Is the Eucharist necessary for salvation?
1) Eucharistic Adoration, tonight, 7-8 pm, SAA Church. All are invited!!
2)DC ‘Hood at Holy Redeemer, Kensington, tonight, 6 pm. Go ‘Hood!!
In my Easter Sunday homily, I mentioned the role of the Eucharist in the life of a Catholic. I said, “Jesus tells me that I need to receive the Eucharist if I want to get to Heaven”. One blogger said that he/she had never heard this before and another said that he/she was confused on what I meant (i.e., receiving the Eucharist was a requirement for getting to Heaven). Also, Cynthia quoted St. Thomas Aquinas who argued that the Eucharist is not necessary for salvation. It seems as though one comment from a homily has caused some thought, reflection, and research which is a good thing! Please let me clarify my comment.
First of all, please keep in mind that I was speaking to mostly Catholics, some of whom come to Church only on Easter and Christmas. In a nutshell, I was trying to get their attention about the paramount importance that Jesus places on receiving the Eucharist in John 6:53-54: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day”. I have found that many Catholics are not familiar with John 6, especially verses 53 and 54. It is my duty as a priest to teach them the doctrines of the Church and the Eucharist is among the most important doctrines. As you have noticed, I use creative ways to teach the doctrines. Maybe I used a little too much creative license to make my point, but the point was heard and has been heard by many Catholics who otherwise would not have heard it.
Secondly, it is a debatable point in the Church – some say that the Eucharist is necessary for salvation and others say not. For example, Fr. John Hardon was a well-known and well-respected Jesuit who taught that the Eucharist is necessary for salvation. He said:
Like Baptism, the Eucharist is necessary for salvation to be received either sacramentally or in desire. Christ's words, "if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you will not have life in you" (John 6:53), means that Holy Communion is necessary to sustain the life of grace in a person who has reached the age of reason. Those who, through no fault of their own, do not realize this can receive the necessary grace to remain in God's friendship through other means. This is similar to what happens with the baptism of desire to first receive the state of grace.
Also, there is this from newadvent.org:
The doctrine of the Church is that Holy Communion is morally necessary for salvation, that is to say, without the graces of this sacrament it would be very difficult to resist grave temptations and avoid grievous sin. Moreover, there is according to theologians a Divine precept by which all are bound to receive communion at least some times during life. How often this precept urges outside the danger of death it is not easy to say, but many hold that the Church has practically determined the Divine precept by the law of the Fourth Council of Lateran (c.xxi) confirmed by Trent, which obliges the faithful to receive Communion once each year within Paschal Time.
The main reason that I would use to argue that the Eucharist is necessary for salvation is because Grace is necessary for salvation, and in the Eucharist there is Grace. That’s what Jesus is really saying in John 6 – that if we don’t receive the Eucharist, we will not have Grace within us. We first receive Sanctifying Grace at Baptism and it is nourished and nurtured by the Eucharist. The Eucharist builds up Grace (“eternal life”) within us and gives us strength to avoid serious sin, as the above article states. If serious sin is accompanied by the knowledge and consent that make it mortal, then the state of grace is lost and “you have no life within you”. Catholics know they need to be at Mass every Sunday and I don’t want them to fall into mortal sin. So, I emphasize receiving the Eucharist so that Catholics will come to Mass and keep holy the Sabbath each week.
Finally, I hope that all those who enter into this discussion are receiving the Eucharist in the Catholic (or Orthodox) Church. St. Thomas Aquinas might have argued against the necessity of the Eucharist for salvation (and that was probably regarding those who are ignorant about the Eucharist), but he loved the Eucharist dearly and regularly received the Blessed Sacrament. His exquisite and rich writings on the Eucharist are some of the best in the Church and should lead all who read them to not only need the Eucharist but hunger for it. I hope that all those who take his side in this debate follow his example.