Corpus Christi is the grand and solemn liturgical feast in praise of the Blessed Sacrament. Inspired by Saint Juliana of Mont Cornillon (1193–1258), it originated in the Middle Ages. Pope Urban IV approved it with the Bull Transiturus of September 8, 1264, and asked Saint Thomas Aquinas to compose its liturgical office.
Hence, we owe to Saint Thomas’s theological genius (he was also an inspired poet) the beautiful hymn Lauda Sion, that is part of the new feast’s Mass. In its verses, we find the beautiful expression “Ecce panis angelorum” (behold the Bread of angels), which came to be used frequently to designate Holy Communion. That is easy to understand because one can receive it only in the state of grace, which renders men similar to angels.
On the Feast of Corpus Christi, Pope Francis Turns the “Bread of Angels” Into “Bread of Sinners”
Pope Francis took advantage of the commemoration of the Feast of Corpus Christi on June 6 to change the meaning of the Sacrament of the Eucharist into one entirely contrary to the Church’s perennial teaching. Thus, changing the poetic but theologically safe formulation of Saint Thomas, he transforms the designation “Bread of Angels” into “Bread of sinners.”
As he had done on another occasion,1 at the Angelus on that feast day, Pope Francis presented Judas, the traitor, as an example of divine mercy. He said that, at the Holy Supper, Jesus knew of Judas’s betrayal. And “what does Jesus do? He reacts to the evil with a greater good. He responds to Judas’s ‘no’ with the ‘yes’ of mercy. He does not punish the sinner but rather gives His life for him.”2
Pope Francis adds, “When we receive the Eucharist, Jesus does the same with us: he knows us; he knows we are sinners; and he knows we make many mistakes, but he does not give up on joining his life to ours.”
Concluding his thought, he says that Jesus “knows that we need it, because the Eucharist is not the reward of saints, no, it is the Bread of sinners. This is why he exhorts us: ‘Do not be afraid! Take and eat.’”
A Doctrine Contrary to the Council of Trent
The above words and the example of Judas when designating the Eucharist as “bread of sinners” make one wonder if Pope Francis suggests that the proper effect of Holy Communion is to forgive mortal sins, not just venial ones. That would run counter the Council of Trent: “Can. 5. If anyone says that the special fruit of the Most Holy Eucharist is the remission of sins, or that from it no other fruits are produced: let him be anathema.”3
Another error equally opposed to that Council and the Scriptures, and seemingly insinuated in Pope Francis’s words, is that being in the state of grace is not required to receive Holy Communion. However, quoting Saint Paul, the Council of Trent says:
[A]ssuredly, the more the holiness and divinity of this heavenly sacrament are understood by a Christian, the more diligently ought he to give heed that he approaches not to receive it but with great reverence and holiness, especially as we read in the Apostle those words full of terror: He that eat and drink unworthily, eat and drink judgment to himself (1 Cor. 11:29). Wherefore, he who would communicate ought to recall to mind the precept of the Apostle: Let a man prove himself.4
The moralists Antonio Lanza and Pietro Palazzini explain, “[by] divine right, all who are in mortal sin cannot licitly approach Communion.”5
Effects of the Sacrament of the Eucharist
These moral theologians summarize the effects of Eucharistic Communion as follows: “The specific effects of Holy Communion are: a) uniting us with Jesus Christ and His Mystical Body, the Church, in a more intimate way; b) increasing sanctifying grace in us; c) nurturing and fortify our spiritual life; d) weakening concupiscence; e) giving us a sign of eternal life. The effects will be all the more abundant the better are the dispositions [with which one receives It].”6
Holy Communion can indirectly erase a mortal sin when a person, unaware that he is in sin, receives Communion piously. In these cases, “theologians incline to the opinion, that in such exceptional cases the Holy Eucharist can restore the soul to the state of grace.”7
Communion in Amoris Laetitia
Given Pope Francis’s new designation of the Holy Eucharist as the “bread of sinners,” one understands better why, in his Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, he opened in a footnote the possibility for people living in adultery to receive Holy Communion.8
In that Apostolic Exhortation, he says that a person can be in an “objective situation of sin” but still “living in God’s grace, can love and can also grow in the life of grace and charity, while receiving the Church’s help to this end.” In a note, he states, “In certain cases, this can include the help of the sacraments” because the Holy Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.”9
The bishops of the Buenos Aires Pastoral Region made entirely clear what Amoris Laetitia said confusingly. They say that in certain cases when the first marriage cannot be the object of annulment, “Amoris Laetitia opens the possibility of access to the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist (see notes 336 & 351). In turn, these dispose the person to continue maturing and growing with the power of grace.”10
In his response to these bishops, Pope Francis praises their pronouncement and adds, “The writing is very good and makes fully explicit the meaning of chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia. There are no other interpretations.”11
Pope Francis thus deems authentic the interpretation of the Argentine bishops, according to which married couples in adultery can receive sacramental absolution and Communion without abandoning their sinful situation. This is perfectly consistent with seeing the Holy Eucharist as the “bread of sinners.”
