All eyes are on Baltimore this week as the U.S. bishops discuss, debate, and vote on the long-awaited document on the Eucharist, drafted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ doctrine committee.
The document finds its origin in the concerns that have arisen, on the part of many shepherds and lay faithful, by the counter-witness of Catholics who serve as elected officials and support abortion. These concerns have been particularly aggravated with the 2020 election of Catholic President Joe Biden, who supports pro-abortion policies without restriction.
The bishops’ document, however, is not expected to have as its focus Catholic politicians, nor will it name names. Rather, it will be a teaching document that considers Eucharistic practice and teaching, as well as the Eucharist’s central role in the life and mission of the Church.
Explicitly or implicitly, what the bishops teach about the Eucharist — be it our preparation to receive that gift with a spirit of humility, or our obligation to live in conformity with the Church’s life when we present ourselves to receive the sacrament of our unity — will create controversy. After all, what doesn’t these days? The rubber meets the road in Catholic life when we do not just profess our belief in Christ and his Real Presence in the Eucharist, but when we live as eucharistic icons in the world, bringing Christ to all and bringing all to Christ.
As Cardinal Francis E. George, OMI — late archbishop of Chicago and president of the U.S. Bishops’ conference from 2007-2010 — once said: “No one receives the Eucharist on any other terms except those of Christ himself, just as no one is a Catholic on any other terms but Christ’s.”
Living eucharistically — which, if the document passes, seems to be what the majority of U.S. bishops will be imploring Catholics to do — is akin to being a voice crying out in the wilderness today in our secularized, selfish culture. It’s also a cri de coeur for the Church, which suffers on account of the culture’s hold on us all. Pro-abortion Catholic politicians is just one — albeit, a most grievous one — of the many ways Catholics in the United States today fall short of our call.
If we truly lived as people of the Eucharist, perhaps studies would not show that an overwhelming majority of Catholics do not believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Maybe we’d have more pro-life politicians among our ranks. Maybe more couples would marry in the Church and more babies be baptized. Maybe we would be closing fewer parishes and schools. Maybe we’d experience less rancor and division — even, to an ever-increasing degree, in the Church.
Taking into consideration all these things, and more, into account, it’s obvious why the bishops have proceeded with a document on the mystery of the Eucharist in the life of the Church. And it’s also why they are moving forward with plans for a Eucharistic revival over the next few years.
In the end, the Eucharist is the answer to the problems we face, the way forward from the situation in which we find ourselves, and the medicine we need to heal our sin-sick souls. And given the origins of the bishops’ document — the acute crisis of Catholics in public office unapologetically supporting the most selfish of acts under the banner of freedom — perhaps deepening eucharistic understanding and strengthening eucharistic living can provide the lens through which to understand true freedom.
The freedom we find in the Eucharist is not the freedom of Illinois U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, who recently announced he has found a parish in the Archdiocese of Chicago that would give him Communion after past and current bishops in Springfield restricted his reception of the sacrament in light of his pro-abortion politics. “The freedom Christ gives us with himself in the Eucharist” is, however — again turning to Cardinal George — “more than freedom to do; it is also freedom to give ourselves totally, even to the point of self-sacrifice, as Christ gave himself to death on the cross.”
If the bishops’ document can call us more clearly to this way of living, it will be a success.
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