Benedict XVI on Self-“Excommunication”

In his Encyclical Eccelsia De Eucharista, Saint John Paul II reiterated the proclamation of the Second Vatican Council that the celebration of the Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life.”1 In light of this assertion, Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) wondered what we were to say and do about those Catholics (and other Christians) who for various reasons were excluded from sacramental communion.2 Many in our Church today are attempting to answer this question; but, in doing so, are they seriously considering the supernatural nature of our Church and offering possible supernatural solutions, or are they simply offering supposedly “practical” (meaning worldly) solutions to this problem?

Benedict identified some of the reasons for the exclusion of certain Catholics (and others) from sacramental communion. First, he wrote, were those who were unable to receive the Eucharist because of their persecution or as a result of a lack of priests.3 The Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region in Rome (October 6–27, 2019) took up the latter issue of the two, as detailed in the synod’s instrumentum laboris, “The Amazon: New Paths for The Church and for Integral Ecology,” which suggests ending mandatory priestly celibacy, allowing older married men (viri probati) to serve as priests, and, possibly, ordaining women.4 Second were those who for judicial reasons are excluded from the sacrament, such as divorced and remarried persons.5 This problem was taken up by Pope Francis who, in his Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia and letter to bishops of Argentina, confirmed that divorced and remarried Catholics could receive the Eucharist on rare occasions after consulting with spiritual advisors,6 even though theologians and canon lawyers have objected to this declaration.7 Third were separated Christians who are not allowed to receive the sacrament, such as Protestant and Orthodox Christians8 (except on very rare occasions); this third group includes Orthodox and Protestant spouses of Catholics.9 The German bishops attempted to address this latter issue with their pastoral handout which offered guidance on allowing non-Catholic Christian spouses to receive the Eucharist, which was objected to by Pope Francis in a letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.10 Of course, we can additionally add to these groups all Catholics who are in a state of mortal sin and who have no intention of seeking absolution through the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. Finally, we may include those baptized Catholic children who have not yet received their First Communion, and adult converts who have yet to complete their rite of initiation.

The solutions that some in the Church have offered (some of which were detailed above) appear to betray a worldly approach to a supernatural problem. They simply want to change the Church’s teaching, practice, discipline, or laws on receiving sacramental communion, marriage, divorce, priestly celibacy, male-only ordained ministries, communion for non-Catholic spouses, joint (ecumenical) celebrations of the Eucharist, etc., in order to more easily alleviate the problem of so-called exclusionary and discriminatory practices in the sacrament of Communion without considering the important ramifications of these actions or offering serious, alternate theological and spiritual solutions. This highlights what Benedict called the “crisis of ecclesiology” — treating the Church no longer as a supernatural institution willed by God but rather as a human construction and instrument created by us which we can reorganize as we wish to meet the demands of the present.11 With this approach, the contents of our faith would assume an arbitrary character because our “faith itself would no longer have an authentic, guaranteed instrument through which it could express itself.”12 If we disregard the supernatural nature of our Church, the Gospel mission would just become a mere, and paradoxical, human project doomed to failure.13 This type of ecclesiology equates the Church with any other non-governmental organization or social institution that has no access to powers in the spiritual realm.

Benedict acknowledged this problem often in his writings, stating that the biggest problems in society today (and, apparently, the Church) are the absence of God and the denial of transcendence. He explained these problems in his letter in response to the sexual abuse crisis in the Church, entitled “The Church and the scandal of sexual abuse,”14 which I examined in my article entitled “Benedict XVI and the Absence of God.”15 Benedict said that society today only seems to value what appear to be practical and worldly solutions to the world’s greatest problems and that the Church has often mirrored society’s preference; but, as I explained in my article, if Catholics truly believe that our Church is a supernatural institution founded by Christ, then our most practical solutions are precisely theological and spiritual in nature. To deny this is to deny our faith.

