Catholic Bishops Approve New Document on Holy Communion in the Midst of Political Controversy

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There was a significant vote taken by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops recently. But many do not believe that the bishops went far enough.

The vote taken was to approve a document on the sacrament of Holy Communion. It was the first document on the Eucharist to come from the Conference of Catholic Bishops in 15 years. And this document comes in the midst of controversies that continue to rise over Catholic politicians who support abortion and other positions that contradict the Church’s teaching.

The new document is entitled “The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church.” It was overwhelmingly approved by a vote of 222-8, with three abstentions. The passage of this document received lengthy applause, according to a report by the Washington Post. In its final form, the document is nearly 30 pages and it clearly asserts the Church’s position on Communion. It references canon law and papal documents, but it does not specifically call out any individual politicians by name. And it does not single out the issue of abortion. What it does do is strongly indicate that people in positions of power must maintain adherence to Catholic doctrine.

The document states, according to a report in The Washington Post, “Laypeople who exercise some form of public authority have a special responsibility to form their consciences in accord with the Church’s faith and the moral law, and to serve the human family by upholding human life and dignity.”

This work by the bishops also cites previous statements by the USCCB, including one that was published in 2006 that says Catholics who “knowingly or obstinately” refuse to accept teachings authoritatively defined as doctrine are “not to be admitted” to receive the sacrament, and should not present themselves before the altar.

The final draft of this document amends what was in an earlier version of this document. The earlier version was obtained by the Washington Post. It took a much broader and less forceful position which indicated that Catholics in positions of secular authority had a “special responsibility to embody church teaching in their service of the common good.” That version also included a statement affirming Christians’ “responsibility to promote the life and dignity” of “the most vulnerable: the unborn, migrants and refugees, victims of racial injustice, the sick and the elderly.”

In the process of getting the document approved, it underwent several failed attempts at amendments by individual bishops. Some wanted to emphasize the necessity of obedience in order for someone to be properly disposed to receive the Eucharist. They wanted it to be known that politicians and public figures who oppose Church teaching are guilty of the grave sin of scandal. There were other bishops who tried to add victims of human trafficking and the poor to the list of the vulnerable.

According to one bishop, the document is needed to lay a foundation for the Eucharistic Revival that will begin next year. According to The Washington Post, U.S. Bishops have been working for years to forge a stronger connection between Catholics and the Eucharist. The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes it as “the source and summit of the Christian life.”

With the election of President Joe Biden, the issue of receiving Holy Communion has come into sharper focus. There have been articles from liberal media outlets describing Biden as the “most religiously observant commander in chief in half a century.” Articles have also said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s “faith in the Constitution is second only to her Catholic faith.” The USCCB has now called for a working group to address the issue and suggested that there be another document addressing the proper handling of politicians who receive Communion. The drafting of the document was approved in June.