It is good to add that, according to the traditional doctrine sanctioned at the Council of Trent, a confession made without repentance and the firm purpose of abandoning sin is invalid and a profanation of the sacrament.12
On September 19, 2016, four cardinals of Holy Church—Carlo Caffarra, Joachim Meisner (both deceased), Raymond Burke, and Walter Brandmüller—addressed to Pope Francis a request for clarification in the form of dubia (doubts) on the new doctrines contained in Amoris Laetitia, especially on the Holy Eucharist and the Sacrament of Penance. They wrote:
It is asked whether, following the affirmations of Amoris Laetitia (300-305), it has now become possible to grant absolution in the sacrament of penance and thus to admit to Holy Communion a person who, while bound by a valid marital bond, lives together with a different person more uxorio without fulfilling the conditions provided for by Familiaris Consortio, 84, and subsequently reaffirmed by Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, 34, and Sacramentum Caritatis, 29. Can the expression “in certain cases” found in note 351 (305) of the exhortation Amoris Laetitia be applied to divorced persons who are in a new union and who continue to live more uxorio [as husband and wife]?13
To this day, almost five years later, Pope Francis has not responded to the dubia. His silence in this regard is now public and notorious throughout the Catholic world.
The following year, on July 16, 2017, a group of Catholic theologians and intellectuals published a document titled Correctio filialis de haeresibus propagatis. They showed the same concern as the cardinals. They wrote forcefully, “Several passages of Amoris Laetitia, in conjunction with acts, words, and omissions of Your Holiness, serve to propagate seven heretical propositions.”14
The Sacrament and Repentant Sinners
Is it not a blasphemy to call the Holy Eucharist “bread of sinners”? The sacraments bestow grace on those who receive them worthily. None of them can be given to an adult who is not in a condition to receive them. Even for Penance or Confession (currently called the Sacrament of Reconciliation), to produce its effects of restoring a sinner to the state of grace, he needs to seriously confess his sins with perfect or at least imperfect repentance (attrition) and a firm resolve to abandon sin.
According to Lanza-Palazzini, “Whoever consciously receives the Sacrament without the proper dispositions, commits a serious sin of sacrilege because it renders useless the rite that Christ instituted as an effective sign of grace.” They conclude: “The profanation of a very holy thing is a grave insult against the Divine Founder. Concretely, the state of grace is required to receive the Sacraments of the living;15 if that is missing, sacrilege is committed.”16
Abortion and Eucharist
Objectively, in the external forum, it is quite evident that not only those who procure and those who perform an abortion are in a state of sin. The legislators or judges who turn pro-abortion measures into law are as well. They commit at least the sin of scandal by denying, in practice, a doctrine always taught by the Church and based on natural law.
Pope Francis’s singular teaching that the Holy Eucharist, the “Bread of Angels,” is the “bread of sinners” has serious practical consequences. No one can deny that he is at least silent on this matter regarding the dubia. Furthermore, instead of supporting courageous bishops who take Catholic doctrine seriously and publicly state how allowing such politicians to receive Holy Communion is incompatible with Catholic doctrine, Pope Francis consistently favors concessive prelates.