We must recognize and proclaim loudly and boldly that the Church is a supernatural institution filled with supernatural members, graced with the supernatural life, who have a supernatural mission. As a supernatural entity, we must offer supernatural solutions despite the world’s demand for worldly solutions.16

Benedict explained that we in the Church, notably our pastors, often avoid talk of God and shift to matters of material relevance which appear to be more concrete and urgent, such as economic or political issues, or Church reform or criticism; some in the Church assume that God has little to say to us and cannot offer the practical help that we want, but, Benedict wrote: “Jesus corrects us. God is the practical, the realistic topic for man in every time. . . . We say to ourselves, let’s speak of close-at-hand, practical realities. No, says Jesus: God is present, he is within our call.”17

So what are some practical solutions, according to Benedict? He offered two. The first was canonical-theological (and pedagogical) and was not unique. He simply explained what it actually means (and does not mean) when certain people are unable to receive sacramental communion. Unfortunately, this tested and tried solution is dependent on the willingness and ability of people to listen and understand. The second was spiritual-liturgical and is the focus of this article. This solution is somewhat unique (although not unheard of) and perhaps revolutionary. This second solution depends in large part on the first solution and a correct understanding of the real meaning of exclusion from sacramental communion. I will focus on this second solution in this essay after briefly explaining Benedict’s canonical-theological solution on which it depends.

Benedict’s canonical-theological solution included an explanation of the canonical difference between a juridical excommunication and what we may call the “excommunication” of members who are unable to receive communion because of certain situations in their lives. Benedict carefully explained that this latter “excommunication” is not an excommunication in the formal, juridical sense.18 As an example, he said that those who are divorced and remarried are not excommunicated in the juridical sense. This important distinction means that these persons (among others who are also unable to receive communion because of certain situations in their lives) are not subjected to ecclesiastical penalties of excommunication; further, it does not mean that their membership in the Church is restricted, because all of them remain members of the Church. This often misunderstood fact is crucial since many people believe that they are objectively excluded from the Church when they are “excommunicated” in this sense, which is not the case.19

Benedict explained what this less formal, non-juridical “excommunication” actually meant. He said that misinterpretations often arise especially in a discussion of salvation of the “excommunicate.” As Benedict noted, the “excommunicate” is not definitively excluded from salvation and the ultimate partaking of the Lord’s Supper at the eternal wedding feast.20 Instead, he said, we all need to examine our fitness for this eternal feast and we should strive to better conform our lives to Christ so that we can all communicate now and indeed partake in the heavenly meal.21 Benedict further clarified that those who are unable for a variety of reasons to receive sacramental communion are not excluded from all forms of communion with the Church nor are they deprived of its gifts, especially of the Mass.22 One could hardly imagine that persecuted Catholics who are unable to receive the Eucharist or baptized Catholics who have not yet received their First Communion are not somehow in communion with the Church. All members of the Church, including those who are living in “irregular marital/relationship situations” and those who for other reasons cannot receive the Eucharist, remain in communion with Christ and the Church, although they may not be in full communion. They are united with Christ and the entire Church in faith and love, and by their baptism.

Benedict offered the wisdom of Bonaventure, who claimed that “Christian communion, of its essence, exists through love; it is a fellowship of love.”23 Bonaventure concluded that Christians can never be excluded from this communion of love and that this form of “excommunication” is not such an exclusion.24 They are not deprived of all spiritual gifts of the Church or of the love of Christ and all members of the Church. In one sense, this “excommunication” is a gift (and an act of love) of Christ and the Church which is meant to support and help them in their struggles to conform their lives to Christ and re-attain full communion with the Church; and to eventually receive sacramental communion and its spiritual gifts. Unfortunately, the spiritual value of suffering is also often rejected in today’s society; our Church must proudly reject this notion and proclaim that in their suffering of “excommunication,” these members are contributing to the life and mission of our Church, and in their suffering they can help understand the love of Christ who himself also suffered for them. “The suffering of the excommunicate person, his stretching out for communion (the communion of the sacrament and of the living members of Christ) is the bond which unites him to the saving love of Christ.”25 They can even serve as witnesses to the faith of the Church, such as when divorced and remarried persons humbly fast from the Eucharist, taking the renunciation upon themselves as a testimony to the Church’s teaching on the uniqueness and indissoluble nature of sacramental marriage.26 Ultimately, Benedict wrote, the “excommunicates” have “to feel that, in spite of everything, they are accepted by the Church [and] that the Church suffers with them.”27

