Catholic forums and the USBC are ablaze with the meaning of the Sacrament of the Eucharist. The term of the day is “Eucharistic Coherence.” George Weigel does a pretty good job summarizing in one article called “The Challenge of Eucharistic Coherence” on February 3, 2021.[i] Why the uproar now?
We have a Catholic President who does not politically support “Right to Life” issues regarding the unborn sufficiently to align with Catholic values on this serious issue[ii] despite the rest of his life and his values being consistent with the overall dignity of life values that the Catholic Church teaches (care for the poor, access to healthcare, housing, education, equality, dignity, capital punishment, immigration, etc.). He is perhaps the anti-trump where the flip is historically accurate where his actions, at least legally on the right to life front, were aggressive but poorly lacking everyplace else.
The Catholic Church is unsure of itself and rightly so about President Biden and the Sacrament of the Eucharist. The act of committing abortion meets three elements required that would easily preclude receiving the Eucharistic Sacrament:
- Abortion fits the Catholic Church definition of a “Grave matter” or a “Mortal Sin” as Catholicism considers the unborn child fully human from conception. Abortion is murder.
- Full-knowledge of the sin being committed is also a factor. No doubt President Biden is fully aware of his commitments to Catholicism versus his oath as president. The latter is a civil authority not aligned with Catholicism in all areas of law.
- The person must freely choose to commit or act or plan to do it.
To my knowledge, President Biden has not met any of these conditions. However, the Catholic Church would say he is complicit, as is our nation that ignores this issue, and many others, the dignity of life whether or not we commit an act or do not actively criminalize and incarcerate non-Catholics and Catholics who do not follow our moral definition of when life begins.
At issue is what to do about Catholics who willfully receive communion while not in a state of grace suitable for receiving the body and blood of Christ.
I have myself, on occasion, felt unworthy of communion and willfully opted out until, with the assistance of a confessor, I sorted somethings out to bring myself somewhat closer to an acceptable state of grace to participate in Holy Communion. Was that necessary? I can make the theological case that if I approached communion with genuine intention and placed my faults, the sacrament could absorb my sinful state without blemish. Was I guilty of grave sin? I have been guilty of grave sins or sins that are of grave matter as any premeditated “sin of a serious nature deliberately committed is a rejection of God’s law and love.”
Who among you are free of capital sins such as pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, and sloth? All of these are an affront to God by Catholic definition (Capital sins). Or how about St. Pauls list:
Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”
The Catholic Church has rules for the faithful (doctrine, traditions, etc.), and many of these rules are not suggestions! Immersing oneself in the Catechism of the Catholic Church Article Three[iv] is only a starting point for conducting a spiritual examination before receiving the sacrament of the Eucharist each Sunday. Aside from the prohibitions that are brief, this article contains 21 pages on the Eucharistic Sacrament’s beauty and meaning.
Think of it as an elaborate invitation to the most prestigious human gale, ball, event, or wedding. You are invited with the expectation that you will come prepared. There is no expectation that somebody else has to check you at the door for proper attire, etc.! They were some serious robes to the Last Supper.
What to do when these rules are not followed gets religiously complicated quickly. The Church has rarely managed well its power dynamic with kings, autocrats, dictators, or presidents. Ex-communication is the method used and authorized by Canon law:
“In Roman Catholic canon law, ex-communication is a censure and thus a “medicinal penalty” intended to invite the person to change behavior or attitude that incurred the penalty, repent, and return to full communion. Ex-communication severs one from communion with the Church; excommunicated Catholics are forbidden from receiving any sacrament and refused a Catholic burial but are still bound by canonical obligations such as attending Mass or fasting seasonally. Excommunicated Catholics, however, are barred from receiving the Eucharist or from taking an active part in the liturgy (reading, bringing the offerings, etc.). They are still Catholics per se, but are separated from the Church” Wikipedia has a list of excommunicated people from the first century to the current![v].
How many Catholics on Sunday morning conduct a sincere spiritual examination of their state of grace before receiving communion? If equipped to perform such an examination, what percentage would be short of the required grace defined by the Catholic Catechism?
I am less worried about President Biden’s state of grace than my own. I also have a hard time believing that one sinner or a thousand receiving the Eucharist with meaningful intention while not in a state of grace can in any way diminish God or the body of the church. I hold the sacrament as so powerful that it can heal any who come to the table willing to be healed.
The charge being levied at President Biden is Eucharistic Incoherence. I levy the same charge at myself and those throwing the stones first at Catholicism’s broad incoherence historically and current. As an institution we are far from without blemish and “more is being revealed” to us individually and collectively everyday as our humanity strives towards spiritual coherence.
We do strive to be and behave the opposite virtues of the “seven deadly sins.” What are they anyway?
Most of us are there trying our best to live a holy life, falling short individually and collectively. Celebrate and strengthen each other as these virtues are all around us everyday – people doing the right thing in the face of adversity. Let us not rush to judge or condemn with superficial knowledge and righteousness so quickly and may we receive equal consideration when our time for judgement comes today or at the end of days.
The Eucharistic Celebration, at its most basic level as originally intended, is miraculous and uniquely Catholic. Many words and paintings try to capture its essence, but only a personal journey and faith can truly reveal its meaning. Coherent or incoherent post I cannot decipher. I have not answered the President Biden dilemma that is apt to be misused by dividers and antagonist rather than by sincere soul-searching believers seeking coherence within and outside the faith.