U.S. Catholic Bishops Issue Document on the Eucharist!

The U.S. Catholic bishops’ document on the Eucharist appeared in 2006, and it’s excellent! You can find it here. It is titled “‘Happy Are Those Who Are Called to His Supper’: On Preparing to Receive Christ Worthily in the Eucharist.”

The bishops’ document is comprehensive but concise. It is admirably rooted in the celebration of the liturgy as reformed by the Second Vatican Council and draws its understanding of Eucharist from the communal nature of the liturgy.

The only slight revisions the document needs would be to align it with the revised missal translation of 2011. The new title, for example, would be  “Blessed Are Those Who Are Called to the Supper of the Lamb.”

Well that was easy! All the anguish of the past several days, all the public relations problems, all the confusion about what will and will not be in the bishops’ document on the Eucharist. And here it’s solved. Reissuing 2006 will be no problem.

Not even one committee meeting is needed – a simple email can take care of this. I’m sure the drafting committee will be relieved.





    1. Oh I’m not by any means saying anything about which translation is better! My only point is that whatever it is in the missal, that’s what should go into a document such as this.

  1. Can you indicate in the title that this is not a new document, but was issued in 2006? Otherwise it confuses

  2. A few observations, part snark and part really asking questions …

    The first words we utter after the Fraction Rite are, “Lord, I am not worthy.” Does the Church (meaning the priests and people) really mean it? Given all the fuss about 1 Cor 11:17-31, isn’t the vector that moralists present to us on abortion and other issues one that aims us toward worthiness? Does the fact we say “I am not worthy” make us suddenly worthy? If we follow the prescriptions of this letter, are we worthy? I realize there is a distinction between a worthy reception and a worthiness that strikes deeper at our being. A lot of people seem to confuse the two.

    Human beings learn well, and maybe best, by example. I’ve never encountered a presider who declined to receive Communion at Mass. “I’ve committed a grave sin and I haven’t gone to confession so I can’t receive Communion. Or say the 5pm Mass.” Never seen that. Certainly I know that this reception cannot be omitted, by the book. Does that mean that clergy drive to the next parish on Friday night or early Saturday morning to go to confession so they can be “worthy”? Maybe that happens. I have no idea.

    To the average lay observer, clergy appear to operate on a different layer of worthiness. And if they can’t, won’t, or don’t lead by example, should they expect to be heard? Especially bishops, who have much less contact with the ordinary faithful compared to parish priests.

    Given the fact of human unworthiness, I have no problem with sinners receiving the sacraments. Despite doxing, most sins remain private and while they do affect other people, I figure we all need as much blessing via divine grace as we can get.

    1. To the extent these are real questions, I’ll give the answers a go.

      1. On 1 Cor 11:17-31 and the “I am not worthy”, the difference between (subjectively) mortal and venial sin operates here. The Mass/Communion forgives venial sin (hence the confiteor, declaring unworthiness etc), but not subjective mortal sin.

      2. On priests in mortal sin, Canon 916 does explicitly cover that. They shouldn’t celebrate the sacraments in a state of mortal sin, but if necessity demands, they should make an act of contrition beforehand and confess as soon as possible afterwards.

      3. On private sins, I think all agree most peoples sins are that, and therefore they shouldn’t be denied Communion by Ministers of Communion. However where we are in a state of subjective mortal sin, receiving Communion would be a further sin not a blessing of grace, and therefore we should certainly seek to refrain (noting however that how we arrange our Communion processions doesn’t always respect consciences/privacy in this regard, putting some perhaps in the same situation of necessity as noted above of priests).

      1. Just chiming in about Todd’s question regarding worthiness! My understanding is that it is (almost) a direct quote from Matthew 8:8. The centurion’s words to Jesus recognized Jesus’ authority in a way that even his disciples could not recognize at the time. It is these words of trust–and not necessarily a theological soundbite on worthiness–that I believe our communal response is meant to invoke. Thoughts?

      2. Your point regarding the way we arrange our Communion processions not being very well oriented to refraining from reception is a good one, and one that I have often *ahem* noticed.

        It’s a good argument for removing pews from churches, I think.

      3. Good luck removing seating. The resulting drop in income would lead to interesting consequences. I see people staying in their pews (perhaps getting out to let others proceed) with some regularity (I’ve even been that person from time to time). It’s not clear to me how serious an issue it is.

      4. Karl,
        I wouldn’t remove seating. I’ve been to Eastern Liturgies like that, and even only being in my 30s, it does quickly become something to, ah, offer up.

        But I would say the fact our current arrangements tend to make refraining *very* noticeable is a serious problem (i.e. the fact you have seen people refraining is proof to me that the issue exists, rather than it not being not a big deal).

        In terms of solutions, I’d say a more Mediterranean style rush to the altar is better than the anglophone row by row approach, as does having other devotions which people can visit on their way (or not) to Communion (a local high church Anglican community I know uses a small shrine to our Lady for this purpose for example).

      5. Robert: to qualify, I notice because I have mobility issues and can’t climb across people’s legs, but have to consider going through an adjoining temporarily empty row – going out the opposite way and sometimes having to take up a position at the rear.

        A scrum would be downright inhospitable for many folks with mobility issues. It’s the regularity of the row-by-row approach that allows us to make discreet decisions with some level of comfort. to reduce our being an obstacle to others.

      6. But I would say the fact our current arrangements tend to make refraining *very* noticeable is a serious problem (i.e. the fact you have seen people refraining is proof to me that the issue exists, rather than it not being not a big deal).


        Some people have been refraining from receiving Communion for many months, not because of unworthiness but because they are scared of being in close proximity to others, or terrified of being given something that has been touched by others and could transmit the virus. Anyone who “notices” those who are refraining from receiving Communion risks being accused of rushing to judgement or of imputing motives where the real ones may be quite different.