Further, he stated that pastors must stay close to these persons, helping them to remain in the Church, to believe in Christ and his goodness, and to understand that they do not cease to be a Christian or loved by Christ because Christ is always there for them, even though they cannot receive him in sacramental communion.28 When this “excommunication” is understood correctly, it can no longer be viewed as an exclusionary or discriminatory practice but, rather, it can be seen as an (admittedly paradoxical) exercise of inclusivity which recognizes that all members of the Church remain in communion with God’s love, and that its purpose is to fully incorporate all members of the Church into the Body of Christ. After all, what sort of real communion would they experience if they received the Eucharist but have not conformed their lives to Christ?

Benedict also offered what might be considered a revolutionary spiritual-liturgical solution to this problem, and it deserves serious consideration at all levels of the Church. He recalled that when Saint Augustine realized he was nearing the end of his life, he “excommunicated” himself in order to “manifest his solidarity with the public sinners who seek for pardon and grace through the renunciation of communion.”29 Benedict rightly wondered whether this practice of self-“excommunication,” or Eucharistic fasting, might be of service to the Church, or even necessary to renew our relationship with all members of the Body of Christ.30 He believed that this self-“excommunication” could be very meaningful (which meant practically useful), especially on certain occasions, such as days of penance; he even suggested reintroducing Eucharist fasting on Good Friday, which was a practice of the ancient Church.31

He argued that this practice would have three effects. First, it would be an act of solidarity with those who yearn for the Eucharist but cannot receive it, which would make the problem of exclusion from sacramental communion less acute “in the background of voluntary spiritual fasting, which would visibly express the fact that we all need that ‘healing of love’ which the Lord performed in the ultimate loneliness of the Cross.”32 With this practice, Catholics could experience and better understand “the suffering of our hungering brothers” and, as a vehicle of love, this practice could have a practical impact on the lives of those who for various reasons cannot receive the Eucharist.33 Yes, a practical impact.

The second effect, argued Benedict, could be an increased understanding of the sacrifice of the Mass and the Eucharist. He said that the “renunciation of the sacrament could in fact express more reverence and love than a reception which does not do justice to the immense significance of what is taking place.”34 Other proposed solutions to this problem seem to signify less reverence for the Eucharist and do not do justice to the significance of the sacrament. This seems to mirror the result of a recent Pew Research poll which suggested that only 31% of Catholics in the United States believe that the communion bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Christ during the celebration of the Eucharist.35 Would not a more reverential practice of Eucharistic fasting help restore belief in transubstantiation and the Real Presence, rather than simply allowing people more access to the sacrament without their full communion with the Church? What would the Church be teaching if it began allowing Catholics in a state of mortal sin and non-Catholics to receive the Eucharist? Might it be contributing to the crisis of belief in transubstantiation and the Real Presence? If the Eucharist is indeed just merely a symbol, then what is the harm in allowing “excommunicated” persons and non-Catholics to receive the Eucharist? This could only engender further denial of the true sacred nature of the Eucharist and a further rejection of transcendence and the supernatural liturgy of our supernatural Church.

