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Communion proposal highlights bishops’ meeting

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A priest prepares to distribute Communion during Mass in Washington. CNS photo/Bob Roller

WASHINGTON (CNS) — The Eucharist was a major focus of the U.S bishops’ June 16-18 virtual spring assembly.

On June 17, they heard a full presentation on a proposal to draft a document on the “meaning of the Eucharist in the life of the church,” followed by a lengthy discussion and vote. And by a wide margin, announced June 18, the bishops gave the green light for the drafting process to proceed.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine will draft the document and present it for discussion when the bishops reconvene in person in November. The action to move forward passed 168 to 55. There were six abstentions.

For more than two hours, 43 bishops expressed differing views about drafting such a document. Some stressed the document was necessary to provide clarity about the significance of the Eucharist, while others questioned its timing and if it could be perceived as fracturing the unity of a church already faced with numerous challenges.

Although the bishops reached no consensus during the discussion, most of those who spoke during the comments’ session welcomed the idea of strengthening teaching about the Eucharist.

Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, chairman of the doctrine committee, presented a proposed outline to the bishops in a prerecorded message.

He said this was developed in light of the decline in Catholics’ belief in the Real Presence in the Eucharist as well as the long absences from regular Mass attendance, which may have led to people placing less significance on the Eucharist in their lives.

The Communion document also was a key point of discussion in the news conferences June 16 and 17. Bishop Rhoades June 17 stressed that creating national norms was never the intent behind a proposal to write a new statement on the Eucharist. He said it would be aimed at providing guidance for bishops.

“We have taught in years past about Catholics in political life, the importance of adherence to church teaching in the document on worthiness to receive holy Communion, back in 2006,” Bishop Rhoades said. “But with this new strategic plan that’s going to be focused on the Eucharist, this three-year plan, we have to teach this again, on different levels.”

The bishop was referring to a multiyear National Eucharistic Revival initiative that is part of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ 2021-2024 strategic plan. The revival has been in the planning stages for over a year.

This revival is meant to place added emphasis on the Eucharist at all levels of the church in the United States beginning next summer and culminating in a large-scale national event in 2024.

The initiative aims to “renew the Church by enkindling a living relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ in the holy Eucharist,” said Auxiliary Bishop Andrew H. Cozzens of St. Paul and Minneapolis, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis.

In a June 18 presentation to the bishops, he described it as a “movement of Catholics across the United States, healed, converted, formed and unified by an encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist – and sent out in mission.”

At the end of three years, he said, it is hoped over 100,000 missionaries will be ready to “share the love of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist with our world.”

During their virtual assembly, the bishops also discussed their efforts on immigration, Native American/Alaskan Native ministry, catechesis and pastoral frameworks for youth and young people and marriage and family ministries.

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Contributing to this report was Rhina Guidos, Mark Pattison, Dennis Sadowski and Carol Zimmermann and Maria Wiering.

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