As the Bishops Meet in Baltimore

Note: I hear from many readers how much you appreciate our championing the truth at The Catholic Thing. Or our faithfulness. And it’s gratifying – until it hits you that we’re all so wary of lying and infidelity now, inside and outside the Church, that what should be the simplest and most obvious virtues are now mostly missing. But if the times call for a return to the basics, then that’s what we all must do – even as we attempt to preserve the larger dimensions of our Christian tradition. As Fr. Murray explains this morning, as our bishops gather for their annual fall meeting, they are being called to do more than just restate Church teaching on the Eucharist, however necessary that may now be. They need to make some bold moves that will challenge the status quo, or they will lose even more of their teaching authority. They’ll get no little push back, even from certain Catholics. And that’s why we at The Catholic Thing and many others must support the bishops in taking a prophetic stance, not only this week but for years to come. This responsibility falls on all of us. And you can help. Just click the button. Follow the various ways you can contribute to this work. If you’ve been wondering what to do amid our multiple current crises, here’s something concrete. Support The Catholic Thing.   – Robert Royal

The annual Fall General Assembly of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops starts Monday and runs through Thursday this week in Baltimore. The bishops will discuss a draft document entitled The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church, which reminds us that “The Lord accompanies us in many ways, but none as profound as when we encounter him in the Eucharist. On our journey toward eternal life, Christ nourishes us with his very self.”

The draft states that “it is desirable to reflect on certain facets of the mystery that help address the concerns of the moment. At this particular moment for the Church in the United States, with its many challenges, we would like to reflect on Christ’s gift of himself in the Eucharist and our response to that gift.” (Emphases added.)

There are indeed many concerns and challenges, including a worrying loss of faith in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and the steep decline in Mass attendance. But the concern that is most prominent “at this particular moment” is certainly the public rejection of Catholic teaching manifested by certain Catholic political figures, most notably President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who receive Holy Communion while publicly and forcefully defending the “right” to kill unborn children by abortion.

People want to know why pro-abortion Catholics feel comfortable receiving Holy Communion when they plainly reject the undisputed and absolutely clear teaching of the Church that abortion is a grave sin and a crime against innocent human life. Aren’t Catholics supposed to believe in the Church’s teaching that it is immoral to publicly promote and fund abortion? How can they consider themselves to be good Catholics when they obstinately refuse to profess the truth of the Faith about abortion?

People also want to know why is it that some bishops and priests, knowing full well that Biden and Pelosi are, without any possible doubt, aware of the teaching of the Church on abortion, nonetheless maintain that they should not be denied Holy Communion when they approach the altar at Mass. Isn’t it the duty of the shepherds to insure that public figures who reject God’s commandment “Thou shalt not kill” should not dare to come to receive Holy Communion, informing them that it will not be given to them for their own good and for the good of the whole community, which would be scandalized were unrelenting opposition to God’s law not an obstacle to receiving the sacraments?

The draft document treats both of these questions – one’s personal worthiness for receiving Holy Communion (canon 916) and the circumstances in which Holy Communion should be denied to those who publicly and “obstinately persist in manifest grave sin” (canon 915). But it does so in an incomplete way.


Paragraphs 40-44 and 46 treat with great clarity the conditions that should be fulfilled by any Catholic who wants to receive Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist worthily:

One should not celebrate Mass or receive Holy Communion in the state of mortal sin without having sought the Sacrament of Reconciliation and received absolution. 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 sacred Body and Blood of Christ. St. Paul warns us that whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. To receive the Body and Blood of Christ while in a state of mortal sin represents a contradiction. The person who, by his or her action, has broken communion with Christ and his Church but receives the Blessed Sacrament, acts incoherently, both claiming and rejecting communion at the same time. It is thus a counter-sign – it expresses a communion that in fact has been broken.

This is an excellent and developed explanation of the meaning of canon 916. It is a salutary warning to seek God’s forgiveness in sacramental Confession of any mortal sins one may have committed before coming up to receive Christ’s Holy Body and Blood. Sadly, many Catholics seem to be unaware of this basic teaching.

In paragraph 45, on the other hand, canon 915, which states that those “who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion,” is quoted in part without any extensive explanation. The draft simply states: “However, in cases of outward conduct which is seriously, clearly and steadfastly contrary to the moral norm, the Church, in her pastoral concern for the good order of the community and out of respect for the sacrament, cannot fail to feel directly involved.”

Feeling involved? The Church is always involved in the administration of the sacraments. The question at hand is: In what specific cases should the Church not administer the Holy Eucharist to manifest public sinners, and what is the pastorally responsible way to do this?

Thus, we have six very well-crafted paragraphs directed to informing and guiding the faithful in the pews on the conditions they should observe for worthily receiving Holy Communion according to canon 916. But we only have one paragraph directed to the pastors of the Church about the provisions of canon 915. But there’s no developed explanation of the reasons for these provisions nor any guidance on how to apply them in cases where the faithful utterly disregard their obligation not to come forward for Holy Communion when, for instance, they use their elected office to promote abortion.

Isn’t it a form of clericalism to insist, rightly, on the obligations of the people in the pews while not insisting with equal clarity and force on the obligation of bishops and priests not to administer the sacraments to those people in the pews who disqualify themselves by their public actions?

This uneven treatment of canons 915 and 916 is a glaring flaw in this document. It gives the appearance that the bishops are loath to remind themselves of their duty to enforce canon 915 in their dioceses. It is obviously not enough to remind Biden and Pelosi that promoting the “right” to abortion is a grave offense against God’s law. They plainly do not care. They need to be told that the Church’s bishops will no longer treat canon 915 as a dead letter.


*Image: The Communion of the Apostles by Luca Giordano, late 17th/early 18th century [Museum of Fine Arts Boston]

You may also enjoy:

Rev. Peter M.J. StravinskasBiden’s Abortion Fig Leaves and Masks Are (Finally) Off

Fr. Murray’s Ten Commandments: No Exceptions

The Rev. Gerald E. Murray, J.C.D. is a canon lawyer and the pastor of Holy Family Church in New York City. His new book (with Diane Montagna), Calming the Storm: Navigating the Crises Facing the Catholic Church and Society, is now available.