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Politicizing the Eucharist

On April 14, America magazine, as part of its ongoing series, The Conversation with America Media, published an article by Archbishop Samuel Aquila [1]: “For the church to live in eucharistic coherence, we must be willing to challenge Catholics persisting in grave sin.”

Archbishop Aquila argued that eucharistic coherence demands that those who partake of the Eucharist, including Catholic politicians, are to be in communion with the Church. That is, they must adhere to the Church’s fundamental doctrinal and moral teaching.  Not to do so would contravene St. Paul’s exhortation: “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself.” (1 Cor 11:27-30)

Within a few hours after Archbishop Aquila’s article was published, Cardinal Blase Cupich wrote a letter to him criticizing his article [2]. The Cardinal’s critique was in no way relevant to what Archbishop Aquila wrote, though it did allow him to fabricate a criticism whereby he could express his displeasure.  Nonetheless, the letter did serve a positive end, for it enabled the Archbishop to write a “clarification [3]” to ward off any ambiguity concerning the point he was making.  In so doing, the Archbishop was able to develop his point even more strongly.

Now, the interchange between Archbishop Aquila and Cardinal Cupich is part of a larger discussion – that of offering Holy Communion to Catholic politicians even though it is well known that they approve and promote behavior contrary to the Church’s teaching, such as abortion, contraception, euthanasia, same-sex “marriage,” and various forms of gender ideology.

Some bishops argue that such Catholic politicians should not be refused Communion, for to do so would politicize the Eucharist.  The refusal on the part of bishops or priests would indeed cause a political and media fuss, and prudence may suggest, in certain circumstances, that Communion should not be refused.  An argument could easily be made, however, that refusal should be made so as to avoid scandal and protect the integrity of the sacrament.

To refuse to give Holy Communion to dissident Catholic politicians, however, is not to politicize the Eucharist.  The politicizing of the Eucharist occurs in the act of the Catholic politician presenting himself or herself to receive Communion even though he or she is well aware that to do so is contrary to what the Church teaches.  Those who are objectively in the state of mortal sin, or who dissent from or promote contrary positions to the Church’s fundamental dogmatic or moral teaching are forbidden to receive the body and blood of Jesus, for they have made themselves unworthy to do so.

Thus, such Catholic politicians, in presenting themselves, are using – and so abusing – the Eucharist for seemingly political purposes – to present themselves as “devout” Catholics.  Therein lies a threefold irony.

First, those who are unquestionably devout Catholics do not need to identify themselves as such – it is evident to all that they are.  Everyone knows that they believe and uphold, and even promote, all that the Church teaches.  When they sin against God’s commandments as taught by the Church, they go to Confession, resolve to amend their lives, and so obtain sacramental absolution.  Such Catholics are devout without needing to trumpet it.

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Second, when a dissident politician declares that he or she is a devout Catholic, one immediately perceives that something is awry.  Catholic politicians emphasize their devotedness – and their supporters echo the declaration – because there is something about their behavior that is suspect.

Appearances notwithstanding, it is claimed, there’s no problem here.  While they may affirm and promote abortion, same-sex relationships, etc., they are, NONETHELESS, “devout” Catholics.  How do they manifest their devotedness?   They go to Communion!  Ironically, such Catholic politicians do the very thing that no truly devout Catholic would ever do.  The very “devout” action they perform, that of receiving Holy Communion, is an enacted declaration that they lack authentic Catholic devotion.

The third irony is that no one is fooled by this charade, except maybe the self-deluded politician.  Faithful Catholics know that there is an irreconcilable disconnect between what is being held by such Catholic politicians and their receiving Communion.  And they see that it’s the dissenting Catholic politician who is politicizing the Eucharist.

The motives behind such moves may vary. Politics itself is, to some degree, an essential motivation.  To be religious in America is still a good thing – it wins votes.  Votes are also won by holding and promoting non-Catholic policies.  Of course, these stances are contradictory, but then politicians are not known for consistency.

There may, nonetheless, be a deeper motivation.  Although one may uphold and promote what is contrary to the Catholic faith, deep down within one’s heart and mind there could be the inerasable belief that Jesus is the one Savior and that the Catholic Church is the one true Church.  To be “Catholic,” then, is essential to one’s salvation, for to receive Jesus in the Eucharist is to be truly in communion with he who saves.

Thus, one claims to be a devout Catholic and receives Communion in the hope that, somehow, someday, it will all work out. This comes dangerously close to a sentimental “Catholic” superstition – which is the most charitable interpretation of why dissident Catholic politicians insist on receiving Holy Communion.

What should most concern the Church is that such Catholic politicians do not simply hold many things that are in opposition to the Catholic faith, but they also actively attack, through the laws they propose and enact, the Catholic Church, the very church to which they claim devotion.

In the end, what cannot be denied in all this deception, is the work of the devil.  He, above all, wishes to politicize the Eucharist – to reduce it to political marketing. Nothing could be more deceptive than “devout” Catholic politicians wreaking havoc on the Catholic Church and Catholic bishops approving such devilish behavior.

The Catholic faithful must pray, therefore, not only for the conversion of so-called “devout Catholic” politicians, but also for the Lord’s protection of his Holy Church.

 

*Image: The Institution of the Eucharist [4] by Ercole de’ Roberti, c. 1490s [National Gallery, London]

Thomas G. Weinandy, OFM, a prolific writer and one of the most prominent living theologians, serves as a member of the Vatican’s International Theological Commission. His newest book is the second volume of Jesus Becoming Jesus: A Theological Interpretation of the Gospel of Johnl.