Why Communion matters in Catholic life -- and what it means to be denied the Eucharist

image Communion has been described as the 'fount and apex of the whole Christian life.' Geoffrey Clements/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

The biannual U.S. Catholic bishops’ meeting received more than its usual attention in June 2021 due to one particular item on its agenda: a proposed document on the Sacrament of the Eucharist, a ritual also known as Holy Communion.

Because this as yet unwritten document is expected to include guidance on when and whether Holy Communion may be refused to a Catholic who presents her or himself in a manifest state of serious sin, this church matter received note in the pages of national newspapers. It also prompted a “Statement of Principles” from 60 Democratic Catholics in the U.S. House of Representatives urging bishops “to not move forward and deny this most holy of all sacraments.”

As a scholar of Catholic sacramental theology, let me offer some thoughts on the central role of Holy Communion in the Catholic Church, and the pain it can cause some members to be denied reception of it.

One of the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church, the Eucharist is a ritual in which, according to Catholic theology, bread and wine blessed by a priest really become the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ. Such is its central role in Catholicism, it has been called the “fount and apex of the whole Christian life.”

Catholics are obliged to receive Communion at least once a year, but in practice many do so far more frequently during Mass, or Catholic public worship.

Why might Catholics be concerned with lacking access to this one practice when there are presumably many other opportunities for spiritual growth both within and without the Catholic Church?

The answer lies not only in a sense of injustice about being denied access or forcing a change of habit. It is found in the history, practice and theology of Holy Communion itself.

Eucharist in early Christianity

In the formative years of Christianity around 2,000 years ago, the practice of ritual meals was already common in both Jewish and Greco-Roman culture. Early Christian Eucharistic practice took seriously the ritual power of a meal to transport participants beyond the physical world by connecting them to both past events and spiritual realities.

Jesus shared many meals throughout his time on Earth, culminating in his “last supper,” during which, according to biblical passages, he instructed followers to share bread and wine, saying, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

Early followers of Jesus worshiped in synagogues and continued to take part in Jewish rituals. Thus, the Eucharist flowed from the same stream as the Passover Seder in which Jewish tradition says each person is to regard him or herself as having been personally freed from slavery in Egypt.

Yet, Christian ritual meals were unique because they were centered on Jesus, a crucified victim of the Roman Empire, whom, Christians believe, “passed over” death to be resurrected by God.

Body of Christ

The whole structure of the Mass, which normally culminates in reception of Communion, is about thrusting participants into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, so that they may see the death-and-resurrection shape of life in the world.

Catholic theology distinguishes three ways of speaking of the body of Christ, all rooted in the Bible: There is the historical Jesus who walked on Earth, the body of Christ that is present in the bread and wine of the Eucharist, and finally the assembly of people who, as St. Paul the apostle put it, “are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”

The early Christian celebration of, and reflection on, the Eucharist did not imagine a sharp divide between the presence of Christ in the Eucharist and in the people who celebrate it.

But an 11th-century controversy over the nature of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, which became closely associated with the historical Jesus, initiated what one scholar called a “deadly break” between the presence of Christ in the Eucharist and the presence of Christ in people. Twentieth-century Catholic theology recovered that deep connection between Christ’s presence in the Eucharist and in the community.

Being set apart

In its most basic terms, Catholics receive the really-present Christ in Communion so that they may be Christ in the world.

Catholics believe that when one consumes the Eucharist, one is incorporated into Christ and becomes bonded to others who are also part of the body of Christ on Earth. It is not simply a matter of individual belief, but of Church unity and the mission of being Christ in the world.

To set oneself outside of the practice of Communion – or to be set outside by another – is to be apart from the very practice that incorporates one into the body of Christ.

