Therefore whosoever shall eat this bread, or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and of the blood of the Lord. But let a man prove himself: and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of the chalice. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment to himself, not discerning the body of the Lord. Therefore are there many infirm and weak among you, and many sleep. But if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But whilst we are judged, we are chastised by the Lord, that we be not condemned with this world.
—1 Corinthians 11:27–32
I decided to write this letter with the aim of talking to my fellow Catholics about an issue that I have found troublesome to approach. I am terrified, because we are all about to go back to Mass. My fears do not stem from the potential physical repercussions of returning to Mass. Rather, my fears are purely spiritual.
Last summer, the Pew Research Center ran an article stating that only one third of Catholics believe that the Blessed Sacrament is the literal body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ. In fact, according to the article, almost seventy percent of Catholics believe that the Eucharist is some symbol of Christ’s passion rather than His literal flesh and blood. This is gut-wrenching for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that such beliefs have resulted in worldwide sacrilege against the Blessed Sacrament.
I am not a theologian; I will not delve into the immense, Earth-shattering significance of Transubstantiation and the incomprehensible beauty that takes place at every single Mass. Instead, as a layperson, I look to the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
Anyone who desires to receive Christ in Eucharistic communion must be in a state of grace. Anyone aware of having sinned mortally must not receive communion without having received absolution in the sacrament of penance. (CCC 1415)
Indeed, receiving in a state of mortal sin is in and of itself a mortal sin. However, for those who are a part of the seventy percent that do not believe in the Real Presence, it stands to reason that they may not care very much for this notion. After all, if the Eucharist is not really the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ, then it stands to reason that receiving the Eucharist in a state of mortal sin is not really a mortal sin. Why would it be? It’s just bread, after all.
I must say, even writing that sarcastically made me sick to my stomach.
You may ask how I know of the existence of such sacrilege. This is a subject I can speak on with some authority, because I regret to say that I used to be this very type of “Catholic.” I was born and raised Catholic and attended Catholic school for 12 years, which, when it comes to my catechesis, means very little. For much of my life, I was a devout young Catholic; however, once high school and college rolled around, I began to take the easy route in many respects. When you’re a confused high school kid, it’s easy to say sins against chastity are “normal.” When you’re the funny person in your friend group, it’s easy to tell yourself that repeatedly using foul language and taking God’s sacred name in vain are not a big deal. When you’re a hung over college kid, it’s easy to presume that “God would not count it as a mortal sin” to skip Mass. Perhaps most troublingly, when you do all of these things and go to Mass for the first time in a year, it’s easy to say you do not need to go to Confession before receiving the Eucharist.
You tell yourself it’s all okay, because God loves you. You tell yourself it’s all okay because the truly important thing is the meaning behind the Eucharist. You comfort. You justify. You lie.
By the grace of God, I managed to move beyond such simplistic, sinful justifications. I thank God every single day of my life that this happened, because I know that each and every sin, each and every defamation of the most Blessed Sacrament was an affront to Christ Himself. I wish I could undo those sins, and I certainly wish I could undo the lasting effects of those sins. But I cannot, and although I seek to reach Heaven, I do not doubt that the ill effects of those sins will need purging before I can do so. However, I take confidence in knowing that, so long as I express true contrition, and so long as I request and believe in Christ’s forgiveness through the sacrament of Confession, He will grant it to me. If I do this, then I just might be worthy to receive Him.
I know many Catholics who do not understand this — or, perhaps more accurately, they do understand this and choose to disagree. In other words, I know many Catholics whose 12 years of Catholic school were every bit as “useful” as mine. There are people out there who have not been to Confession since they first received the Sacrament of Reconciliation in second grade, yet they still receive the Eucharist every Sunday. There are people who, despite knowing the Church’s teachings, profess the heretical view that forgiveness is granted upon merely expressing personal sorrow for one’s sins. I’ve even seen people arrive to Mass five minutes before Communion, receive the Blessed Sacrament, and immediately leave before the dismissal. Every Catholic should be disturbed by this, not only because these people’s souls are in danger, but because this is immensely offensive to God, and it happens every single day.
When we make an act of contrition, we state that we are sorrowful and detest our sins, “most of all, because they have offended you, my God, who are all good and deserving of all my love.” We must hate our sins not simply because they harm us, but because they are a direct offense to the all-loving God who gave His only son in order that we might be saved. I do not know if there is a more clear and obvious example of such an offense than the act of receiving Christ Himself into our bodies when He has told us we are not worthy to do so.
There are those who have said the coronavirus is a chastisement for the world’s continued offenses against God. There are also those who say this is all just a natural freak occurrence that began with the consumption of an infected bat. I do not know what to think on this subject, and I have no authority to decide the significance of this madness that is plaguing our world. What I do know is that, for a long time, many people have been taking the Eucharist for granted, and now the Blessed Sacrament has been denied to the faithful for a longer time than most of us have ever experienced. Now, several months later, many Catholics are fortunate enough to be able to once again bear witness to the most holy sacrifice of the Mass. If a single good thing comes from this entire mess, let it be that we no longer take Him for granted.