      7. I’m aware this is how 1 Corinthians 11:17-31 has been interpreted, but it is not the only way to look at a situation which, in the first century, was an attitude of selfishness and narcissism of the rich toward other members of the Church at Corinth. It is a much later interpretation that people in serious sin should not receive the Eucharist. But that position has not always been so firm with regard to either the classification of sin beyond murder, adultery, and apostasy.

        Thanks for the mention of canon 916; I had forgotten that parallel with form III of Penance. So interesting that clergy may be spared a public embarrassment that is officially discouraged for lay people.

        I’m not sure we actually know that receiving the Eucharist after having committed serious sin cannot be a grace or blessing. But again, all this underscores different levels of worthiness that is really nowhere to be found in the New Testament, however one interprets Matthew 8 or 1 Corinthians 11.

      8. Paul – I very much agree. My perspective is more of a person who has sometimes felt in conscience that I shouldn’t be receiving, but has felt pressured to do otherwise by how *public* that decision can be, in light of how things tend to be setup in our time/place.

        Todd – The modern understanding of 1 Corinthians 11:17-31 is pretty universal in the patristic sources we have, including the earliest commentators. And the early Church’s eucharistic disciplines were also far harsher than ours – If they actually followed what they wrote down in practice, than the vast majority of the congregation at any given time would have been serving a multi-year exclusion from Communion for one offense or another.

  3. Amy,
    Yes, excellent point, it is as much about confessing Jesus’ lordship and divinity as anything else.

  4. The advantage I’ve seen with pews is that a large person (or someone with crutches or a lot of baby stuff) can have as much room as they need without being perceived as taking up multiple seats. A large family with many children can sit as close to one another as they want without needing to split up between rows or aisles. Unless you plan on having two feet around each chair, I’m not sure how it would reduce a person who remains kneeling from being noticeable or “in the way” of those wanting to receive.

    Personally, I think seating isn’t the problem, but rather the lack of excuse for refraining. I’ve audibly heard people say “must not be Catholic” or “must be divorced” to explain someone not receiving – really. For a self conscious or introverted person, you might as well be inviting everyone to wonder what mortal sin you did. I think we should bring back a longer fast, such as three hours, or not shame those who may be refraining for reasons like not feeling personally worthy at that moment or not being in the right emotional state.

  5. I don’t see why repeated, sympathetic teaching can’t give people the comfort to refrain from receiving, if their conscience says that they shouldn’t. I was for many years in a parish — Farm Street, in London — that was famous for welcoming inquirers, offering instruction to converts, supporting people returning to Catholic practice after many years away. I never felt exposed if I didn’t receive, and I never heard anyone fret about this.

    It did help, materially, that everyone was offered the option of a blessing if they approached the minister of communion with crossed arms. Many availed themselves of this.

    The teaching was consistently positive, not negative: not “do not dare to approach if you are not in a state of grace”, but “you are welcome and supported here whether or not you choose to receive at this Mass”.

  6. Robert, if you have a deeper background in Patristics, I would have to take your word for it. I do know that people entered into an Order of Penitents for the most serious of what later became known as “mortal” sin, murder, adultery, and apostasy. Not things like detraction, cheating, lying, or missing Sunday Mass. There was yet to develop a framework around a universal Irish practice of Penance.

    1 Cor 11:17-31 has a Biblical context. If believers choose to apply it more widely, I think that is a potentially laudable thing. But probably not a matter for someone beyond an individual and her or his pastor and/or spiritual director.

    1. Todd,
      To take a relatively well known example, St Basil thought a person might be morally *obligated* to take up arms to defend people (i.e. it wasn’t properly a sin at all), and yet still recommended they be excluded from Communion for three years for doing so.

      In my understanding, the real development in the era of the Irish penitentials, was that the process moved from being public to private. So whereas in the earlier period penitents were literally required to participate at Mass further away from the altar with the full knowledge of everyone, the Irish practice replaced this with private confession/penance, which was in many ways less harsh to those seeking absolution.

      On 1 Cor 11:17-31, its worth noting the modern Church does only seek for that to be applied by individuals themselves, examining their conscience. Actual exclusion by a Minster of Communion is only allowed based on the harm it could cause others (via scandal etc), not in some vain attempt to prevent an individual from harming themselves by eating to their own judgement.

      1. Thanks for the conversation.

        St Basil and others recognized that killing is wrong, fundamentally. Opposing soldiers were no different from the Christian in being conscripted for an allegedly moral cause. As a wise pastor he likely realized the danger of being in a killing environment, seeing one’s comrades struck down. Three years of calmness and rest would seem a benefit. And if grace were available, all the better.

        Their statements on justifying war rather dodge the grave evil perpetrated by leadership. Placing sovereigns, generals, and aristocracy on interdict might ameliorate those statements somewhat. That would seem more the scandal you reference.

        I simply fail to believe that in ordinary circumstances sinners approaching sacraments are heading to judgment. If there is pride, narcissism, pelagianism, or such involved, then the act itself is morally problematic–as St Paul intended with his teaching. A sincere believer in an impossible situation who truly desires grace in the spirit of Matthew 8:8 or John 20:28, I’d say not.

      2. Todd,

        The solution to your suggested dilemma is simply that a “sincere believer in an impossible situation” (where such difficult cases arise) is very unlikely to be in a state of subjective mortal sin, and thus wouldn’t be eating to their judgement.

        Pope Francis in Amoris laetitia, drawing on Aquinas’ teachings on the mitigation of culpability from mortal to venial arising from “conditional necessity” etc, deals with this very well I think.

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