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Cardinal Cupich at The University of Chicago Institute of Politics Nov. 6, 2017. Facebook / University of Chicago IOP

April 27, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) — Following an article in America by Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila of Denver, in which he reiterated the Church’s teaching on the importance of approaching Holy Communion with the right dispositions, Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago wrote a curious admonition to Aquila (to which the archbishop then responded):

I respectfully note that to claim that we can do anything to diminish the Eucharist, or its effects, is contrary to the church’s longstanding teaching. Catholic sacramental theology is based on the premise that the sacraments are the work of Christ, which is the meaning of the Church’s affirmation at Trent (DS 1608) that the sacraments act ex opere operato, or, as St. Thomas wrote in the Summa, III, 68,8: “The sacrament is not wrought by the righteousness of either the celebrant or the recipient, but by the power of God.” Owing to the nature of God, Christ and his works can never be diminished by any act on our part.

Here, Cupich points out that an unworthy recipient of Holy Communion genuinely receives the Body of Christ, and erroneously infers that he also receives the grace which should accompany Holy Communion. But God does not force His grace on us. As the ancient chant composed by St. Thomas Aquinas for the feast of Corpus Christi expressed it: “Sumunt boni, sumunt mali, sorte tamen inaequali, vitae vel interitus — The good take, the bad take, yet with unequal destiny, of life, or of ruin.”

It is difficult to believe that Cupich really thinks that communicants receive graces entirely irrespective of the state of their souls and their good dispositions. Such an attitude would by superstitious: It would make the Blessed Sacrament into a magical amulet which saves people without their knowledge or consent.

Again, take the sacrament of matrimony. The efficacy of the sacrament does not depend on the worthiness of the ministers, which in this case are the spouses themselves. If they fulfill the conditions for validity — essentially, they are free to marry and intend to marry before an authorized witness — they will indeed marry, no matter if they are marrying for unworthy motives (money, for example), or are in a state of mortal sin. The couple will be bound to each other by the marriage bond, yes, but that does not mean that they will enjoy the graces which the sacrament offers. They will be joined, as Shakespeare described such a couple, “as winter to rough weather”: indissolubly, but not happily.

The action of the sacraments are indeed objective, as the action of Christ, but if we are to benefit from them we must not create barriers to grace. Babies, of course, do not create such obstacles, but we won’t see the effects of this grace until they have grown up to an age in which they can cooperate with it.

Baptism does not make it impossible for us to go to Hell: There, indeed, it will be a mark of shame. Reception of any of the sacraments without the right dispositions is a sin against these holy things: It is sacrilege. We do not receive graces through sins, but lose those we had before.

Something else Cupich’s words obscure is the distinction between God’s intrinsic and extrinsic glory. He wrote that “Christ and his works can never be diminished by any act on our part,” and this is true of the glory intrinsic to Christ. But consider activities which, as we might say, “give glory to God”: teaching children the Faith, building a beautiful Church, taking part with fervor at a Mass celebrated in a truly worthy way by a holy priest.

These things do something: They give to God glory which He ought to have, but too rarely receives, on earth, from us. If those things stop happening, God’s glory is diminished on earth. It is not diminished in heaven: The glory which is intrinsic to Him cannot be diminished or augmented by anything we can do. But we can certainly make more, or less, of an effort to give Him the glory which He deserves here. In the words of George Herbert, “In my heart, though not in heaven, I can raise Thee.”

By the same token, when the Blessed Sacrament is received unworthily, when the liturgy is celebrated in a slapdash or ugly way, when rioters burn down or desecrate churches, or when priests are so unworthy of their orders that they abuse children, these things make a real difference to God’s extrinsic glory.

God is not harmed, certainly, but acts of desecration and calculated insult towards God are things to which Catholics must respond, with greater efforts to restore to God some measure of the honor which is His due, from the human race. It is perhaps convenient to think of God as being entirely above the fray, but we are called on to build God’s Kingdom on earth: to build up His Church, and His reign in the hearts of men. As we know, this is a project which can go backwards as well as forwards, according to the efforts of Catholics, and of the Church’s enemies. They don’t let up. Neither must we.

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Dr Joseph Shaw has a Doctorate in Philosophy from Oxford University, where he also gained a first degree in Politics and Philosophy and a graduate Diploma in Theology. He has published on Ethics and Philosophy of Religion and is the editor of The Case for Liturgical Restoration: Una Voce Position Papers on the Extraordinary Form (Angelico Press). He is the Chairman of the Latin Mass Society of England and Wales and Secretary of Una Voce International. He teaches Philosophy in Oxford University and lives nearby with his wife and nine children.