Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

What justifies withholding the Eucharist?

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Jun 18, 2021

You know that familiar feeling that comes when you realize—too late—how you should have answered a question?

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Appearing with Raymond Arroyo on his World Over broadcast last night, we talked about the US bishops’ debate on the proposed “Eucharistic coherence” document. Then, switching gears, he asked for my thoughts on some other issues—including the Chicago archdiocesan policy that requires Catholics to wear a mask in church if they cannot furnish proof of vaccination. I managed an answer, but this morning I woke up with a better idea. The response that I should have given would have run something like this:

“Look, just a minute ago we were talking about the bishops’ debate, in which we heard some bishops saying that it would be a terrible thing to create the impression that some people aren’t welcome in church. Isn’t that the impression that the Chicago archdiocesan policy creates? And notice that in Chicago, the archdiocese is imposing restrictions that the government doesn’t impose. On what basis? Is the archdiocese setting itself up as a public-health authority?

“But let’s take this question a bit further, and look at how the Church in general responded to the Covid epidemic. Again, we’ve been hearing bishops tell us that it would be wrong to deny the Eucharist to anyone. But last year, the bishops denied the Eucharist to everyone!

“Oh, but you might say that the bishops had an important reason for shutting down the churches and shutting off access to the sacraments. They were trying to keep everyone healthy.

“OK. Let’s leave aside the scientific arguments, and the question of whether these extreme measures were necessary. The point of the lockdown was to keep people healthy. But the point of “Eucharistic coherence”—the point of withholding the Eucharist from people in a manifest state of grave sin—is to keep people spiritually healthy. And isn’t that the first duty of the Church’s pastors?

“Sure, you might say that the whole world understood why the bishops were closing down the churches, and the world would not properly understand why the Church withholds the Eucharist from someone who supports the slaughter of the unborn. But are you telling me, then, that the bishops should only take actions that the secular world can understand?

“Yes, I’ll grant you that the secular world does not understand the Church’s teaching on the sanctity of life and the sanctity of the Eucharist. For that matter the secular world does not grasp the nature of the Church’s spiritual mission. But that’s no reason for Church leaders to be silent. Quite the contrary, that the reason for a teaching document, such as the one the bishops are now discussing.”

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: tmschroeder2790 - Jun. 28, 2021 10:26 PM ET USA

    Excellent response.

  • Posted by: christosvoskresye5324 - Jun. 19, 2021 9:49 AM ET USA

    "For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment to himself, not discerning the body of the Lord. Therefore are there many inform and weak among you, and many sleep." There is no indication that that last warning excludes physical sickness and death.

  • Posted by: miketimmer499385 - Jun. 18, 2021 4:53 PM ET USA

    You have hit the nail on the head. Furthermore, if the Catholic Church is one, holy, apostolic, and universal, then it cannot have regional or diocesan truths in regard to the sacraments. They cannot mean different things in different places, nor be administered under fundamentally different objective dispositions for their reception. The dissident bishops are they who are opening the door to the destruction of our Church. It will not end until they are starved of funds to propagate the agenda.

  • Posted by: feedback - Jun. 18, 2021 3:44 PM ET USA

    This is profound! It reveals the usual contradictions within the "liberal" arguments. Cdl Cupich says he doesn't want to weaponize the Eucharist while doing exactly that. If Biden, Pelosi, etc. have pure Catholic intention to receive Communion out of love for the Lord and not for political propaganda, then why can't they respect human life, or at least the conscience of other Catholics, for the same reasons? And why was Barrett attacked for her Catholic faith while Biden is praised for the same?

  • Posted by: wgstoops3634 - Jun. 18, 2021 2:10 PM ET USA

    If you're going to have a "communion", think of "co"- together and "union" - again together. It is essential that communicants all recognize the elements of communion as "flesh and blood". It is nonsense to speak of "ministers of the cup or chalice". It is the blood of Jesus which we are receiving. similarly for ministers of the host - It is the body of Jesus. I believe that if priests were teaching orthodoxy, there would be fewer folks approaching the communion rail (or the cafeteria line).