A Pastoral Letter from Bishop Stika on the Worthy Reception of the Eucharist

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Bishop Richard F. Stika, Bishop of Knoxville, has published a Pastoral Letter, “Sin and the Worthy Reception of the Holy Eucharist.”

In his Letter, Bishop Stika discusses sin, including the distinction between venial and mortal sin, the effects of sin on our souls, and the Church’s centuries old teaching that those in mortal sin must first go to the sacrament of confession and receive absolution for their mortal sin(s) prior to receiving the Blessed Sacrament in Holy Communion.

Bishop Stika writes, “The Church has always taught that, ‘the Eucharist is not ordered to the forgiveness of mortal sins’ but is ‘proper to the sacrament of reconciliation.’ For ‘the Eucharist is properly the sacrament of those who are in full communion with the Church (CCC, 1395). If this is not clear enough, the Church’s “Code of Canon Law” states, ‘Anyone who is conscious of grave sin may not celebrate Mass (priest) or receive the body of the Lord without previously having been to sacramental confession …’ (c. 916). It matters not, then, if you are a politician, a priest, a religious, or even the pope — no one in a state of mortal sin can receive the Eucharist without first being reconciled to God sacramental confession.”

Bishop Stika goes on to properly define scandal according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) as “an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil” (CCC, 2284). The scandal of Catholic politicians working for the continued legalization of abortion, the expansion of abortion, and even taxpayer-funded abortion, is especially egregious, “As there is no greater destroyer of human life than the genocide of abortion, with more than 19,000 innocent unborn children slaughtered every week in our country alone, those who in their public capacity ‘obstinately persist’ in support of the ‘culture of death’ by working to legislate, fund, protect, or promote it cannot be admitted to Holy Communion, for such is the grave scandal of their public efforts. The only path for receiving the Eucharist is through the sacrament of reconciliation with a perfect act of contrition and a public renunciation of this most horrible sin.”

I especially appreciate Bishop Stika’s comment that those who accuse the Church of “weaponizing the Eucharist” by insisting that Catholic politicians who publicly support abortion cannot receiving Holy Communion “are in truth wanting their personal and political beliefs to be enshrined above the Truth that Christ entrusted His Church to teach and defend.”

This is me talking now and not Bishop Stika: Catholics who use their public offices to support abortion yet demand the “right” to receive Holy Communion are insisting that their relationship with God and the Church be on their terms, and not on God’s terms, and not on the Church’s terms. In my mind, they somehow regard their participation in the life of the Church as a privilege enjoyed by the Church, rather than a great grace given to them by God. They somehow have convinced themselves that, perhaps because of their public office or celebrity status, it would be a great loss for the Church if they should stop attending Mass or identifying as a Catholic, rather than it being a great honor and grace given to them by God that they should enjoy the privilege of participating in the sacrifice of Christ made present on the altar. Others have wrongly embraced the corrupt theology that one’s participation in the sacramental life of the Church is a personal privilege over which the Church has no authority. Since no one can discern the heart of another, no one can tell another that they cannot receive Holy Communion. But, this has never been the Church’s understanding. The Church has always assumed the responsibility of protecting the integrity of the sacraments and, in that role, discerns who may not receive the Blessed Sacrament based on their public grave sin. Support for the destruction of innocent human life by abortion is certainly a public grave sin. Those who do so cannot be admitted to Holy Communion.

Bishop Stika concludes: “If the Church speaks out, as I also must as the shepherd of this diocese, it is to awaken the consciences of those who are spiritually dead in their grave sin and to call them to repentance. It is to call those who are obstinate in their grave sin and who have become false prophets leading others into grave evils and the loss of eternal salvation. The truth can be ignored, but at what cost? We are all sinners and in need of the mercy and healing that God will never withhold unless, as the prophets warned, we remain ‘hard of heart.’ So, if we choose to ignore the seriousness of mortal sin and the need of sacramental confession prior to receiving Christ in the Eucharist, the same terrible and tragic words will echo that Jesus spoke to Judas in the Garden of Gethsemane: ‘Friend, do what you have come for’ (Matthew 25:50). Such is the sacrilege that we commit. But may we hear instead, in preparing ourselves to worthily receive our Lord and bridegroom in the most Holy Eucharist, the joy of Christ: ‘Blessed are they who wash their robes so as to have the right to the tree of life and enter the city through its gates’ (Revelation 22:14).”

It is a sorrow and a cause for confusion that the bishops of the United States have not been able to speak with one consistent voice on this matter. I pray that all the bishops will see it as their responsibility to guide their respective churches according to the ancient faith of the universal Church in respect for the integrity of the Blessed Sacrament and in care for the salvation of the souls given to their care.

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

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