American bishops’ Eucharist teaching project overlooks realities on the ground


The author’s mother, Carmen Nanko, receives Communion from Fr. Robert Poveromo. (Courtesy of Chip and Karen Nanko)

One of my favorite pictures of the Eucharist is of my mother receiving Communion at my brother’s wedding from a priest who was like family to us. Such a moment was rare for my mother. Like many of her generation, she was raised to question her dignity to receive the body of Christ.

My father was baptized into the Carpathian-Russian Orthodox Church. His father’s name is recorded in the history of the parish as the one who made a generous loan to help secure property in 1937 for what has become the Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas of Myra. After their marriage and before the birth of most children, Dad became a Roman Catholic as the spirit of Vatican II took hold of the church.

The attitude of my parents towards receiving the Eucharist reflected the way in which everyone was catechized. As age and various disabilities made it more difficult to attend in person, they joined the large community of those who worshiped every Sunday with the Passionists and their televised Mass ministry. Dad would sing out of tune, list the names of his loved ones during general intercessions, and offer the peace sign to anyone who was within earshot.

There was no doubt that for my parents “Spiritual Communion” was real and their weekly participation was faithfully and nurturing. They moved on to the Eternal Banquet six months apart before the pandemic, but like so many others who have worshiped virtually for decades, their experiences have been absent from any discussion of the Eucharist.

An alleged draft of the Eucharistic teaching of American bishops, dated September 24, 2021, was disclosed in early November; by whom or for what purpose remains a mystery. In his analysis of the project, liturgical and sacramental theologian Kevin Irwin astutely observed that by considering the Eucharist primarily in terms of “real presence” and “sacrifice”, the project “is framed within a Tridentine framework, not a framework. Vatican II ”.

I would say the project also demonstrates, in several ways, just how disconnected the American hierarchy has become from the realities on the ground.

The project ignores the spiritual ravages of the pandemic on people dying alone without access to the sacraments of reconciliation, anointing and the Eucharist. There is no insurance here for families.

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While for Pope Francis the lived experience of the pandemic has become the source, content and context of his teaching ministry, in the project it is an unnecessary accessory to the main argument.

For example, the project ignores the spiritual ravages of the pandemic on people dying alone without access to the sacraments of reconciliation, anointing and the Eucharist – as food, as strength, as viaticum. There is no insurance here for families, perhaps worrying about whether or not their loved ones have passed away in a state of grace, just fuel for poignant questions that haunt those who were catechized in a time when an exaggerated internalized feeling of unworthiness prevented them from being received regularly. of the Eucharist.

The project reflects the insularity that comes from the kind of privilege that takes the weekly and even daily Eucharist for granted, while other parts of the world church offer their clergy so that the United States can be nourished. The editors seem indifferent to the critical situation expressed in the final document of the Amazon synod of 2019: “Many ecclesial communities in the Amazonian territory have enormous difficulties in attending the Eucharist. Sometimes it takes not only months, but even years, before a priest can return to a community to celebrate the Eucharist, offer the sacrament of reconciliation, or anoint the sick in the community. “

This is a striking omission, given that Francis released Querida Amazonia in February 2020. In the footnotes, he recalled a practice that re-inscribes the global disparities in access to the Eucharist: “It should be noted that, in some countries of the Amazon basin, more missionaries go to Europe or the United States that there are none left for their own Vicariates in the Amazon region.

If the writers are serious about the Eucharist pushing us to make preferential options for the poor, then issues of access to the Eucharist must be approached from perspectives that take into account our responsibilities in relation to urgent needs. of the world church.

The idea that Eucharistic teaching and revival are needed at this time has not been discerned through a process of synodality. The editors even admit that this concern is theirs, but not necessarily ours.

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The project reveals insistent resistance to the synod leadership which Francis invites all who are the church to embrace. Synodality is a commitment to a mutual process of encounter and accompaniment. Done effectively, it cultivates mature and participatory faith at all levels. It invites investment from all and demands that leaders listen carefully in order to discern the next steps in our journey together.

Synodality does not work from top to bottom. It is literally a sharing of the road, a process that takes time and trust. The process can even be messy precisely because it pays attention to terrain, margins and travelers’ vulnerabilities.

The idea that Eucharistic teaching and revival are needed at this time has not been discerned through a process of synodality. No place has been created, no survey in any language has been commissioned by the bishops to ask Catholics in the United States what troubles or weighs on our daily lives in this traumatic time.

The editors even admit that this concern is theirs, but not necessarily ours: “Although many of the faithful seem to have seen their faith and desire for the Eucharist strengthened by such a long separation, we fear that others, having lived without Mass for such a long time, may have become discouraged or become accustomed to living without the Eucharist. “

The project includes Blessed Carlo Acutis among its holy models with a devotion to the Eucharist. A 15-year-old “computer geek” who died of leukemia in 2006, he was beatified during the pandemic in October 2020. Acutis’ understanding of the evangelizing power of the Internet coupled with his devotion to the Eucharist make him a most appropriate saint. for a virtual age.

Sadly, editors are missing an opportunity to develop that dimension of worship and community-building that the pandemic has forced us to creatively and vitally entertain at the local level. Acutis’s work reminds us that virtual and digital technologies are pastoral gifts that require further exploration and investment.

In a few places, editors use Francois’ words to correct their agendas. A notable example is the deployment of Evangelii Gaudium at the end. The insertion of “the love which is expressed par excellence in the Eucharist” in the middle of a series of quotations from Francis calling the baptized to be evangelizing agents and missionary disciples from their encounter with love salvific God implies that this accent appears in the Pope’s text. It is not.

In reality, Eucharist only appears 11 times in Evangelii Gaudium, once with a warning against the exclusion of the sacraments, and a number of times in what amounts to a much needed tutorial on speaking and preaching during the Eucharist.

The inattention to the Liturgy of the Word in the project is evident in the light of the emphasis placed by the Pope in the apostolic exhortation to which they refer. As Francis observed, “We have long since gone beyond this old contraposition between word and sacrament. The preaching of the word, alive and effective, prepares for the reception of the sacrament, and in the sacrament this word reaches its maximum effectiveness.

More than 755,000 deaths from COVID-19 in this country alone and an uncertain future deserved more than a talk about sin, unless sin was stubbornness over vaccines and masking. What will we remember when we look back on those traumatic years of COVID-19? Remember that François produced Fratelli Tutti, and the American bishops produced a letter born, in part, from a desire to exclude? Will we remember how Francis called us to share our dreams to shape a better day together as our bishops imposed a revival they decided we needed?

Catholics in the United States surely deserve better in these troubling times. Perhaps we want a teaching that serves as a balm to soothe our anxieties or a fire that awakens our hearts to act for the common good as if our very life depended on it?

We are surely looking for a teaching that arises from a deep listening to the real questions of our time. We deserve bishops who will sit with us, where we are, on the ground made sacred because we are the body of Christ.


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