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Yes, the Eucharist is ‘powerful medicine’, which means…

April 13, 2016

Some seem upset that I agreed with Pope Francis that the Eucharist is “powerful medicine” for sinners, a figure of speech the pope used in Amoris laetitiae fn. 351 (see also his Evangelii gaudium 47). May I suggest that those objecting to the pope’s phrasing, and my agreement with it, need to familiarize themselves better with the Church’s rich understanding of the Eucharist. Doing so will, I think, enable them not only to see what is profoundly right about the pope’s choice of words, but help them to articulate what is profoundly missing from it.

The bounteous effects of the Eucharist, specifically in regard to forgiveness of and preservation from sin, are laid out in the Catechism of the Catholic Church 1393-1395, 1436, and 1846. These passages amply support the pope’s phrasing in fn 351. But missing from the pope’s commentary here is an acknowledgement that, as is true of a “powerful medicine”, taking the Eucharist improperly can be harmful, even spiritually deadly, to the recipient.

CCC 1385 states: “[W]e must prepare ourselves for so great and so holy a moment. St. Paul urges us to examine our conscience: ‘Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself’ [I Cor 11:27-29]. Anyone conscious of a grave sin must receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to communion.”

Nor does the Catechism leave any doubt that this spiritual danger applies in cases of post-divorce civil remarriages (later scored as “a situation of public and permanent adultery” in CCC 2384). CCC 1650 states, “Today there are numerous Catholics in many countries who have recourse to civil divorce and contract new civil unions. In fidelity to the words of Jesus Christ—‘Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery’—the Church maintains that a new union cannot be recognized as valid, if the first marriage was. If the divorced are remarried civilly, they find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God’s law. Consequently, they cannot receive Eucharistic communion as long as this situation persists. For the same reason, they cannot exercise certain ecclesial responsibilities. Reconciliation through the sacrament of Penance can be granted only to those who have repented for having violated the sign of the covenant and of fidelity to Christ, and who are committed to living in complete continence.” Emphasis added.

In sum, what one may question is not the pope’s comparing the Eucharist to “powerful medicine”, but rather, the failure to mention the warnings against improper consumption listed on the label.

A last note: Asking myself why so few Catholics today seem to be aware that receiving the Eucharist unworthily is spiritually gravely dangerous, it occurred to me to look at the readings proclaimed in Sunday and Weekday Lectionaries. St. Paul’s stark warnings against unworthy reception of the Eucharist are, it seems, never proclaimed at Mass. I think it fair to question the pastoral prudence of the decision to leave this vital Scriptural passage about the Eucharist out of the very celebration of the Eucharist.

UPDATE: This just came to my attention, from a couple days ago.

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