Benedict wrote that the problem of the excommunicate has become so dramatic because many in the Church have been treating the sacrament as a social rite (and an absolute, or unconditional, right; “the false premise . . . [of] the ‘community’s right to the Eucharist’”)36 which has transformed the sacred into the profane.37 If we treat it as a rite of socialization, said Benedict, the danger is that it may become only a mere sign of friendship and belonging and we would lose sight of the holy and essential thing that is being offered to us.38 What value would such a mere moral union even have? We must not accept any solution “if, to reach its goal, it requires a lessening of belief in the Eucharist and in the sacramental context of the Church — that is, a diminution or falsification of God’s word.”39

We all want all fellow members of the Church and non-Catholics to receive the Eucharist and its supernatural, transformative fruits, but we must be careful not to give license to certain practices at the expense of our faith which may even hurt those we aim to help. We must be careful not to distort our faith by prematurely and irresponsibly easing access to our most sacred sacrament and disregarding many of the Church’s 2000-year-old teachings and divinely inspired laws. This may do more harm than good to those who should for various reasons not receive the Eucharist. In his discussion of Paul’s Eucharistic theology and the final judgment, Benedict explained that “from the point of view of the Apocalypse, the essential matter of all Eucharistic liturgy is its participation in the heavenly liturgy; it is from thence that it necessarily derives its unity, its catholicity, and its universality.”40 He notes Paul’s stress that Christian worship is not profane but sacred, and that Paul “emphatically demands that each of the communicants should examine himself: ‘Anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself.’ [1 Cor 11:29].”41 Benedict continued:

Anyone who wants Christianity to be just a joyful message in which there can be no threat of the judgment is distorting it. Faith does not reinforce the pride of a sleeping conscience, the vainglory of people who make their own wishes the norm for their life, and thus refashion grace so as to devalue both God and man, because God then in any case only approves, and is only allowed to approve, everything.42

It seems that some in the Church are moving toward approving (or excusing) everything and promoting a false Gospel which retains the central message of God’s love, but eschews the Gospel message of suffering, self-examination, and judgment. Ultimately, Benedict wrote, there are conditions for being admitted to communion and that “we have no right to the Lord on our own account, but through the [divine laws] of the Church he shows us when we may receive him.”43

Finally, the third effect of this practice of self-“excommunication” would be at the personal level. Benedict believed that self-“excommunication” “could lead to a deepening of personal relationship with the Lord in the sacrament” and that “sometimes we need hunger, physical and spiritual hunger, if we are to come fresh to the Lord’s gifts.”44 He said that “we can understand how, paradoxically, the impossibility of sacramental communion, experienced in a sense of remoteness from God, in the pain of yearning which fosters the growth of love, can lead to spiritual progress.”45 Therefore, how much more might a voluntary acceptance of the pain of yearning for sacramental communion foster a growth of love which could lead to spiritual progress? Citing Bonaventure, Benedict suggested that “it sometimes happens that an excommunicate person progresses further along the path of patience and humility than if he were able to receive communion.”46

On a personal note, I have often practiced self-“excommunication” for various reasons, even before knowing about Augustine’s practice; and never have I thirsted more for the blood of Christ and craved his body more than on those days when I refrained from receiving him. I felt that Christ’s Real Presence was somehow even more real on those days than others. It helped increase not only my understanding of the Church’s Eucharistic faith, but it helped me better understand the importance and power of Penance and Reconciliation. It was unbelievably and paradoxically spiritually empowering.

So how might this practice find its way into the Church? It may be practiced at the personal level (by individuals freely fasting), or perhaps at the local Church level (at the parish or diocesan level, with pastors and/or bishops inviting parishioners to take part in the fast with appropriate direction and guidance from ecclesiastical authorities and in conformity with Church laws and practices), or even at the universal Church level (Benedict proposed reinstituting the practice of Eucharistic fasting on days of penance or on Good Friday; other options might include Ash Wednesday or other Masses during the season of Lent). Benedict cautioned that it would have to be open to the guidance of the Church and not arbitrary.47 Benedict also mentioned that fasting may be appropriate at very large Masses when it was, according to him, impossible to provide for a dignified distribution of the Eucharist.48 Other options might include celebrations of the Mass with separated Christians and non-Christians; perhaps at disparity-of-cult and mixed-marriage ceremonies, or at “inter-confessional services” based on the penitential and catechumenate liturgies in the ancient Church. Benedict addressed the latter, citing Origen’s comments on Jesus’s renunciation at the Last Supper in Mark 14:25 (“I shall not drink any more wine until the day I drink the new wine in the kingdom of God”).49 Origen explained that Jesus refused to partake of the wine until he could drink it with all of his disciples. Benedict opined: “Is it not a meaningful form of liturgical action if separated Christians, when they come together, consciously emulate this renunciation of Jesus? . . . [And] as penitents, they unite themselves with the penance Jesus performed . . . and thus receive the Eucharist of ‘hope.’”50

