The Catholic bishops of the United States voted Tuesday to approve a document aimed at increasing the reverence of all Catholics for Holy Communion. The document, written in a question and answer format, addresses the fundamental importance of the Holy Eucharist and the conditions for proper reception. While the bishops did not directly address the contentious issue of denying communion to public officials who actively reject Church teaching, it did reiterate that all Catholics should seriously examine their own disposition for receiving.
"Happy Are Those Who Are Called To His Supper: On Preparing To Receive Christ Worthily in the Eucharist,” begins by recalling the Catechism’s instruction that “the principal fruit of receiving the Eucharist in Holy Communion is an intimate union with Christ Jesus,” who comes in a real way in the Blessed Sacrament.
“In virtue of our membership in the Catholic Church we are ordinarily free to receive Holy Communion,” the bishops note. “In fact, it is most desirable that we receive the Lord’s Body and Blood, so that Holy Communion stands out clearly as a participation in the sacrifice actually being celebrated.”
There are times however, when, after an examination of conscience, Catholics may come to realize that they, “should refrain from partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ.” Such barriers to the reception of Holy Communion included the unconfessed committal of a mortal sin, a lack of adherence to Church teaching, or giving public scandal.
The bishops made a clear distinction when it comes to questioning Church teaching. They acknowledge that some Catholics may not fully understand the Church’s doctrinal and moral teaching on certain issues and may have particular questions and even uncertainties, and said that such Catholics are welcome to partake of Holy Communion, “as long as they are prayerfully and honestly striving to understand the truth of what the Church professes and are taking appropriate steps to resolve their confusion and doubt.”
If, however, “a Catholic in his or her personal or professional life were knowingly and obstinately to reject the defined doctrines of the Church, or knowingly and obstinately to repudiate her definitive teaching on moral issues, however, he or she would seriously diminish his or her communion with the Church,” and thus should refrain from taking part in Holy Communion, the bishops continued.
Those people who are, “publicly known to have committed serious sin or to have rejected definitive Church teaching and is not yet reconciled with the Church,” should also refrain from receiving communion as their reception would cause scandal for others, the bishops said. “To give scandal means more than to cause other people to be shocked or upset by what one does. Rather, one’s action leads someone else to sin,” the bishops noted, quoting from Pope John Paul II’s encyclical on the Eucharist, “Scandal is an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil.”
Newark’s Archbishop John Myers, who proposed that the bishops write about the document told CNA he was, “very happy,” with it, “because I think it gives a solid foundation for all of us to think about proper preparation to receive the sacraments.”
“By having a point of reference, I think it has the potential of building more unity among the bishops as we deal with particular situations,” Archbishop Myers added.
In addition to discussing situations that would prevent Catholics from receiving communion, the document also provides a guide for the faithful to prepare to receive the sacrament more worthily. “While the celebration of the Eucharist itself is a communal act,” the bishops noted, “the benefit that each individual receives from the Eucharistic celebration depends on the way he or she approaches the sacrament.”
The bishops point out tools for “remote” and “proximate” preparation to receive the Blessed Sacrament, including regular prayer, reception of the Sacrament of Penance, upholding the Eucharistic fast, actively participating in the liturgy, and offering a prayer of love and thanksgiving after receiving.
Bishop Arthur Serratelli, whose Commission on Doctrine drafted the document, noted that the aim of the bishops was to make clear the power and importance of the Sacrament and to bring more people to a deep Communion, not to keep them from Communion. The call to examination before receiving should serve as “a challenge now to Catholics to have a certain consistency in their lives," he said.
The bishop said the document may seem tough to some people, but in fact points to a real question about one’s own adherence to the faith, “If you reject...a teaching that is fundamental to Catholics," he said, "the real question is, then, Why would you want to take Communion? Because Communion itself says, 'I am part of this church and I embrace what it believes.'"
To read the bishops’ document in full, visit the USCCB website at www.usccb.org.