(St. Thomas Aquinas)

“To respond to this invitation [to receive Holy Communion] we must prepare ourselves for so great and so holy a moment…. ‘Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself.’ Anyone conscious of a grave sin must receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to communion.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1385)

“The Eucharist is too great a gift to tolerate ambiguity and depreciation.” (Saint Pope John Paul II)

Well before Amoris Laetitia, in November of 2013, Pope Francis released The Joy of the Gospel, an Apostolic Exhortation on evangelization. In The Joy of the Gospel Pope Francis makes a brief reference to the Eucharist, and it just happens to contain his now famous Eucharistic maxim: –

“The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.” (The Joy of the Gospel, no.47)

The Pope footnotes Saint Ambrose for support of this quote and also Saint Cyril of Alexandria. When I first read this maxim of Pope Francis about the Eucharist in The Joy of the Gospel, I was a little stunned: I was thinking, wouldn’t it be prudent to clarify this somewhat unusual statement by mentioning what the Church infallibly teaches about receiving the Eucharist while in mortal sin (as in the quote from the Catechism at the very top of this note)? I can see now, in retrospect, the purpose Pope Francis apparently had in mind in selecting this maxim.

Now this identical Eucharistic maxim is also found in the Pope’s now infamous footnote 351 in Amoris Laetitia (“I would also point out that the Eucharist ‘is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak’.”). As you most likely know, there is now a furious debate going on in the Church as to whether footnote 351 permits, at least in certain mitigating circumstances, divorced and remarried Catholics to receive the Holy Eucharist.

The purpose of this note is to simply demonstrate that Saint Thomas Aquinas clearly teaches that the Eucharist is not a spiritual medicine to heal those in mortal sin, but rather a medicine given to strengthen believers who are in a state of grace. In other words, the Eucharistic maxim of Pope Francis, to have validity, must be interpreted in light of the teaching of Saint Thomas, which is no doubt the infallible teaching of the Catholic Church (as seen, for example, in CCC 1385).

The clear teaching of Saint Thomas Aquinas I am referring to occurs in Question 80, Article Four (Pt. III) of the Summa Theologica, which reads as follows as specifically pertaining to Objection 2 (which St. Thomas answers in Reply to Objection 2):

CONCLUSION: Pope Francis’ reference to the Eucharist as a “powerful medicine” for “the weak” must be understood in proper context. As Saint Thomas Aquinas clearly points out the Eucharist is not an appropriate medicine for those in mortal sin. Therefore, the appropriate way for a divorced and remarried Catholic to receive the Eucharist is by obtaining an anulment of his first marriage, or by living as brother and sister in the second marriage. Otherwise, a divorced and remarried Catholic should integrate into the Church in the manner allowed in Saint Pope John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio, wherein the Pope stated, without any ambiguity, that “the church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon sacred scripture, of not admitting to eucharistic communion divorced persons who have remarried” (no. 84).

Thomas Mulcahy, M.A., J.D.

Image: “Detail from Valle Romita Polyptych by Gentile da Fabriano  (circa 1400)” at Wikipedia. Public Domain, U.S.A.

Note: For greater context, please refer to my previous post:


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