One thing must be made clear. Self-“excommunication” cannot be understood as merely a symbolic gesture. The Church teaches that we are really united (in mystery) with one another in the Mystical Body and with Christ who is our Head. This includes those who are not in full communion with God and the Church. We can more fully unite ourselves through solidarity and love (and the suffering of self-“excommunication”) with those members in the effort to draw them closer to Christ and the Church so that they may enter into full communion. We must remember that the Eucharist does not exist by itself as a spiritual instrument created by the priest meant only for the individual members, but that the Eucharist is a product of the entire Church (of yesterday, today, tomorrow, and in Heaven) which comes to us as a gift from God through the ministerial priest, our prayer, and supreme worship of God in the Mass, and it truly unites all of us with God. Therefore, during times of Eucharistic fasting at Mass, we should pray for those who for various reasons cannot receive the Eucharist. Prayer is one of the most important (and practical!) powers we have and must use in order draw our “excommunicated” and separated brethren fully into the Body of Christ, so that we may fulfill the desire of Christ that we all may be one (Jn 17:21) and that we all may partake in the celebration of “the source and summit of the Christian life.”

We must pray for the reconciliation and unity of separated Christians, especially at inter-confessional services where fasting of the Eucharist would be appropriate and practical. We must also pray for more vocations to the priesthood, especially for those communities that lack priests and do not have ready access to the sacrament. The Church cannot depend on what Benedict calls organizational manipulation (a tool of worldly society) to solve this problem; “the Church cannot meet spiritual crises [such as a lack of priests] by an organizational manipulation” which eschews priestly celibacy as the historical way anchored in the Gospel.51 He wrote that inner-dependent communities built upon the love of God and neighbor and shaped by a culture of prayer and Christian service can foster conversion, spiritual growth, and vocations to the priesthood.52 This way may be more demanding, and probably less effective in more quickly alleviating the problem of the lack of access to the Eucharist, but it would avoid external manipulations which would de-spiritualize the sacraments and be less effective in the long run. Other solutions may reduce the priesthood from a sacral role to a social role, reflecting the “temptation to flee from the mystery” of the Church and the priesthood toward understanding them merely as human instruments which can be altered “practically” to more easily meet the challenges of our times.53

Despite the world’s growing rejection of the usefulness and practicality of prayer, we must loudly, proudly, and boldly affirm that prayer is practical, or else we deny our faith. With our prayers during the Mass, we can be assured that our Eucharistic fasting is not merely symbolic but can be practically and powerfully effective. In our renunciation of the Eucharist, we can help the “excommunicate” and all members of the Church “recover the awareness that one can meaningfully and fruitfully participate in the celebration of the Mass, of the Eucharist, without going to Communion each time.”54

Too often some in the Church view this sort of approach which rejects changes in the Church’s teachings, disciplines, and laws on access to the Eucharist as “rigid,” an all-too-unfortunate word to describe those who want to protect the Church, its members, teachings, and sacraments out of great and humble love of Christ and the Church, including those who are excluded from sacramental communion. A true rigid approach, however, is the one that eschews the supernatural powers of the Church which are precisely the elements which distinguish the Church from all other social institutions. And we must recall Paul, as Benedict explained, and protect our fellow Catholics and Christians lest they eat and drink judgment upon themselves. Our ultimate aim must not be to restrict access to the Eucharist, but only to do so as a means to an end. All that we do must be done in the name of love and all that we do should be interpreted with a hermeneutic of love. We must express profound, meaningful, and practical solidarity with our brethren who suffer in their exclusion from sacramental communion, and we must pray for them that they may enter into full communion with Christ and his body, the Church, which will then enable them to join us at the table of the Lord.