Ecce Panis Angelorum
Let us close with the verses of Saint Thomas Aquinas recited in the Sequence of the Mass of the Feast of Corpus Christi:
Behold the Bread of Angels,
For us pilgrims food, and token
Of the promise by Christ spoken,
Children’s meat, to dogs denied.
Shewn in Isaac’s dedication,
In the manna’s preparation:
In the Paschal immolation,
In old types pre-signified.
Jesu, shepherd of the sheep:
Thou thy flock in safety keep,
Living bread, thy life supply:
Strengthen us, or else we die,
Fill us with celestial grace.
Thou, who feeds us below:
Source of all we have or know:
Grant that with Thy Saints above,
Sitting at the feast of love,
We may see Thee face to face.
Photo Credit (Top): © Antoine – stock.adobe.com
- Luiz Sérgio Solimeo, “Pope Francis and His Obscene Judas Painting,” TFP.org, Apr. 22, 2021, https://tfp.org/pope-francis-and-his-obscene-judas-painting/.
- Pope Francis, Angelus (June 6, 2021), https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/angelus/2021/documents/papa-francesco_angelus_20210606.html.
- Denz. 887.
- The Council of Trent, sec. 13, chap. VII, accessed June 13, 2021, http://www.thecounciloftrent.com/ch13.htm.
- Antonio Lanza-Pietro Palazzini, Sacramentos y Vida Sacramental, vol. 3 of Principios de Teologia Moral (Madrid: Ediciones Rialp S.A., 1958), 166.
- Ibid., 148.
- Joseph Pohle, s.v. “The Blessed Eucharist as a Sacrament,” in The Catholic Encyclopedia (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909), accessed June 13, 2021, http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05584a.htm.
- Luiz Sérgio Solimeo, “Because of Its Grave Errors ‘Amoris Laetitia’ Should Be Rejected,” TFP.org, May 4, 2016, https://tfp.org/because-of-its-grave-errors-amoris-laetitia-should-be-rejected/; Luiz Sérgio Solimeo, “Asking Pope Francis to Address ‘Doubts’ About ‘Amoris Laetitia’ and Communism,” TFP.org, Dec. 2, 2016, https://tfp.org/asking-pope-francis-to-address-doubts-about-amoris-laetitia-and-communism/.
- Pope Francis, post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Lætitia (Mar. 19, 2016), nos. 305, 351, https://www.vatican.va/content/dam/francesco/pdf/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20160319_amoris-laetitia_en.pdf.
- “Carta Del Santo Padre Francisco A Los Obispos De La Región Pastoral De Buenos Aires En Respuesta Al Documento ‘Criterios Básicos Para La Aplicación Del Capítulo VIII De La Amoris Laetitia’” (Sept. 5, 2016), https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/es/letters/2016/documents/papa-francesco_20160905_regione-pastorale-buenos-aires.html#Criterios_basicos.
- On the Most Holy Sacrament of Penance, canons 4, 5, http://www.thecounciloftrent.com/ch14.htm.
- Edward Pentin, “Full Text and Explanatory Notes of Cardinals’ Questions on ‘Amoris Laetitia,’” National Catholic Register, Nov. 4, 2016, http://www.ncregister.com/blog/edward-pentin/full-text-and-explanatory-notes-of-cardinals-questions-on-amoris-laetitia.
- “Correctio filialis de haeresibus propagates,” accessed June 13, 2021, Correctiofilialis.org.
- The sacraments are divided into “sacraments of the dead” and “sacraments of the living.” The former, such as Baptism and Penance, infuse the primary grace or restores to grace those who are spiritually dead through sin. All other sacraments are administered to the living, i.e., those who are spiritually “alive,” and increase the grace they already possess. The Holy Eucharist is the most sublime of them.
- Lanza-Palazzini, Sacramentos y Vida Sacramental, 40–41.