FARGO — Two North Dakota bishops were among U.S. Catholic leaders who backed defining the “meaning of Eucharist and life of the Church,” a document that some believe could discourage public figures such as U.S. President Joe Biden from accepting the sacrament if they support abortion rights.

Bishops John Folda and David Kagan of the Fargo and Bismarck dioceses, respectively, said Wednesday, June 23, that they voted last week during the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to draft a teaching document for Holy Communion. The initiative passed overwhelmingly in a 168-55 decision.

Six bishops abstained from the vote.

“I am pleased that the bishops conference voted to prepare a new teaching document on the Eucharist, which is at the heart of our lives as Catholics,” Folda said in a statement. “This document will hopefully deepen our understanding of the Eucharist and help us live our faith more consistently in the world.”

A committee will draft a formal statement on the eucharist and meaning of life before presenting the proposal to the group of bishops, which could happen in November. Bishops will still be allowed to implement the eucharist as they see fit in their diocese, at least in accordance with Catholic teachings.

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Holy Communion is a sacrament that reenacts the Last Supper of Jesus Christ. In the Catholic Church, parishioners receive communion wafers and wine, though they believe it has been transformed into the body and blood of Jesus through the ceremony.

To receive communion, one must “be in a state of grace” and “free from mortal sin that cuts us off from God’s diving life,” Folda said in the diocese’s magazine, New Earth.

“By receiving the Eucharist, we enter into a deeply personal union with Jesus himself,” Folda said. “But receiving the Eucharist is also an act of communion with the Church, which is the mystical body of Christ. When we come forward to receive the body and blood of Christ, we essentially declare ourselves to be in full communion with Jesus and the Church that he established.”

Catholics can be freed from sin through the sacrament of penance, which allows parishioners to receive the eucharist after confessing sins to a priest.

U.S. bishops have been working toward a formal statement for several years, starting before Biden was elected president. However, some supporters and opponents believe the document will target the Catholic president and other public figures because he has advocated for abortion rights.

The Catholic Church holds that life begins at conception and considers abortion to be a sin.

A Conference of Catholic Bishops handout said the statement is not meant to punish followers but instead teach parishioners how to “live in accordance with the truth, goodness and beauty of the Eucharist we celebrate.” The handout claims bishops will not issue a national policy on withholding communion from politicians.

“The intent is to present a clear understanding of the Church’s teachings to bring heightened awareness among the faithful of how the Eucharist can transform our lives and bring us closer to our creator and the life he wants for us,” the handout said.

Kagan said in a statement he voted yes for the document because it is an avenue to teach Catholics about what the church “says is the source and summit of our lives as Catholics.”

“Contrary to what the media has reported, this was discussed almost two years ago and agreed to last year as one of the essential elements of our effort to revive among Catholics their faith in the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Most Holy Eucharist,” Kagan said.

Bishop Richard Pates of the Crookston Diocese in Minnesota, which includes the city of Moorhead, declined to comment for this story.

Readers can reach reporter April Baumgarten at 701-241-5417 or follow her on Twitter @aprilbaumsaway.