  1. Pope John Paul II, Ecclesia De Eucharista, no. 1. See also Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, no. 11; see also Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, III, q. 73, a. 3.
  2. Benedict XVI, Behold the Pierced One: An Approach to a Spiritual Christology (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 94. The chapter from which these pages are cited was also published in Benedict XVI, Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith: The Church as Communion (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2005), 60–89. Citations of works by Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI will only contain the papal name regardless of the year of publication.
  3. Benedict XVI, Behold the Pierced One, 94.
  4. See Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region, “The Amazon: New Paths for the Church and for Integral Ecology,” no. 126, c; no. 129, a.
  5. Benedict XVI, Behold the Pierced One, 94.
  6. See Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia, no. 305 and fn. 351; see Pope Francis, “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,’” (Sep. 5, 2016).
  7. Benedict XVI has not made any statements in reaction to these declarations; however, he did examine the possibility of a certain change in the Church’s practice in earlier writings and speeches. For instance, he wrote that it may be possible that in the future, there may be extrajudicial determinations made by local pastors that a marriage did not in fact exist and a “remarried” Catholic could again communicate. However, he also emphasized that the principle that marriage is indissoluble and that a person who has left a valid sacramental marriage and who has remarried cannot receive the Eucharist holds definitively. See Benedict XVI, Salt of the Earth: The Church at the End of the Millennium, An Interview with Peter Seewald (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1997), 207. Further, he wrote that canon law assumes that someone actually knows what marriage is, and if this is indeed the case, then the marriage is indissoluble. However, he argued, many people in the Church today appear confused about the nature of marriage and what it means. This leads to a struggle to ascertain the validity of a marriage and to determine where healing is possible. But again, he emphasized, this is not a reason to not maintain the Church’s teaching or to capitulate. We must not, he argued, manipulate the Lord’s words on the indissolubility of marriage. See Benedict VXI, Light of the World: The Pope, the Church, and the Signs of the Times (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2010), 143–44.
  8. Benedict XVI, Behold the Pierced One, 94.
  9. Benedict XVI, Behold the Pierced One, 98.
  10. See German Episcopal Conference, “Mit Christus gehen –Der Einheit auf der Spur Konfessionsverbindende Ehen undgemeinsame Teilnahme an der Eucharistie,” (Feb. 20, 2018); see Luis F. Ladaria, SJ, Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, letter to Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Archbishop of Munich and Freising, President of the German Episcopal Conference (May 25, 2018).
  11. Benedict XVI and Vittorio Messori, The Ratzinger Report: An Exclusive Interview on the State of the Church (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1985), 45.
  12. Benedict XVI and Messori, Ratzinger Report, 46.
  13. Benedict XVI and Messori, Ratzinger Report, 46.
  14. See Benedict XVI, trans. Anian Christoph Wimmer, “Full text of Benedict XVI essay: ‘The Church and the scandal of sexual abuse,’” Catholic News Agency (Apr. 10, 2019).
  15. See Joel R. Gallagher, “Benedict XVI and the Absence of God,” Homiletic and Pastoral Review (April 30, 2019).
  16. Gallagher, “Benedict XVI and the Absence of God.”
  17. Benedict XVI, Gospel, Catechesis, Catechism: Sidelights on the Catechism of the Catholic Church (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1997), 41.
