Lex Cordis Caritas
The Law of the Heart is Love
Most Reverend Thomas John Paprocki
Bishop of Springfield in Illinois
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
Earlier this month I attended the meetings of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. Much was discussed and decided, the most significant of which was approving a document on the meaning of the Eucharist, which has been give the title, The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church. It has the essentials of the doctrine and the discipline on the Eucharist and will be helpful as we prepare for the Eucharistic Revival that is being planned in our diocese and nationwide over the next three years.
Our Diocese is planning to participate in this Eucharistic Revival by observing a Year of the Eucharist, which will be opened at our former Cathedral, Saints Peter and Paul Church in Alton, on December 8, 2022, then conclude December 8, 2023, at our current Cathedral in Springfield. Parish activities throughout the Eucharistic Year will be encouraged, such as Corpus Christi processions, the Eucharistic miracle display, Eucharistic adoration, and study of Eucharistic documents. Our Diocesan Eucharistic Year will also include the Centennial Celebration of the transfer of the See City of our Diocese from Alton to Springfield in October of 2023. The details of the day are still being planned. The Eucharistic Revival will culminate with a National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis July 17-21, 2024.
Since much of the reporting on the meeting has been distorted through the secular media, I would like to take this opportunity to highlight the main points of what this document actually says. I encourage you to read the entire document, along with a free two-hour online course on the new document presented by Bishop Andrew Cozzens, which is available online at www.usccb.org.
Contrary to what you may have seen in the headlines of newspapers, this document was not primarily about the eligibility of certain Catholic politicians to receive Holy Communion. The criteria for the worthy reception of Holy Communion are discussed, but they flow from the foundational understanding of the meaning of the Eucharist, as explained by Christ Himself when He said, “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you” (n. 4, quoting Jn 6:53).
First of all, it is important that we understand the Eucharist as a sacrifice “because all that Jesus did for the salvation of humanity is made present in the celebration of the Eucharist, including his sacrificial death and resurrection” (n. 14).
The core belief of Catholics about the mystery of the Eucharist is our faith in the Real Presence of Christ: “The reality that, in the Eucharist, bread and wine become the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ without ceasing to appear as bread and wine to our five senses is one of the central mysteries of the Catholic faith. This faith is a doorway through which we, like the saints and mystics before us, may enter into a deeper perception of the mercy and love manifested in and through Christ’s sacramental presence in our midst. While one thing is seen with our bodily eyes, another reality is perceived through the eyes of faith. The real, true, and substantial presence of Christ in the Eucharist is the most profound reality of the sacrament” (n. 21). It is also important to understand the relationship of Holy Communion, with a capital “C”, to communion, with a small “c”, which refers to the bond of unity we share with Christ and with other members of the Catholic community. “The Sacrament of the Eucharist is called Holy Communion precisely because, by placing us in intimate communion with the sacrifice of Christ, we are placed in intimate communion with him and, through him, with each other” (n. 25). When that communion with Christ and the Christian community is ruptured through sin, our suitability to receive Holy Communion is adversely affected until we repent, confess our sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and receive absolution from a priest.
Our response to God’s great gift of the Eucharist is thanksgiving and worship. An essential part of our grateful response to God’s generous gift of Himself in the Eucharist is how we treat other people. “As Christians, we bear the responsibility to promote the life and dignity of the human person, and to love and to protect the most vulnerable in our midst: the unborn, migrants and refugees, victims of racial injustice, the sick and the elderly” (n. 38).
Our failure to love God and our neighbor as we should is called sin. “One is not to 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 that the sacrament conveys; 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 (I Cor 11:27-29). 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 own 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, a lie -- it expresses a communion that in fact has been broken” (n. 47).
“We repeat what the U.S. Bishops stated in 2006: ‘If a Catholic in his or her personal or professional life were knowingly and obstinately to reject the defined doctrines of the Church, or knowingly and obstinately to repudiate her definitive teaching on moral issues, however, he or she would seriously diminish his or her communion with the Church. Reception of Holy Communion in such a situation would not accord with the nature of the Eucharistic celebration, so that he or she should refrain.’ Reception of Holy Communion in such a situation is also likely to cause scandal for others, weakening their resolve to be faithful to the demands of the Gospel” (n. 48).
“One’s communion with Christ and His Church, therefore, involves both one’s “invisible communion” (being in the state of grace) and one’s ‘visible communion.’ St. John Paul II explained: ‘The judgment of one’s state of grace obviously belongs only to the person involved, since it is a question of examining one’s conscience. 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. The Code of Canon Law refers to this situation of a manifest lack of proper moral disposition when it states that those who “obstinately persist in manifest grave sin” are not to be admitted to Eucharistic communion.’ It is the special responsibility of the diocesan bishop to work to remedy situations that involve public actions at variance with the visible communion of the Church and the moral law. Indeed, he must guard the integrity of the sacrament, the visible communion of the Church, and the salvation of souls” (n. 49).
“Before we receive Holy Communion, we should make a good examination of conscience to ensure that we are properly disposed to receive the Body and Blood of the Lord. If we find that we have broken communion with Christ and his Church, we are not properly disposed to receive the Eucharist. However, we should not despair since the Lord in his mercy has given us a remedy. He loves us and deeply desires to forgive us and to restore our communion with him. . . . In the words of Pope Francis, we say to all Catholics in our country: “Don’t be afraid to go to the Sacrament of Confession, where you will meet Jesus who forgives you’” (n. 50).
As we receive Christ in Holy Communion, may we remember that the “Lord is generous to us with his grace; and so we, by his grace, should always humbly ask him to give us what we need. . . . Let us adore Jesus who ever remains with us, on all the altars of the world, and lead others to share in our joy!” (nn. 58-59).
May God give us this grace. Amen.