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Bishops okay plan to draft document on Communion



John Burger - published on 06/19/21

Doctrine committee will write in response to declining faith in the Eucharist.

The Catholic bishops of the United States this week voted to draft a formal statement on the meaning of the Eucharist in the life of the Church.

The bishops wrapped up their annual spring plenary assembly Friday, when the results of the vote were announced. The motion to draft the statement won 73% of the bishops in the conference.

Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, chairman of the committee on doctrine of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the document — with sections on “The Eucharist, A Mystery to Be Believed,” “The Eucharist, A Mystery to Be Celebrated” and “The Eucharist, A Mystery to Be Lived” — would be a teaching tool for Catholics about the reception of holy Communion as a grace-filled gift. It came about in light of the decline in the belief among Catholics in the Real Presence in the Eucharist, he said.

A proposal for the statement said it will be addressed to all Catholics, and would include “the theological foundation for the Church’s discipline concerning the reception of Holy Communion and a special call for those Catholics who are cultural, political, or parochial leaders to witness the faith.” 

The document, which should be ready for the bishops’ fall meeting, will require the support of a two-thirds majority of bishops and the Vatican’s approval.

In the midst of deliberations, Bishop Andrew Cozzens, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, presented the conference with a plan for a “Eucharistic revival,” aiming to increase devotion, love, and belief in the Eucharist.

Full plate

Though the Eucharist document garnered most of the media’s attention, because it was seen as an effort to highlight the inconsistency of Catholics in political life receiving Communion while supporting legal abortion, the bishops also had a full plate of other issues to consider in their three-day meeting.

The Latin Church members of the Conference voted to approve three translations by the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) for use in the dioceses of the United States. They included a vote that concerned materials for the celebration of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church. This memorial was added to the liturgical calendar in 2018 and is observed on the Monday following Pentecost. The second vote was on a collection of intercessions and prayers for the Liturgy of the Hours, which was likewise approved. 

The retranslation of the Liturgy of the Hours is a large and ongoing project, and there are still several groups of texts that will need to be approved by the bishops in the coming years before the entire project can be completed.

The bishops approved a new translation of the Order of Penance. This liturgical book is usually not needed for individual confessions but is particularly useful in the planning of parish penitential services. The votes for these three texts required affirmation by two-thirds of the Latin Church members and are subject to the confirmation of the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.

The Conference voted to approve the development of a new formal statement and comprehensive vision for the Native American and Alaska Native Ministry. The plan envisions encompassing the concerns of the Catholic Native Communities but also a dialogue to develop ways for evangelization and matters of Catholic Native social justice.

Following the Vatican’s 2018 synod on young people, faith, and vocational discernment, Pope Francis issued a post-synodal apostolic exhortation on young people, Christus Vivit. The bishops approved of the drafting of a National Pastoral Framework for Youth and Young Adults that would be the United States’ response to the implementation of Christus Vivit. Considering this movement in the Church of engagement of young people, and in the wake of the COVID pandemic, the bishops believe it is an opportune time for this framework to guide the Church’s efforts in the coming years.

The bishops voted to approve a National Pastoral Framework for Marriage and Family Life Ministry in the United States: Called to the Joy of Love, that was proposed by the Committee for Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth. The framework is intended to assist dioceses as local pastoral planning and implementation continues to take place since the publication of the 2016 apostolic exhortation on the family, Amoris Laetitia. It provides guidelines for the pastoral accompaniment of married couples and families in every phase of life, drawing upon the teachings and recommendations contained in the apostolic exhortation.

Update on child protection

On the meeting’s second day, the USCCB heard a report from the chairwoman of the National Review Board, the lay advisory group focused on prevention of sexual abuse in the Church. Suzanne Healy reported that the policies the bishops have implemented to create safe environments are effective. There were 22 abuse allegations reported this year, which is down from the previous year. 

The NRB recommended that the bishops make additional reconciliation efforts, both with victim-survivors of sexual abuse and with the broader Catholic community. There also needs to be full cooperation with audits, said Healy, who noted that 35% of dioceses last year did not have a formalized parish audit in place. And there should be further education in trauma-focused therapy principles for anyone who interacts with victim-survivors, she said.

The bishops also expressed their support for the advancement of the causes of beatification and canonization of two wartime heroes who risked their lives to protect others: Fr. Joseph Lafleur, who sacrificed his life to help other prisoners of war evacuate a sinking ship during World War II, and Leonard LaRue — later known as Brother Marinus — a Merchant Marine who volunteered his cargo ship to conduct one of the largest single refugee evacuations in history during the Korean War.

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