Pope Francis elevates the Eucharist as he celebrates Mass for Divine Mercy Sunday at the Church of the Holy Spirit near the Vatican on April 11. U.S. bishops are drafting a document on the Eucharist as part of a revival plan. CNS photo/Vatican Media

‘Meaning of Eucharist’ document sparks bishops’ debate

  • June 24, 2021

WASHINGTON -- After a lengthy debate, the U.S. bishops have given the green light to a draft a document on the “meaning of the Eucharist in the life of the Church.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine will draft the document and present it for discussion when the bishops reconvene in person in November. The action to move forward passed 168-55. There were six abstentions.

For more than two hours, 43 bishops expressed differing views about drafting such a document. Some stressed the document was necessary to provide clarity about the significance of the Eucharist, while others questioned its timing and if it could be perceived as fracturing the unity of a Church already faced with numerous challenges. The debate spilled over into political circles, where some saw the document as a way to put pressure on Catholic politicians who support pro-abortion policies and also receive communion, including U.S. President Joe Biden.

Following the bishops’ June 16-18 virtual spring assembly, 60 House Democrats who are Catholics issued a statement saying any document that supports the denial of communion to pro-abortion politicians would constitute the “weaponization of the Eucharist.”

Asked by reporters about the idea that he could be denied communion for supporting abortion policies that go against Church teaching, Biden said: “That’s a private matter and I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ind., chairman of the doctrine committee, presented a proposed outline of a Eucharist document to the bishops in a pre-recorded message.

He said this was developed in light of the decline in Catholics’ belief in the Real Presence in the Eucharist as well as the long absences from regular Mass attendance, which may have led to people placing less significance on the Eucharist in their lives.

The communion document also was a key point of discussion in the news conferences. Rhoades stressed that creating national norms was never the intent behind a proposal to write a new statement on the Eucharist. He said it would be aimed at providing guidance for bishops. It would also need to be approved by two-thirds majority of the USCCB and decisions about who would be ineligible for communion would still be in the hands of the local bishop.

“We have taught in years past about Catholics in political life, the importance of adherence to Church teaching in the document on worthiness to receive holy communion, back in 2006,” Rhoades said. “But with this new strategic plan that’s going to be focused on the Eucharist, this three-year plan, we have to teach this again, on different levels.”

The bishop was referring to a multiyear National Eucharistic Revival initiative that is part of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ 2021-2024 strategic plan. The revival has been in the planning stages for over a year.

This revival is meant to place added emphasis on the Eucharist at all levels of the Church in the United States beginning next summer and culminating in a large-scale national event in 2024.

The initiative aims to “renew the Church by enkindling a living relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ in the holy Eucharist,” said Auxiliary Bishop Andrew H. Cozzens of St. Paul and Minneapolis, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis.

In a June 18 presentation to the bishops, he described it as a “movement of Catholics across the United States, healed, converted, formed and unified by an encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist — and sent out in mission.”

At the end of three years, he said, it is hoped over 100,000 missionaries will be ready to “share the love of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist with our world.”

Although the bishops reached no consensus during the discussion, most of those who spoke during the comments’ session welcomed the idea of strengthening teaching about the Eucharist.

During their virtual assembly, the bishops also discussed their efforts on immigration, Native American/Alaskan Native ministry, catechesis and pastoral frameworks for youth and young people and marriage and family ministries.

The bishops authorized development of a new formal statement and comprehensive vision for Native American and Alaska Native ministry by a vote of 223-6.

“A pastoral plan will help reassure Catholic Natives that their ministry has a high priority in the Church,” said Bishop James S. Wall of Gallup, New Mexico, chairman of the USCCB’s Subcommittee on Native American Affairs. He said the last time the general assembly passed a major pastoral plan for Native Americans was in 1977.

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