What’s in (and isn’t in) the bishops’ draft document on the Eucharist?

Coakley USCCB Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City (Left) and Bishop James Wall of Gallup (Right) pray before the afternoon session of the 2019 USCCB General Assembly, June 12, 2019. | Kate Veik/CNA

A draft text of the U.S. bishops’ forthcoming document on Eucharistic coherence does not make explicit mention of denying the sacrament from certain high-profile Catholics and instead focuses on the importance of teaching the Real Presence of the Eucharist and the Eucharist as a tool for evangelization. 

The draft, titled “The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church” was obtained by CNA on Tuesday, Nov. 2. The document is dated Sept. 24, 2021.

The two sections of the draft are “The Gift,” which centers on the Eucharist as a gift from Christ through his incarnation, death, and resurrection, and  “Our Response,” which focuses on gratitude for the gift of the Eucharist, the role the laity play in regards to reception of the Eucharist, and the importance of the Eucharist in conversion. 

“When we receive Holy Communion, Christ is giving himself to us. He comes to us all in humility, as he came to us in the Incarnation, so that we may receive him and be one with him,” says the text.

“Christ gives himself to us so that we may continue the pilgrim path toward life with him in the fullness of the Kingdom of God.”  

What was notably absent from the 26-page draft was any sort of criteria for when to deny a Catholic from receiving the Eucharist. 

During the Spring 2021 General Assembly of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, there was a spirited and contentious debate among the bishops concerning whether or not this document should even be drafted. Eventually, following several hours of back-and-forth discussions, the bishops voted 168 to 55 in favor of proceeding with the document. 

At the time, it was widely speculated by the mainstream media that this document was going to serve as a “rebuke” to President Joe Biden. 

Biden, a Catholic, is publicly in favor of abortion and has stated that he believes abortion should be available throughout the entirety of a woman’s pregnancy. During his 2020 campaign for president, Biden abandoned his decades of support for the Hyde Amendment — a rider which bans the use of public funds to pay for abortion — over a 24-hour period

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception.” 

The Eucharist document does explain the differences between venial and mortal sins, and says that a Catholic in a state of mortal sin should not receive the Eucharist until they have gone to Confession and received absolution. 

“While all our failures to do what is right damage our communion with God and each other, they fall into different categories, reflecting different degrees of severity,” the document states.

“There are some sins, however, that do rupture the communion we share with God and the Church,” the document states. 

“As the Church has consistently taught, a person who receives Holy Communion while in a state of mortal sin not only does not receive the grace of the sacrament, he or she commits the sin of sacrilege by failing to show the reverence due to the Body and Blood of Christ.,” the document explains.

The document states “the reception of Holy Communion entails one’s communion with the Church in this visible dimension,” and restates the text of the 2006 document from the bishops concerning Catholics in public life. 

“If 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,” the new document states, repeating the bishops’ 2006 guidance.

“Reception of Holy Communion in such a situation," the guidance states, "would not accord with the nature of the Eucharistic celebration, so that he or she should refrain.”

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The bishops will vote whether to accept this draft at the upcoming Fall General Assembly of the USCCB, scheduled for Nov. 15-18 in Baltimore. This is the first in-person meeting of the bishops since the Fall 2019 meeting.

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