Every Sunday, I think: Have I committed a serious sin?
That might seem like a ludicrously dour tradition, but for me, it’s not about the sins, but about what I do every Sunday: attend mass and receive the Eucharist.
Amid the U.S. Catholic bishops’ decision last week to write a document about the Eucharist, or Communion, news outlets have focused on whether someday pro-abortion politicians like President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will no longer be permitted to receive Communion.
But as a Catholic, I’ve been stupefied by the news coverage and punditry, which lacks awareness of what the Catholic Church teaches, what the Eucharist is, and yes, what it means to be a practicing Catholic.
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In a way, I’m not surprised. Polls regularly show a gulf between the values of many American Catholics and the teachings of the Catholic Church. For instance, more than two-thirds of American Catholics support legalized same-sex marriage, according to a 2020 Gallup survey. Fifty-six percent of American Catholics agree with Biden and Pelosi, backing abortion being legal in most or all cases, per a 2019 Pew Research Center survey.
Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden visits Bethel AME Church in Wilmington, Del., June 1, 2020. (Photo: Andrew Harnik, AP)
And when it comes to the Eucharist, plenty of Catholics aren’t even aware what the Church teaches, namely that the Eucharist is truly the Body and Blood of Jesus. Only half of Catholics know what the Church teaches, according to a 2019 Pew Research Center poll, which also found that 69% of American Catholics don’t believe the Eucharist is the real presence of Jesus.
What does the Catholic Church teach?
For American Catholic priests and bishops especially, all those numbers should be sobering. Where are the mentions during the homily in Sunday mass about what the Church teaches? Where are the explanations of how the Church’s teachings are ultimately designed to promote happiness? Why are so few American Catholics educated in their own faith tradition?
Of course, it’s not just up to the clergy alone – parents, lay Catechism teachers, godparents, and a host of others have crucially important roles to play in faith formation – but the parish church, and what its priests say, can be especially important.
Of course, the example the clergy sets is also hugely important. Like many Catholics, I’ve been heartened by the robust steps the U.S. Catholic Church has taken since the sex abuse crisis to prevent it, but still am horrified at the scope of the crisis.
The more recent downfall of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who I had met during my time living in the Washington, D.C. area, was especially upsetting. As I read the coverage, I tried to somehow understand who the same man who was credibly accused of sexual abuse could have also been the priest presiding at the altar, could have held in his hands the Eucharist and transformed the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ.
Former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick is pictured speaking during a memorial service in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo: Robert Franklin, AP)
Of course, there was no understanding.
But every Sunday, except for those months of the COVID-19 pandemic, I am still in a Catholic church. I am not there for Pope Francis or the bishops or the parish priests or a sense of tradition or a desire to have a weekly community. I am there because I believe that when the priest utters those words, “This is my body … This is the chalice of my blood,” Jesus Christ is truly present, as present as He was 2,000 years ago. And I review my actions and think over my sins, not because I think Jesus is trying to “catch me,” but because I no more want to receive the Eucharist in a state of fighting with Jesus than I want to give my parents hugs amid a screaming match.
Christianity changed the world
This might seem downright bizarre to many Americans. (Even as I write this, I find myself slightly squirming from embarrassment, wondering how weird people will think I am.) But once you accept that the Catholic Church believes the Eucharist is truly Jesus, the debate over who should receive Communion makes more sense. While sometimes American Christianity has diluted the persona of Jesus to a Santa Claus who does miracles, He is far more complicated than that.
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The Jesus of the Gospels welcomed all, invited all, but He also demanded repentance and change. Just look at the Apostle Peter, the first pope: He went from someone who denied he knew Jesus, three times in a row, to someone who told Jesus he loved him, three times, and meant it so sincerely he was years later crucified himself, upside down.
Whatever the U.S. Catholic bishops do regarding this document on the Eucharist, I’m grateful we’re having this conversation. Asked about it by a reporter, Biden responded that it was a “private matter.” But given that Biden is open about being Catholic and also open about his pro-abortion position (one which I’d argue goes against science as well as Catholicism), the matter is rightly public.
If there is one thing we can all agree on, it’s that Jesus’ presence 2,000 years ago truly did change the world, its effects rippling from those who converted and became the first Christians to the Roman officials who tried to stomp out this new religion. So it only makes sense that His presence in the Eucharist would reach not just hearts, but also the public square.
Katrina Trinko is a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors and editor-in-chief of The Daily Signal. Her views do not represent her employer, The Heritage Foundation. Follow her on Twitter: @KatrinaTrinko
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