  18. Benedict XVI, Salt of the Earth, 205.
  19. Benedict XVI, Salt of the Earth, 205.
  20. Benedict XVI, Salt of the Earth, 206–7.
  21. Benedict XVI, Salt of the Earth, 207.
  22. See Benedict XVI, Behold the Pierced One, 95–96; see Benedict XVI, Ratzinger Report, 132–33.
  23. Benedict XVI, Behold the Pierced One, 95. As cited by Benedict XVI, see also Bonaventure IV Sent d 18 p 2 a un q 1 contr. 1.
  24. Benedict XVI, Behold the Pierced One, 96. As cited by Benedict XVI, see also Bonaventure IV Sent d 18 p 2 a un q 1 ad. 1.
  25. Benedict XVI, Behold the Pierced One, 96.
  26. Benedict XVI, Salt of the Earth, 206.
  27. Benedict XVI, Salt of the Earth, 206.
  28. Benedict XVI, Light of the World, 144–45.
  29. Benedict XVI, Behold the Pierced One, 97. See also J. van der Meer, Augustinus der Seelsorger (Cologne: Köln: Bachem 1951), 324.
  30. Benedict XVI, Behold the Pierced One, 97.
  31. Benedict XVI, Behold the Pierced One, 97–98.
  32. Benedict XVI, Behold the Pierced One, 98.
  33. Benedict XVI, Behold the Pierced One, 98.
  34. Benedict XVI, Behold the Pierced One, 98.
  35. Pew Research Center, “What Americans Know About Religion” (July 23, 2019). We do not know if the Catholics surveyed understand the meaning of transubstantiation or the Real Presence, and if they consider the latter equivalent to “the body and blood of Christ.” The questions appear dependent on knowledge of the subjects which is unknown, and they contain terminology that may confuse those who were asked. For instance, do the subjects believe that the Eucharist is only a symbol, or also a symbol? Or, do they believe that Christ is “really” (even only spiritually) present, but not that the bread and wine become Christ’s body and blood? Did they believe the question asked about the bread and wine changing “physically” into Christ’s body and blood (a change in accidents)? Finally, how often do the self-described Catholics attend Church regularly and what other teachings of the Church do they not understand and/or reject?
  36. Benedict XVI, Principles of Catholic Theology: Building Stones for a Fundamental Theology (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1987), 297.
  37. Benedict XVI, Salt of the Earth, 205.
  38. Benedict XVI, God and the World: A Conversation with Peter Seewald (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2002), 411.
  39. Benedict XVI, Principles of Catholic Theology, 298.
  40. Benedict XVI, Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith, 111.
  41. Benedict XVI, Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith, 111.
  42. Benedict XVI, Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith, 111.
  43. Benedict XVI, God and the World, 411.
  44. Benedict XVI, Behold the Pierced One, 98.
  45. Benedict XVI, Behold the Pierced One, 96.
  46. Benedict XVI, Behold the Pierced One, 95. See also Bonaventure, De Sacramento Ordinis 12 (Venice 1591), 519 a–c.
  47. Benedict XVI, Behold the Pierced One, 98.
  48. Benedict XVI, Behold the Pierced One, 98.
  49. Benedict XVI, Principles of Catholic Theology, 304.
  50. Benedict XVI, Principles of Catholic Theology, 304–5.
  51. Benedict XVI, Principles of Catholic Theology, 298.
  52. Benedict XVI, Principles of Catholic Theology, 298.
  53. Benedict XVI, Ratzinger Report, 56.
  54. Benedict XVI, Salt of the Earth, 205.
Joel R. Gallagher About Joel R. Gallagher

Joel R. Gallagher, Ph.D. teaches theology at Mount St. Mary's University in Emmitsburg, MD. He received his doctoral degree from the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. He previously taught courses at the Catholic University of America and Loyola University Maryland in Baltimore, MD. He is currently working on a series of articles on the mysteries of the life of Christ according to the theology of Thomas Aquinas and on a separate series of articles on various themes according to the theology of Benedict XVI. His academic website, which lists his published works, is He is married and has two daughters.