With the Democrats nominating pro-abortion Catholic politicians for national office in each of the last two election cycles, the topic of whether or not such politicians should be barred from receiving the Eucharist has been hotly debated. So intense was the debate that even the mainstream secular media picked up on it, and some even attempted to understand the issue before printing articles about it. I’ve mentioned before that the resulting conversation about the issue likely harms the Democrats as the wide gap between their claimed faith and actions is made apparent, but let’s focus this time on the effect of such a stance on the souls of the politicians in question.
First, despite the recent claims by Senator Biden and Speaker Pelosi, the Church’s teaching against abortion has been consistent. As I write, 13 bishops have corrected Biden and 26 have corrected Pelosi on their false claim that the Church’s teaching on abortion is a recent development. In fact, the teaching against abortion goes back as far as the Didache (or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles), which contains the teaching “you shall not murder a child by abortion nor kill that which is begotten.” (chapter 2, verse 1) This document is thought to have originally been written as early as AD 70. (The Church likely left it out of the Bible because its apostolic origin could not be confirmed, although some accepted it as inspired.)
So, the consistent teaching of the Church throughout its two millennia has been that abortion is in fact a grave sin. Why should grave sinners then be denied participating in reception of Communion? Well, for this we can turn to the Bible. Saint Paul write “Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord.” (1 Cor 11:27) Why would this be?
Early Christians drew a parallel between the Eucharist and the Tree of Life in the story of the Garden of Eden. (Hang on, it makes sense eventually.)
In John 6 (my personal favorite exposition of the doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist), Jesus tells us that He is the Bread of Life and in order to have eternal life, we must eat His Flesh and drink His Blood. A few samplings:
Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.
For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.
Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.
This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.
Early Christians immediately saw the parallels between Christ’s Body and the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden, which also promised eternal life. After Adam and Eve ate of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, God banished them from the Garden, saying, “See! The man has become like one of us, knowing what is good and what is bad! Therefore, he must not be allowed to put out his hand to take fruit from the tree of life also, and thus eat of it and live forever.” (Gen 3:22) Remember, too, the definition of “knowing” in the Biblical sense; by “knowing” evil, Adam and Eve have in some way become intimate with it. Now that Adam and Eve have the stain of evil on them, eating of the Tree of Life will trap them in that state of sinfulness eternally. So, in order to protect us from permanent sinfulness, God expelled our parents from the Garden until such time as He would send a Savior.
Given the parallels between the Tree of Life and the Bread of Life, we can see why those in manifest sin, whether private or public, should abstain from receiving the Eucharist: to receive unworthily “traps” us in our sinfulness. So, those who are knowingly unworthy of reception should not present themselves. (This was former Wilmington Bishop Saltarelli’s approach, to remind those in such a state that they should not receive Communion until they are reconciled with the Church.) In the case of those whose sins are public, the response should be different. As Cardinal Arinze, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments at the Vatican has said , ”If they should not receive, then they should not be given.” The public nature of some sins require a public response, lest more of the faithful be drawn into that same sin. To pick on a Republican, Rudy Giuliani shouldn’t be allowed to receive Communion not only due to his stance on abortion, but also due to the fact he’s not validly married and quite publicly guilty of (as far as we can tell) unrepented adultery.
So, despite the assumptions of many on both sides of this debate, barring pro-abortion politicians from reception of Holy Communion isn’t a punishment, but a protective measure, in many ways:
1) it protects the sinner in question from falling deeper into sin
2) serves as a wake-up call to the sinner that they need to mend their ways
3) it alerts others that the behavior in question is not acceptable and therefore not to emulated
The policy of the Diocese of Wilmington has been that we should pursue “gentle persuasion” in order to attempt to win the conversion of these politicians’ hearts. Unfortunately, it’s not working. Can anyone name a Catholic politician who has undergone such a conversion? If anything, the situation has gotten worse since the 1970s. When first elected, Biden was pro-life and disagreed with Roe v. Wade and believed “the right of abortion was not secured by the Constitution.” (Source) To pick another prominent example, Ted Kennedy was also pro-life at the time. We’re going backwards and losing ground.
The scandal of allowing pro-abortion politicians to receive Communion and portray themselves as “devout” Catholics has misled the people of Christ’s Church and the politicians themselves into believing such stances are acceptable. The price isn’t just the millions of lives lost to abortion, but also potentially the eternal souls of the politicians in questions. The stakes are literally eternal; we need to take a more serious approach to conversion of hearts and acknowledge that the current approach has failed.