Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) recently made headlines in his attempt to redefine the Catholic understanding of the Eucharist. The senator claimed that some U.S. bishops are attempting to change what it means to receive Communion. The debate revolves around the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) plan to be more specific in outlining the ability for politicians who publicly invoke and support laws that contradict Church teaching to receive Communion.
The discussion has escalated rapidly with the election of Joe Biden as president. There have been heated discussions on whether or not the Church can deny someone Holy Communion for years now. Senator Kaine, however, is among the first to clearly state that the Church’s teaching on the Eucharist is incorrect. He notes that the “decision by U.S. bishops to elevate issues of human sexuality, however important, above all others seems contrary to the Gospel.”
The topics of abortion, same-sex marriage, and transgender rights are ancillary and basically up to the individual, we are told. Holding back the Eucharist from someone would appear, according to Kaine, to be both anti-Jesus and anti-American. “No reading of the life of Jesus would suggest these issues as his primary, or even secondary, concern. His towering message is about love of neighbor as oneself with a special focus on the poor, sick, hungry, marginalized.”
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Kaine also remarked that “in a civic sense, the same First Amendment that protects the rights of American Catholics to believe and worship as we choose also protects others who resolve moral questions differently based on their own faith and ethical deliberation.”
First, the senator’s encapsulation of Christ’s message does not simply miss the target but shoots the completely wrong weapon altogether. He appears to claim the “marginalized” are those who knowingly and consistently defy Church teaching while forgetting that Jesus came for the lost, the last, and the least. Modern popes, bishops, and everyday Catholics know that the contemporary ones most in need of protection are the unborn. A member of the faithful who resides in the position of power that has the true capacity to protect these beloved from being killed ought to be held to the standard that murder is unacceptable.
Second, freedom of worship pertains to the individual’s ability to live out the faith they deem true and fit for their life. The First Amendment does not guarantee that a citizen can make up his or her own rules inside of the church they are a part of. Following the teachings and lifestyle of a faith is objective. One can claim to deny infallible Church teaching, but their union with the Faith would be compromised in the process.
Jesus’ first words in Mark’s Gospel are “The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). The main content of His teachings and the purpose of His miracles is to establish and aid the world in experiencing the power of the Kingdom of God. Coming into contact with the person of Jesus Christ pushes one to conform his or her whole life according to His heart and will. This means that faith is not defined by the feelings we receive from experiences but by becoming other Christs because of our relationship with the Trinitarian God.
When asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus did note that it is twofold: love the Lord your God with your whole heart, mind and soul…and love your neighbor as yourself” (cf. Mark 12:30-31). To love is to will the good of the other. When a politician, or any Catholic for that matter, consistently and unrefusingly supports and enacts laws that harm the dignity of the human person (or take human lives) they are not heeding the call to repent, and they are definitely not living out the Gospel.
Despite this common-sense reasoning, Sen. Kaine exclaimed: “I am most concerned by the bishops’ flirtation with redefining the meaning of the sacrament itself. All Catholics are unworthy to receive Communion.” Therefore, politicians who reject the Church’s teaching on abortion and promote other extrinsic evils cannot and should not be denied Holy Eucharist.
The senator clearly makes the claim that bishops are changing the meaning of the Eucharist. It quickly becomes clear that the senator is not among the 31% of Catholics that believe what the Church teaches about the Eucharist. He appears to be among the 69% that believe that the Eucharist is a sign or symbol of Jesus along with being a nice sign of communion with Him and others.
The Eucharist is the living and risen Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ. The uniting character of the Eucharist is secondary. Its bonding and communal nature brings the faithful together as one body as an effect of what the Eucharist actually is. We are incorporated into Him, who gave His life so that we may live. However, the Sacrifice of the Mass is, first and foremost, the place of all grace where we offer, along with Christ, the perfect offering to the Father—the life of the Son. We are placed at that one time and place when Jesus hung on the cross and died for you and for me.
Massive upheaval was brought forth by many of the faithful when churches shut down last year. Rightfully so, because there is nothing more essential. However, many were citing the fact that they should be able to receive the Eucharist at Mass and not simply watch it on the internet. Here we view another misconception. Most people did not cite that they missed the sacrifice aspect of the Mass, but simply that they ought to be able to receive God.
While we need the nourishment of the Eucharist and the communion it brings, we cannot forget that the Mass is about uniting ourselves to the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary. Worship is not meant to become about what I receive as much as what I can give and offer to God.
The bishops can and ought to convene on how to better approach the question of Catholic politicians coming forth to receive the Eucharist who refuse to abide by Church teaching and confuse the faithful in the process. Preventing someone from receiving Jesus in the Eucharist is not an attempt to make Communion “an indulgence” as Kaine describes. This is also not a punishment or a way to implicitly claim that Jesus only came for the saints.
He came for the lost and for those in need of a physician (Matthew 15:24; Mark 2:17), but first we must acknowledge that we are in need of a savior and make our way back to the Father. Repentance leads to renewal, and Christ will renew the face of the earth through His Presence. The Eucharist is that Presence, and It is worth protecting.
[Photo Credit: Sen. Tim Kaine (Samuel Corum/Getty Images)]