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Communion. Eucharist. The body and blood. It goes by many names, but Communion is one of the cornerstones of Catholic religious life. For Catholics, bread and wine are not just liturgically symbolic foods, but the actual body and blood of Christ, transformed through a sacramental mystery called transubstantiation. We honor Jesus’ invitation to “take and eat of my body” and drink from “my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26: 26-29). In the Eucharist, we encounter God’s physical presence, and for this reason, we understand it as the “sacrament of sacraments.” Communion embodies God’s unconditional love, transcending ideology, race, class, ethnicity, gender, sexuality and mental or physical ability.
But now the “sacrament of sacraments” has sparked intense controversy in American Catholicism. In early June, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops approved the drafting of a document “clarifying the theology of the Eucharist” that, if ratified, would empower bishops to bar President Joe Biden and other Catholic politicians who support pro-abortion rights from receiving Communion. Despite the protests of progressive Catholics and warnings from the Vatican that such a document would damage the American Church, the bishops have persisted.
Personal opinions on abortion aside, people of Catholic faith must condemn the imposition of ideological litmus tests for politicians’ reception of the Eucharist, and Georgetown University should continue to offer Communion without restriction to pro-abortion rights Catholic politicians who attend Mass on our campus, regardless of diocesan policy.
Make no mistake, the current debate about Communion is not about theology but is rather an attempt for the bishops to assert their authority now that the United States has a devout, popular and Church-going Catholic president. The bishops’ hyperfixation on anti-abortion policies without significant advocacy for policies that support the flourishing of all, the unborn included, is observance of the letter, rather than the spirit, of the law Jesus calls us to follow in our daily lives.
Many bishops believe pro-abortion rights politicians are “unworthy” of the reception of Communion. However, Jesus never instituted purity tests in commissioning his disciples or announcing the good news. He saw all people, whether sex workers, tax collectors or the high priest, as equally worthy of salvation. Similarly, moral failure has never precluded believers from God’s grace. One notable example is St. Peter, the man Jesus commissioned to lead the earthly Church in his absence — even though he constantly faltered in his faith, going so far as rejecting Jesus three times the night of his arrest. If Peter could deny Jesus and nevertheless receive his trust to lead the Church, disagreements with the Church’s social teaching should not preclude any believer from receiving God’s grace.
If we as Catholics truly believe Christ is present in the Eucharist, we cannot in good conscience keep President Biden and other pro-abortion rights Catholic politicians from receiving Communion.
Not to mention, American bishops did not begin calling for political Communion purity tests during previous administrations. During the Trump administration, immigration officers forcibly separated families at the border and hundreds of children disappeared. The government also resumed the usage of the federal death penalty in 2019. All of these policies were undersigned and carried out by Catholic Cabinet members such as Attorney General William Barr. Catholic appellate judges aren’t barred from receiving Communion even as many continue their complicity in executions. Moreover, the Church sparingly addresses the sins of Catholic Republican politicians who gut the social safety net and punish working parents.
If the bishops’ concern is theological purity, they cannot start with, or stop at, President Biden. After all, as the apostle James warned the early Church, “Whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it” (James 2: 10). The actions of anti-abortion rights Catholics have directly contravened the call in the Gospels to care for the poor and build an equitable and loving society, and they deserve equal, if not greater, attention by the Church. Anything less would be hypocritical.
But even the conversation of ideological hypocrisy misses the fundamental premise of Communion. As the late Christian writer Rachel Held Evans poignantly notes, “the [Eucharistic] table teaches us that faith isn’t about being right or good or in agreement. Faith is about feeding and being fed.”
The Bishops seem to have forgotten that essential truth about Communion: It is first and foremost about spiritual nourishment. Salvation has been extended to all of us through Christ’s paschal sacrifice, in spite of our myriad imperfections and inadequacies. Gatekeeping Communion goes against everything the Church proclaims. The faithful must resist this latest failure of the bishops, and Georgetown must continue to hold true to the Gospel’s teachings in offering Communion to pro-abortion rights Catholics.
Eric Bazail-Eimil is a junior in the School of Foreign Service. Flipping Tables appears online every other week.
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