwindling practice among Catholics?

  2. The fear of Cardinals, Bishops and clergy of “causing a major uproar” is why reliably Catholic Nations like Ireland and now Mexico have recently jumped ship from the beliefs of the Church to pandering to the loudest secular screamers among us. It would sadly appear that many in the church hierarchy are accepting of “anything goes”. Just look at what the German Bishops want. Because evidently these days “being nice” trumps doctrine or morality. This weakening of church standards and truths will happen more and more as long as fear of reduced attendees, reduced collections, and wanting the approval of secular society is the bottom line concern of the church.A smaller more faithful congregation is better than a large unfaithful one. Its also hard to obey when one doesn’t know the rules ( because they are not preached for fear of offending) and one is not asked to adhere to any. I seem to recall St. Paul didnt hesitate to admonish sinners and that was when church membership numbers were VERY low. Unfaithful followers were asked to follow faithfully or were cordially asked to leave until they were willing. Sounds like a plan.

  3. This article should be made readily available to the members of the USCCB. Too many of them seem to vacillate on the issue of public officials receiving Communion despite an adamant support for killing the unborn in the womb. The teaching is clear and unequivocal. Thanks to this retired cardinal for clearly speaking the truth!

  4. The article starts off strongly upholding traditional Church teachings, then goes down hill from there. I would be interested in learning what the Cardinal had to say publicly before he retired. Seems so often “courageous” statements come from the retired clergy, who no longer have anything to lose by being loyal to Christ.

    If a person of the stature of President. Biden, who is very publicly marshaling all the forces of the U.S. Government to oppose the SCOTUS’ decision to uphold for now the Texas pro-life heartbeat bill, is denied Communion, then let the uproar commence. Such cowardliness by Church leaders in not publicly denying Holy Communion is scandalous.

    • William, the woman is rarely if ever civilly indicted nor does the Catholic Church focus on a civil penalty, in fact insofar as ecclesial sanction the canons are quite expansive regarding undo burden. For example, extreme poverty, fear, emotional impairment. Excommunication however is otherwise warranted for the woman for sake of invoking repentance [if a husband or partner is actively involved in the abortion he also is subject to ecclesial penalty]. Especially when abortion is repeated and frivolous, as when cosmetic, or worse a hate for the prospective infant frequently the case in a self indulgent culture when the infant is considered an inconvenience. It’s more the institutions Planned Parenthood and medical staff that perform abortion when not only ecclesial but civil sanction should be administered. And the Church is prominent in providing care facilities for expectant mothers who are unable to support the child. The bottom line is it’s a heinous crime against an innocent life and must be recognized as such.

  5. After 61 Million Souls lost over the last 50 years. 120 Million Parents as both the Male
    & Female had a hand in creating the 61 Million lost Souls of Gods creation.It would seem the horses have all left the barn,and as the doors swing back and forth to an empty barn.The Truth of Christ is lost in the worship of Self.

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