Politicizing the Eucharist

Recently, a group of 18 congressmen, nominally Catholic, have insulted the Vicar of Christ as they publicly rejected the Church’s teaching on abortion. What occasioned the fashionable agitprop stunt was an interview that Pope Benedict gave in flight to Brazil, during which the Supreme Pontiff defended the legitimacy of excommunicating pro-abort politicians.

It has to be said that the Pope’s words were misrepresented in the media, apparently because the interviewing journalist misunderstood the events that prompted his own question. Certain Mexican bishops had spoken of refusing Holy Communion — the Eucharist — to politicos who favor decriminalizing abortion. They had not excommunicated anyone. The concepts are related, but different. One scandalously living in mortal sin — say, a notorious adulterer — need not be “excommunicated,” but he should be refused Holy Communion.

Be that as it may, the message was sent and received despite the confusion: those who publicly support abortion should be denied the Eucharist.

But that was exactly the wrong message for the “Gang of 18,” as Fr. Thomas Euteneuer called them. The congressional pseudo-catholics included these remarks in their May 10 statement:

“The fact is that religious sanction in the political arena directly conflicts with our fundamental beliefs about the role and responsibility of democratic representatives in a pluralistic America – it also clashes with freedoms guaranteed in our Constitution. Such notions offend the very nature of the American experiment and do a great disservice to the centuries of good work the church has done.” (The statement can be read in toto here.)

Fr. Frank Pavone called for all 18 to step down from office. “We don’t need public servants who can’t tell the difference between serving the public and killing the public” he said.

The dissenting reps effectively faulted the Bavarian Pope of Rome for being un-American. That’s novel. They have also accused him of improperly bringing religious sanctions into the political sphere, for which cause he was given a severe civics lesson in the form of a schoolmarmish press release: “Let’s keep God out of politics; it’s the will of the people we’re about here, Citizen Ratzinger!”

We are grateful that the Holy Father and certain (few) bishops are saying that Holy Communion ought to be denied to notorious opponents of the Catholic moral magisterium. For this, they will suffer the penalty of bad PR, the American equivalent of the auto-da-fé. For the liberals, never slow to feign righteous indignation in their mania for attention, will keep playing the part of victims who accuse their prelates of “politicizing the Eucharist.”

Wait. That’s an interesting turn of phrase, isn’t it? “Politicizing the Eucharist.” Progressivists often use it in this context, but has it ever occurred to them that the Eucharist is essentially political? I don’t mean political in the sense of low-down, cunning, or partisan. I mean “political” in the sense of “governing society,” for that is what politics is: the way society is governed. And to govern something is to direct it towards its proper end. It is the Eucharist that “orders” us into the Mystical Body.

The liberals would have us believe that responsible churchmen are taking a religious sacrament and turning it into a political weapon. But that religious reality is also a political reality as it signifies and effects the social unity of the Church.

While we don’t typically call such an elevated reality “politics,” we do so here to recognize the social character of the sacrament — something liberals talk plenty about but the real nature of which they are profoundly clueless. In the Church, the social effects of the Eucharist are an increase of the unity in Faith, Hope, and Charity. In the life of the nation — “politics,” proper — the effect of the Eucharist is Christendom — or something like it — wherein the laws of the State conform to the Law of Christ the King.

Consider what St. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:16-17: “The chalice of benediction which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? And the bread we break, is it not the partaking of the body of the Lord? For we, being many, are one bread, one body: all that partake of one bread.”

Father Challoner comments in a note in the Douay Rheims Bible: “For it is by our communicating with Christ, and with [one] another, in this blessed sacrament, that we are formed one mystical body; and made, as it were, one bread, compounded of many grains of corn, closely united together.”

St. Augustine asks, “Why is this mystery accomplished with bread? Let us offer no reason of our own invention, but listen to the Apostle speak of this sacrament, ‘We are one bread, one body.’ Understand this and rejoice. Unity, truth, piety, charity. ‘One bread.’ What is this one bread? It is one body formed of many. Remember that bread is not made of one wheat; at baptism water was poured over you, as flour is mingled with water, and the Holy Spirit entered into you like the fire which bakes the bread. Be what you see, and receive what you are.”

“… Thus did the Lord Christ manifest us in Himself. He willed that we should belong to Him, and He has consecrated on His altar the mystery of our peace and unity.”

And St. Cyril of Alexandria: “For if we all eat of the one bread we all become one body, since there can be no division in Christ. For this reason is the Church called the body of Christ, and we severally His members, according to the teaching of St. Paul. Since we are all united with the one Christ through His sacred body, and since we all receive Him who is one and indivisible into our own bodies, we ought to look upon our members as belonging to Him rather than to ourselves.”

Now, reading what St. Paul, St. Augustine, and St. Cyril say here, one would think that those who partake of this sacrament are to conform themselves to the teachings of Christ and the Apostolic doctrine on Faith and Morals. But what these patriarchal males apparently did not understand is that “such notions offend the very nature of the American experiment and do a great disservice to the centuries of good work the church has done.”