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The Eucharist is a schooling for sinners, not a reward for the just

  • 08 July 2021
  Looking from outside at the debates among American Catholics about whether President Biden should be refused communion has been a little like watching the crowd in a Rangers v Celtic game in Glasgow. Much that was said and done fervently in the name of faith showed little familiarity with it. To understand the issue we must enter the Catholic imaginative world in which the Eucharist is central.

This is built around the story of a God who in Jesus enters a fractured human world to offer healing, hope, freedom, wholeness and model a way of living. Jesus’ faithfulness to that promise and way of life ended in conflict with the powerful forces responsible for fracturing the human world and in the manifest defeat of a tortured and dehumanising execution. That defeat, however, turned out to be a victory. His rising from the dead vindicated his way of life, made him present to those who believed in him and promised a life beyond the conditions of this world.

In the Catholic imagination the Eucharist draws people into Jesus’ story at the eve of his trial and killing. It is the meal when they ‘do what Jesus did’. They are associated with the risen Christ in doing what Jesus did, namely offering themselves with him and with one another to live as he did. In receiving the Eucharistic body of Christ, they enact the commitment that ended with tortured body of Christ and are formed into the risen body of Christ as church.

That is a bald account of the Catholic imaginative world within which to set the United States Bishops’ discussion of the Eucharist and the proposal to exclude some politicians from it. In Catholic terms, the central question is whether such a proposal is compatible with doing as Jesus did. And to answer that question, we need to set what Jesus did against the two opposed constructions of human life revealed in his execution

St Augustine gave a typically penetrating account of those two constructions, perhaps best described as operative imaginings of the world. The division between them is not between groups of people, but runs through each human being. One construction is bounded by individual desire without any reference to a benevolent God. It leads to a life based in self-interest, competition, violence, appeal to power, injustice, war, a unity based on power and exclusion, and self-righteousness. If it includes