There is an interesting concept introduced in ecclesial document that has caused me to pause to consider: eucharistic coherence. In reflecting upon its meaning and application, it is also connected with the theological concept of communio, said to have derived from Trinitarian theology. Communio is used in all areas of Catholic life: how we know and live in the Church, our sacramental life, our life with each other, and our hope in salvation.
Today, more than ever we need to have an intelligent understanding of eucharistic coherence. One such place for me is looking at the experience when members of the Church are in disagree, privately and publicly with what is revealed in sacred Scripture and taught by and lived in the Church. There are many examples that come to mind. I write this reflection knowing full well that my own conversion is ongoing, that I am not a perfect witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and that I need to live more coherently not because of a moralism but because I want to be in a better loving relationship with the Lord.
The reception of Holy Communion to Catholics is a contentious issue in the USA. The communio among Catholics is in weakened state by a lack of coherence in belief and practice when comes to who receives Holy Communion. My own assessment is that there is no uniform approach to the thinking and pastoral practice among the bishops in this country and that some bishops have fuzzy approach which has trickled down to the lower clergy and laity who distribute the Eucharistic Lord (i.e., Holy Communion) at Mass. Cardinal Dolan has his approach to the issue, so does Cardinal Wuerl, as Archbishop Nauman as I am sure that the newly appointed Bishop Barber has an idea what practice will be followed in his diocese. We saw in the time when Cardinal Burke was the archbishop of St Louis that he tried to teach with a distinct voice on this subject, and we can look also Cardinal George, Archbishop Gomez and Bishop Finn in the way they connect with other bishops in the USA, or not. In some ways all bishops agree; but in others they differ in how deal with the matter. Cardinal Dolan recently gave Communion to Vice President Joe Biden at Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral. The debates have been unhelpful because the baptized faithful, never mind the distinguishing those who have clerical status, are unclear in personal terms as to what ought to be done. But this can’t be said for all: plenty of Catholics in the USA have voiced their opinion when it comes to those who don’t adhere to the teachings of the Gospel, and the clear and consistent teaching of the Church. There are 64 million Catholics in the USA and not all of them are aware of the need to be coherent in matters of faith and practice. Receiving the Lord in the Eucharist is not a political choice, it is not a policy, it is not merely a nice thing to do because my grandmother would be disappointed and nor is receiving Communion the right thing to do when you are in mortal sin. Recall what Saint Paul said in his first letter to the Corinthians, “Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord” (1 Cor. 11:27).
Writing to the Corinthians the Apostle Paul says that eating or drinking in a way that is “unworthy” understood as profaning the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ. It is said that the meaning of the word used in Greek is “murdering.” There is a problem here for many: what is do people believe when they approach the Minister of Holy Communion? Do they believe that the Communion host is actually, really, truly the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? Or, is it just a symbol? If the Eucharist is just a symbol the recipient is not guilty of profaning (murdering) Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. Murdering a symbol is an impossibility. Catholics don’t believe that the Eucharist is just a symbol. Catholics believe with certainty that Holy Communion is in fact the Lord Himself. Check the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
If this is true, then behavior to the contrary to what is revealed in Scripture and taught by the Church is disrespectful of the person of Jesus Christ.
What we believe, what we say and do, must be coherent. We must be clear examples of faith, hope and charity today. The point here is not to make others feel bad or to place a burden too heavy to carry alone. The point here is to encourage the faithful to be honest in how they live and in what they say and do viz. what they have accepted in Baptism, the forgiveness of sins, living in the Church walking to salvation. The Church proposes and reproposes and reproposes that we need to be in total agreement with Scripture and the consistent teaching of the Church. We need to be in relationship with the Lord and the Church. As in any relationship we fall, we fail to do good, at times we say one thing and do another. As persons in relationship with God we know that forgiveness is possible, necessary. Our witness to this love needs to be clear. Hence, Catholics must go to Confession prior to receiving Holy Communion if they are in a state of mortal sin. To consume the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ without believing that the host is truly the the Real Presence of Jesus is a desecration.
Reception of Holy Communion is an act of faith. It is a public witness to the Presence. It is a missionary gesture. It is an act of evangelization because actions speak louder than words. This sacrament unites us to the Lord and tells the world that we are in relationship with Him. The Eucharist is the natural completion of what we given Baptism. Our sacramentality tells us that Holy Communion is intimately connected with the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation which work hand-in-hand forever. When one sacrament is side-lined, not lived in all of its beauty and unity all three sacraments of Initiation are weakened.
The Church accompanies humanity in every way but she is with humanity not on her own accord but because the Church is the Lord’s creation, not a human construct (though sinners run the Church for Jesus). There is a level of personal integration need to be faithful to the Lord. Truthfully, it is not easy to live completely in coherence with what is taught by Scripture and the Church. But we don’t stop striving to adhere to what is believed. It is not an academic proposal, it is a work. It is an existential answer to human questions. As Pope Francis said recently, if Catholics do not proclaim Jesus with their lives, then the Church becomes “not the mother, but the babysitter.”
Looking back to the experience of early Christians, the pope spoke of “the power of baptism,” which “gave them apostolic courage, the strength of the Spirit.” The Pope asked: Do Christians today really believe in the power of their baptism? “Is it sufficient for evangelization? Or do we rather ‘hope’ that the priest should speak, that the bishop might speak?”
Recently, Pope Francis recalled for the bishops of Argentina of a paragraph in a document that they wrote a few years ago and which was approved by Benedict XVI, in dealing with people are at odds with the content of faith and yet present themselves for Holy Communion:
We should commit ourselves to “eucharistic coherence”, that is, we should be conscious that people cannot receive holy communion and at the same time act or speak against the commandments, in particular when abortion, euthanasia, and other serious crimes against life and family are facilitated. This responsibility applies particularly to legislators, governors, and health professionals. (par. 436)
This paragraph comes from an under-read document used by the bishops of the Americas that tries give clear content to the sharing of the faith with Catholics and others. The Aparecida Document, as it is known is shorthand for the work of The Fifth General Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean Bishops’ Conferences and approved by Pope Benedict on 29 June 2007. It’s the controlling ideas for the work Evangelization in the Americas; the bishops write that its aim is “to continue to advance the evangelizing action of the Church, which is called to make all its members disciples and missionaries of Christ, Way, Truth, and Life, so our peoples may have life in Him. We do so in communion with all the particular churches in the Americas.”
The question before us, then, what does it mean to be in communion with Christ, and with others. Our communion is vertical, and then it is horizontal.