The U.S. Catholic bishops overwhelmingly voted to approve a new document on the Eucharist Wednesday that highlights the sacrament’s indispensable role in the life of the Church.
The vote, coming during the annual fall assembly of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore, was 222 to 8, with three abstentions.
Voting was anonymous and conducted electronically. A two-thirds majority was necessary for the document’s adoption.
The product of months of debate and revisions, the final text avoids any overt references to whether bishops and priests ought to deny Communion to public figures at odds with Catholic teaching on abortion and other moral issues.
Instead, the document aims to initiate a new emphasis on catechizing Catholics about the meaning and importance of the Eucharist, in response to what many bishops see as a worrisome decline in belief in the sacrament as the real presence of the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
In an interview with CNA prior to the vote, Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver explained that the document seeks “to present a clear understanding of the Church’s teachings to bring heightened awareness among the faithful of how the Eucharist can transform our lives and bring us closer to our creator and the life he wants for us.”
In addition to approving the document, titled “The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church,” the bishops approved a strategic plan for a three-year Eucharist revival campaign. The vote was 201 to 17 in favor of the revival campaign, with five abstentions. The initiative is to include the development of new teaching materials, training for diocesan and parish leaders, the launch of a dedicated revival website, and the deployment of a special team of 50 priests who will travel the country to preach about the Eucharist.
The campaign will culminate with a National Eucharistic Congress in July 2024 in Indianapolis, Bishop-designate Andrew H. Cozzens of Crookston, Minn., announced Wednesday. Cozzens, who is heading the revival effort as chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, said the congress would be the first of its kind in the United States in nearly 50 years. Previously, Cozzens said, such national Eucharistic events were held once a decade.
“I see this as really kind of a wonderful convergence of events, leading us through this Eucharistic revival to this Eucharistic Congress. I stand to speak strongly in favor of it,” Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln, Neb. said.
“I am very hopeful that it will produce the great fruits that all my brother bishops are praying for and hoping for during these days, including helping people in the course of the revival to rediscover the beauty of the Mass and return to Mass,” he said.
“I think we’re on the cusp and on the verge of something truly impactful and wonderful for the Church in the United States,” Bishop Conley said. “I think this might be just what we need.”
The few bishops who spoke during a brief discussion prior to the vote on the document on the Eucharist proposed only minor changes to the wording of certain passages, none of which were approved. The bishops held a closed-door executive session on Monday to allow for more substantive discussion about the document.
The two sections of the 30-page Eucharist document are “The Gift,” which centers on the Eucharist as a gift from Christ through his incarnation, death, and resurrection, and “Our Response,” which focuses on gratitude for the gift of the Eucharist, the role the laity play in regards to reception of the Eucharist, and the importance of the Eucharist in conversion.
“The Lord accompanies us in many ways, but none as profound as when we encounter him in the Eucharist,” the document states.
“When we receive Holy Communion, Christ is giving himself to us. He comes to us all in humility, as he came to us in the Incarnation, so that we may receive him and be one with him,” says the text.
While the document does not provide any criteria for denying the sacrament to someone not in communion with Church teaching, the text does explain the differences between venial and mortal sins, and says that a Catholic in a state of mortal sin should not receive the Eucharist until they have gone to Confession and received absolution.
“While all our failures to do what is right damage our communion with God and each other, they fall into different categories, reflecting different degrees of severity,” the document states.
“There are some sins, however, that do rupture the communion we share with God and the Church,” the document states.
“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 Body and Blood of Christ,” the document explains.
The document states “the reception of Holy Communion entails one’s communion with the Church in this visible dimension,” and restates the text of the 2006 document from the bishops concerning Catholics in public life.
“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,” the new document states, repeating the bishops’ 2006 guidance.
“Reception of Holy Communion in such a situation,” the guidance states, “would not accord with the nature of the Eucharistic celebration, so that he or she should refrain.”
By Shannon Mullen, Catholic News Agency