Washington D.C., Jun 17, 2021 / 10:30 am (CNA).
On Thursday afternoon, the U.S. bishops are scheduled to debate and vote to begin drafting a teaching document on the Eucharist.
As the bishops meet for their annual spring general assembly, held virtually this year from June 16-18, they will consider whether the conference’s doctrine committee can begin drafting “a formal statement on the meaning of the Eucharist in the life of the Church.”
Although some bishops have warned against moving ahead with such a document due to its mention of Communion for Catholic pro-abortion politicians, the proposed outline of the document reveals a broad, comprehensive treatment of the Church’s teaching on the Eucharist.
The doctrine committee’s proposed outline covers teachings including the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, a “recovery of understanding the Eucharist as sacrifice,” “the importance of Sunday as a day of obligation,” the need for beautiful liturgies, Catholics living as a “Eucharistic people” in daily life, the Eucharist as a “call to conversion,” and the importance of practicing the works of mercy.
Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend – chair of the USCCB doctrine committee – explained on Wednesday that the proposed Eucharistic document is the fruit of the bishops’ three-year strategic plan “Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ, Source of Our Healing and Hope,” approved in November 2020.
The three main sections of the outline draw from Pope Benedict XVI’s 2007 apostolic exhortation Sacramentum caritatis, that followed the 2005 Synod on the Eucharist. In that document, Benedict described the Eucharist as a mystery to be “believed,” “celebrated,” and “lived.” The three main sections of the USCCB document outline list these three aspects of the Eucharist.
Both Bishop Rhoades and Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington on Wednesday said that the proposed document came about for multiple reasons – a chief one being a decline of belief in the Real Presence among Catholics.
The proposed document “isn’t anything brand new,” Bishop Burbidge said on Wednesday, at a press conference following the USCCB proceedings. “It’s what the Church has always taught in the Eucharist.”
The document would aim to reignite “a sense of Eucharistic wonder and awe that in many ways may need to be revitalized,” he said.
Rhoades cited a “convergence” of events that triggered the proposal for the document on the Eucharist, pointing to a poll showing a decline in Catholics’ belief in the Real Presence.
The document would be meant to “help to reignite that faith” and help catechize the faithful on the Church’s teaching on the Eucharist. “But it has to be the whole truth,” he emphasized.
General worthiness to receive Communion – “Eucharistic consistency” – is included as a sub-section in the document outline; the problem of Catholic politicians supporting policies contrary to Church teaching is also mentioned in the introductory note.
The topic of “Eucharistic consistency” was mentioned years ago, both Benedict XVI and by the Latin American bishops (including then-Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio) in their 2007 Aparecida document, the bishops noted.
“Consequently, Catholic politicians and legislators, conscious of their grave responsibility before society, must feel particularly bound, on the basis of a properly formed conscience, to introduce and support laws inspired by values grounded in human nature. There is an objective connection here with the Eucharist,” Benedict wrote in Sacramentum caritatis.
“Bishops are bound to reaffirm constantly these values as part of their responsibility to the flock entrusted to them,” he added.
Bishop Rhoades on Wednesday explained that although worthiness to receive Communion is just one part of the Church’s teaching on the Eucharist, it is an essential one.
“We want to talk about the whole truth about the Eucharist, and how can you do so without talking about the importance of living what we receive, and being in communion with the faith of the Church?” he said.
“That’s Eucharistic consistency. So, I think we can’t do a full treatment of the Eucharist without talking about that, or teaching about that,” he said.
Yet some bishops have warned against the document’s treatment of who may receive Communion, pushing for an outright delay on drafting the document and arguing that it required an in-person deliberation among the bishops.
In May, some bishops wrote to the president of the USCCB, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, asking that the planned debate and vote on the Eucharistic document be postponed until the bishops can meet in-person. The letter was led by Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago.
Archbishop Gomez in response said that the discussion would proceed as originally planned.
Again, on Wednesday some bishops moved to delay consideration of the document, this time by proposing to remove time limits on discussion of the document and arguing that all bishops who want to speak should be allowed to do so.
“We owe this to our people,” said Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski of St. Louis, who introduced the motion. Cardinal Cupich – who originally called for a delay on debate of the Eucharistic document in his May letter to Gomez – on Wednesday supported Rozanski’s motion to allow for unlimited debate.
Other bishops, such as Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas and Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, noted that the motion to remove time limits was essentially a “delaying tactic” and a “filibuster” on moving ahead with a Eucharistic document.
Thursday’s vote is merely to begin drafting a document, they argued, and the bishops will have the opportunity later on to debate the document’s text once it is approved and written.