BASIS OF A CATHOLIC'S CALL TO PARTICIPATE IN THE EUCHARIST AND RECEIVE COMMUNION
The Priesthood of the Faithful
The basis of a Catholic’s call and right to participate in the Eucharist is rooted in one’s Baptism. Through Baptism all Catholics are joined with Christ through the Holy Spirit, become members of the Catholic community of faith, and receive the call to participate in the priestly ministry of Christ, the priesthood of the faithful. (The Catechism of the Catholic Church, CC, 1267). As the Second Vatican Council teaches in Lumen Gentium, “The baptized, by regeneration and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are consecrated to be a spiritual house and a holy priesthood.” (Lumen Gentium, LG, 10, and CC, 1141 and 1268). Catholics through their baptism are made “one body with Christ and are constituted among the People of God” and are “made sharers in the priestly, prophetical, and kingly functions of Christ.” (LG, 31).
According to the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic faithful, “by virtue of their royal priesthood, participate in the offering of the Eucharist.” (LG, 10, and CC,1322). Through their incorporation into the Church by Baptism, the Catholic faithful are “appointed by their baptismal character to religious worship.” (LG, 11, and CC, 1273). Through their participation in the Eucharistic sacrifice, which Lumen Gentium describes as “the summit of Christian life,” the Catholic faithful “offer the divine victim to God and themselves along with it.” (LG, 11). Consequently, both in the celebration of the Eucharist and in the reception of communion, the faithful have a part to play in the liturgical action. (LG, 11). The Second Vatican Council describes the reception of communion as the most perfect form of participation in the Eucharist. (Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, SC, 55, see also CC, 1388, 1389, and 1417). In their guidelines for receiving communion the U.S. bishops state, “As Catholics, we fully participate in the celebration of the Eucharist when we receive Holy Communion.” (USCCB Guidelines for the Reception of Holy Communion, November 14, 1996). One wonders on what basis the Catholic Church ever decided to separate the two.
In discussing the priesthood of the faithful, Lumen Gentium does make a distinction between the priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood.” The council clearly states that not all Catholics participate in the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood. (LG, 10). However, those Catholics who are later ordained to the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood initially receive their call to participate in the Eucharist and receive communion through their Baptism, not their ministerial ordination. So, a Catholic’s call and right to participate in the Eucharist and receive communion is conferred at one’s Baptism. It does not come from the Pope, the bishops, an individual priest, or the magisterium of the church. It comes directly from Christ.
John R. Connolly
EUCHARIST AND COMMUNION BELONG TOGETHER
A THEOLOGCIAL REFLECTION
Celebrating the Eucharist and partaking of the Risen body and blood of Christ in Communion are essential components of the call and vocation of the Catholic Christian. This call and vocation of all Catholic believers is rooted in their baptism. Through baptism all Catholics are joined with Christ and with the church in the community of faith, and, through the Holy Spirit, they receive the call to participate in the priestly ministry of Jesus Christ, the priesthood of the faithful. By virtue of their priesthood, the faithful participate in the offering of the Eucharist and through their reception of communion become one with the Risen Christ in his priestly sacrifice. In the celebration of the Eucharist the faithful join in the commemoration of the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. In the bread and the wine, the Risen humanity of Jesus is really present and, through the unity of humanity and divinity, in Christ we encounter the salvific presence of God. Through this union with the Risen Christ in the reception of communion the faithful receive the grace to renew their baptismal call and their faith commitment to go out into the world and live as Christ did.
Baptism, Eucharist, and the reception of communion are integral and constitutive components of the faith and life of Catholics. They belong together. To separate one of these from the other makes it impossible for a Catholic to fully exercise one’s baptismal call and vocation. Does it make any sense to attend a Eucharistic celebration and not receive communion? Both the Second Vatican Council and the U.S. Conference of Catholic bishops teach that Catholics fully participate in the Eucharist when they receive communion. If the church refuses to allow a Catholic to receive communion is this not really taking away one of the essential elements necessary for a Catholic to fulfill one’s baptismal calling and to live out one’s Christian vocation in the world? Is the Catholic Church’s separation of participation in the Eucharistic celebration from the reception of communion really based upon an adequate theology of the Eucharist? If the church formally and officially (by law) judges a Catholic believer to be unfit to receive communion how can such a person be judged to be fit to participate in the celebration of the Eucharist? Does this really make sense? If a Catholic has done something so serious that one forfeits one’s call to partake of the body and blood of the Risen Christ, then why does that person not also forfeit one’s call to participate in offering the Eucharistic celebration.
The mission of the church is to bring God’s transforming grace of salvation to all the faithful. In Evangelii Gaudium Pope Francis teaches that the church is “first and foremost a people advancing on its pilgrim way toward God.” (EG, no. 111). It is more than just an “organic and hierarchical institution.” (EG, no. 111). Salvation is the primary mission of the Church. The Church is sent by Jesus Christ as “the sacrament of the salvation offered by God.” (EG, no. 112). Its main principle is the primacy of grace. (EG, no. 112). The salvation that God has brought through Christ, and which is joyfully proclaimed by the church, is for everyone. (EG, no. 113). Pope Francis states, “God has found a way to unite himself to every human being in every age. He has chosen to call them together as a people and not as isolated individuals.” (EG, no. 113). The people whom God has called and chosen are the church. “Jesus did not tell the apostles to form an exclusive and elite group.” (EG, no. 113). Would it not be more compatible with the mission of the church to allow Catholics who, in their own consciences, are free from serious sin but disagree with some aspect of the institutional church’s political agenda or policies, to fully realize their Eucharistic calling through the reception of communion.?
John R. Connolly