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Bishops start national assembly with session closed to public

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John Burger - published on 11/15/21 - updated on 11/15/21

Eucharistic revival, possible American saints, and financial matters fill agenda.

Monday’s opening session of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ fall general assembly was the first time the organization has come together in person since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But the assembly, held in Baltimore, began with an executive session that was not open to the public or to media.

Very likely, a major focus of the first day of deliberations was a draft document concerning the Sacrament of the Eucharist. It certainly has been the primary focus of news media, who continue to harp on the possibility that the bishops will vote to deny Communion to President Joe Biden, a Catholic and a supporter of legal abortion. 

That’s unlikely, however, and the bishops have consistently denied the political nature of the proposed document. It is, rather a teaching document to address a growing crisis of faith among American Catholics. 

As such, the statement, titled “The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church,” is part of a larger plan to foster Eucharistic revival. Other discussion at this week’s meeting will be about a proposed national Eucharistic Congress in 2024.

According to a leaked draft of the document on the Eucharist, the statement delves into the theology of the Eucharist and reaffirms traditional Church teaching that anyone in the state of mortal sin may not receive Communion. 

It quotes the so-called Aparecida Document from the V General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean, saying, “Lay people who exercise some form of public authority have a special responsibility to embody Church teaching in their service of the common good.”

The new statement on the Eucharist also restates something the U.S. bishops conference declared in 2006:

If a Catholic in his or her personal or professional life were knowingly and obstinately to reject the defined doctrines of the Church, or knowingly and obstinately to repudiate her definitive teaching on moral issues, however, he or she would seriously diminish his or her communion with the Church. Reception of Holy Communion in such a situation would not accord with the nature of the Eucharistic celebration, so that he or she should refrain.

“A person who receives Holy Communion while in a state of mortal sin not only does not receive the grace of the sacrament, he or she commits the sin of sacrilege by failing to show the reverence due to the sacred Body and Blood of Christ,” the current statement says. 

Many items on agenda

In addition, the conference will discuss an update of the “Socially Responsible Investment Guidelines;” a proposal to add St. Teresa of Calcutta on the Proper Calendar for the Dioceses of the United States as an optional memorial on September 5; a Resolution on Diocesan Financial Reporting; new English and Spanish versions of the Order of Christian Initiation of Adults; a translation of Holy Communion and Worship of the Eucharistic Mystery Outside Mass; “National Statutes for the Catechumenate” in English and Spanish, and the USCCB’s 2022 budget.

During the assembly, which runs through Thursday, the bishops will vote for a treasurer-elect for the Conference, as well as chairmen-elect of five Conference committees: Clergy, Consecrated Life, and Vocations; Divine Worship; Domestic Justice and Human Development; Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth; and Migration. 

Some of the bishops being considered for those positions include Archbishops Paul Etienne of Seattle, Washington, and Mitchell Rozanski of St. Louis, Missouri; Bishops Steven Lopes of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter and Mark Seitz of El Paso, Texas, and Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles.

The bishops elected will serve for one year as treasurer-elect or chairman-elect before beginning a three-year term at the conclusion of the 2022 Fall General Assembly. There will also be votes for the election of board members for Catholic Relief Services and for the election of a new USCCB general secretary.

Also at the meeting will be a consultation of the bishops on causes of beatification and canonization for Servant of God Charlene Marie Richard, Servant of God Auguste Robert Pelafigue, and Servant of God Joseph Dutton. Other items that will be presented and discussed include: the 2021-2023 Synod of Bishops; the work of Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Charities USA, and Catholic Legal Immigration Network; the 50th anniversary of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development; the Journeying Together intercultural dialogue and encounter process; the application and implementation of the Pastoral Framework for Marriage and Family Life Ministry in the United States, and the “Walking with Moms in Need” initiative.

Although Monday’s meeting was closed, a 5 p.m. Mass concelebrated by all the bishops at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore will be live-streamed

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Catholic ChurchEucharist
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