About The Author

Timothy Gabrielli, Gudorf Chair in Catholic Intellectual Traditions, University of Dayton

This article originally appeared on The Conversation



 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

You May Also Like


group of people riding the rapids in a raft
The Power of Powerlessness: Riding the Rapids of Life
by Barry Vissell
What really works is for me to accept my powerlessness, my helplessness, that I really have very…
Observations From Nova Scotia To Florida And Back
Observations from Nova Scotia to Florida and Back
by Robert Jennings, Innerself.com
Nova Scotia is a Canadian province of around 1,000,000 people and our home county in Florida has…
How To Ensure That "Luck" Is On Your Side
How To Ensure That "Luck" Is On Your Side
by Marie T. Russell
"He's so lucky! She always wins! I'm just not lucky!" Do these statements sound familiar? Have they…
face of woman floating in water
How To Develop Courage and Move Out of Your Comfort Zone
by Peter Ruppert
Courage is not about being fearless in the face of a scary situation. It is the willingness to move…
chamomile plants in bloom
Horoscope Current Week: July 26 - August 1, 2021
by Pam Younghans
This weekly astrological journal is based on planetary influences, and offers perspectives and…
Having The Courage To Live Life and Ask For What You Need Or Want.
Having The Courage To Live Life and Ask For What You Need Or Want
by Amy Fish
You need to have the courage to live life. This includes learn­ing to ask for what you need or…
man passed out on a table with an empty bottle of alcohol with child looking on
Can LSD Cure the 'Spiritual Disease' of Alcoholism?
by Thomas Hatsis
Beginning in the late 1950s, five hospitals (in the province of Saskatchewan in Canada) offered a…
pregnant woman sitting with her hands on her belly
Essential Tips for the Journey: Release Fear and Take Care of Yourself
by Bailey Gaddis
Suppressing fear-induced emotions infuses life into them, often causing a manifestation of…

Marie T. Russell's Daily Inspiration


hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil image of children
Death Denial: Is No News Good News?
by Margaret Coberly, Ph.D., R.N.
Most people are so strongly habituated to death denial that when death appears they are caught…
Having The Courage To Live Life and Ask For What You Need Or Want.
Having The Courage To Live Life and Ask For What You Need Or Want
by Amy Fish
You need to have the courage to live life. This includes learn­ing to ask for what you need or…
Writing letters by hand is the best way to learn to read
Writing letters by hand is the best way to learn to read
by Jill Rosen, Johns Hopkins University
Handwriting helps people learn reading skills surprisingly faster and significantly better than…
How Living On The Coast Is Linked To Poor Health
How Living On The Coast Is Linked To Poor Health
by Jackie Cassell, Professor of Primary Care Epidemiology, Honorary Consultant in Public Health, Brighton and Sussex Medical School
The precarious economies of many traditional seaside towns have declined still further since the…
image of the planet Jupiter on the skyline of a rocky ocean shore
Is Jupiter a Planet of Hope or a Planet of Discontent?
by Steven Forrest and Jeffrey Wolf Green
In the American dream as it's currently dished up, we try to do two things: make money and lose…
spraying for mosquito 07 20
This new pesticide-free clothing prevents 100% of mosquito bites
by Laura Oleniacz, NC State
New insecticide-free, mosquito-resistant clothing is made from materials researchers have confirmed…
test your creativity
Here's how to test your creativity potential
by Frederique Mazerolle, McGill University
A simple exercise of naming unrelated words and then measuring the semantic distance between them…
two children reading a book with their father
Empathy Starts Early: 5 Australian Picture Books That Celebrate Diversity
by Ping Tian, University of Sydney and Helen Caple, UNSW
Early exposure to diverse story characters, including in ethnicity, gender and ability, helps young…

follow InnerSelf on

facebook icontwitter iconyoutube iconinstagram iconpintrest iconrss icon

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration



New Attitudes - New Possibilities

InnerSelf.comClimateImpactNews.com | InnerPower.net
MightyNatural.com | WholisticPolitics.com | InnerSelf Market
Copyright ©1985 - 2021 InnerSelf Publications. All Rights Reserved.