Bishop Kemme Offers a Letter to Faithful | Gift of the Holy Eucharist
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
St. John Paul II wrote prolifically on almost every aspect of the Church, but on none more eloquently than the Holy Eucharist. In his great encyclical “Ecclesia de Eucharistia” he wrote this, “The Church has received the Eucharist from Christ her Lord not as one gift. . .among so many others, but as the gift par excellence, for it is the gift of himself, of his person in his sacred humanity, as well as the gift of his saving work.” In that same document, he also wrote, “The Eucharist is too great a gift to tolerate ambiguity and depreciation.”
One of the spiritual crises in the Catholic Church in our times is the ambiguity, the depreciation and dare I say the indifference of so many toward this gift of all gifts, the Eucharist. All of this has gradually led to the sad reality we experience today in far too many of our churches, that is, poor attendance, dismal participation, lack of reverence and decorum and the approaching of Holy Communion by those who are ill prepared or worse yet in various states of grave or mortal sin. This is fueled I think by the fact that more and more of our people do not understand the Real Presence or that they consider the Eucharist to be little more than a symbol, rather than the true Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. Research seems to indicate that as much as 60% of Catholics do not believe in the Real Presence. This is a tragedy.
Recently, the bishops in our episcopal conference had ample time in our virtual June meetings to discuss this issue. In the end, we voted overwhelmingly in favor of drafting a document that will teach the people entrusted to our care of the value and importance of the Eucharist in the life of the Church. I voted in favor of drafting this document because of the crisis we face today and because we bishops have the responsibility to teach clearly and prophetically on this and so many other teachings of our faith.
While the crisis of the lack of understanding, reverence and participation in the Eucharist is a pervasive problem, much attention is now being given to the issue of Eucharistic coherence or the consistency that is required for one to fruitfully approach the reception of Holy Communion. For many years now, we bishops and pastors have become aware of the widespread problem of Eucharistic incoherence or inconsistency, especially in those people who persist in manifest grave sin. This concern manifests itself in all walks of life, but it is especially egregious when publically known Catholics live and act in such a way that is inconsistent with the truths of the Faith as revealed by Scripture and Tradition. In this case, Canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law offers us challenging but important direction. “Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.”
This canon is designed to help people avoid the sin of sacrilege, which is defined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church as “profaning or treating unworthily the sacraments and other liturgical actions.” It is also directed to the avoidance of scandal to the faithful, which is classically understood as that which leads others into sin.
Like all disciplines in the church, the sometimes warranted withholding of Holy Communion in these circumstances, always and only after sincere, personal and pastoral dialogue between a bishop or pastor and the person, is not meant to be solely a punishment but a remedy and pathway for public manifest sinners to reflect on their lives and with God’s grace to experience a deeper conversion and greater alignment with the teachings of the Church. Because of this understanding based on the mercy of God, I would not refer to the Eucharist as a weapon as some have characterized it, but as a gift of transforming love that before accepting, invites and requires of us clear signs of a true change of heart.
Today, more and more of the faithful are scandalized when some public Catholic leaders who, in the execution of their political responsibilities clearly and unhesitatingly advance the intrinsic evils of our day such as abortion, euthanasia, same sex marriage, transgender ideology, and so comfortably approach Holy Communion. We should all be concerned about this, concerned enough to pray and beg God to profoundly touch the hearts of these persons so that they will reconsider their ways.
It should also be noted that Eucharistic coherence is a matter for all the faithful to consider, even if we are not public servants. We are all duty bound by the teachings of the Church to live in such a way that when we approach the Lord in Holy Communion, as unworthy as we all are, we do so with that proper integrity of life so that our public faith aligns with our personal lives and decisions. St. Paul in his First letter to the Corinthians taught of this when he wrote, “Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself.” 1 Cor 11:27; 29.
I have benefited from recent conversations regarding this issue with my leadership team, the Presbyteral Council and the Diocesan Pastoral Council. They have given me good counsel and encouragement, for which I am grateful. I look forward to the months ahead as we receive what will hopefully be a clear, thorough and prophetic document on the Eucharist from our episcopal conference, reminding everyone of what many of us should already know and live.
Without the Eucharist, we would cease to grow in the knowledge and love of Christ. The Eucharist requires understanding, reverence, proper disposition and consistency from all of us, things that are as important as they are challenging in our increasingly secular age. May each of us begin now to deepen Eucharistic piety, reverence and love in our hearts so that the Eucharist will always be for each of us the source and summit of our Catholic life.
Bishop Carl A. Kemme