Problematic Propositions from Eucharistic Synod
PROBLEMATIC PROPOSITIONS FROM THE EUCHARISTIC SYNOD
by Ray Grosswirth, M.A., M.Div
October 25, 2005
The Vatican Information Service (VIS) has released what it considers to be the most important propositions from the Eucharistic Synod. I have concerns with a few of them, and have highlighted these concerns in CAPITAL LETTERS following the actual propositions:
EUCHARIST AND THE SACRAMENT OF PENANCE (Proposition no. 7)
"It is of vital pastoral importance that bishops in their dioceses promote a decisive revival in teaching the conversion that arises from the Eucharist, and that to this end they favor frequent individual Confession."
"The Synod strongly recommends bishops not to allow the practice of collective absolution in their dioceses, save in the objectively exceptional circumstances laid down in John Paul II's Motu Proprio, 'Misericordia Dei'."
A LOGICAL QUESTION TO ASK IS: CONSIDERING THE SEVERE CLERGY SHORTAGE IN THE UNITED STATES AND ELSEWHERE, HOW MANY PRIESTS HAVE THE TIME TO DEVOTE PERHAPS AN ENTIRE DAY TO FACILITATE MULTIPLE INDIVIDUAL CONFESSIONS? WHILE THE VATICAN MAY NOT APPROVE OF THE PRACTICE OF COLLECTIVE ABSOLUTION (COMMUNAL PENANCE SERVICES), WHAT DO CARDINALS RECOMMEND WHEN A PARISH PRIEST CAN EXPECT TO HAVE WEDDINGS AND FUNERALS ON ANY GIVEN SATURDAY (TRADITIONAL DAY FOR INDIVIDUAL CONFESSIONS)?
SHORTAGE OF PRIESTS (Proposition no. 11)
"The centrality of the Eucharist for the life of the Church means that the problem of the great shortage of priests in some parts of the world is felt very acutely. Many faithful are thus deprived of the Bread of life. In order to meet the Eucharistic hunger of the people of God, who are often forced to go without the Eucharistic celebration for considerable periods, it is necessary to implement effective pastoral initiatives.
"In this context, the Synod Fathers affirmed the importance of the inestimable gift of ecclesiastical celibacy in the Latin Church. With reference to the Magisterium, especially to Vatican Council II and to recent Pontiffs, the Fathers requested that the faithful be given adequate explanation of the reasons for the link between celibacy and priestly ordination, in full respect for the tradition of the Eastern Churches. Some reference was made to 'viri probati,' but it was decided that this was an untenable hypothesis.
"Furthermore, it must be borne in mind that, in offering the Eucharistic gift to all the faithful, the Christian quality of the community and its force of attraction have a decisive influence. It is particularly important to encourage pastors to promote priestly vocations, ... raise awareness among families, ... ensure (by bishops, with the involvement of religious families and maintaining respect for their charism) a more even distribution of the clergy, encouraging the clergy itself to a greater readiness to serve the Church wherever the need arises."
I FIND IT RATHER PARADOXICAL THAT ON ONE HAND, THE VATICAN ACKNOWLEDGES THE PRIESTHOOD SHORTAGE. ON THE OTHER HAND, THE VATICAN ALSO DISMISSES A VIABLE SOLUTION - NAMELY, THE IMPLEMENTATION OF MARRIED PRIESTS. THE SYNOD HAD A FLAWED EXPLANATION OF CELIBACY AS A GIFT. THERE IS NO QUESTION THAT IF A POTENTIAL CANDIDATE FOR THE PRIESTHOOD IS CALLED TO A LIFE OF CELIBACY, THIS GIFT SHOULD BE AFFIRMED AND ENCOURAGED. HOWEVER, THE VATICAN FAILS TO RECOGNIZE THAT IT IS ENTIRELY POSSIBLE TO BE CALLED TO BOTH THE PRIESTHOOD AND MARRIAGE. (MARRIAGE IS ALSO A GIFT.) THERE IS THEREFORE ROOM IN THE PRIESTHOOD FOR BOTH CELIBATES AND MARRIED MEN. (THIS, IN FACT, IS THE TRUE TRADITION OF THE EARLY CHURCH, AS OPPOSED TO THE PRESENT POLICY OF MANDATORY CELIBACY.)
THE USE OF LATIN IN LITURGICAL CELEBRATIONS (Proposition no. 36)
"In celebrating the Eucharist during international meetings, which are becoming ever more frequent today, in order better to express the unity and universality of the Church it is proposed: that the (con)celebration of Mass be in Latin (except the readings, the homily and the prayer of the faithful), the prayers of the tradition of the Church should also be recited in Latin and, where appropriate, Gregorian chants be sung; that priests, beginning in the seminary, be trained to understand and celebrate Mass in Latin, as well as to use Latin prayers and to appreciate the Gregorian chant; that the possibility of educating the faithful in this way not be overlooked."
THERE IS A DANGER IN OVEREMPHASIZING LATIN. IT IS INDEED A BEAUTIFUL LANGUAGE. (I STUDIED IT AND HAVE AN APPRECIATION FOR ITS USE IN ANCIENT, MEDIEVAL, ROMANTIC AND CLASSICAL MUSICAL TEXTS.) YET, FOR THOSE WHO HAVE STUDIED SCRIPTURE EXTENSIVELY, FLAWS HAVE BEEN FOUND IN THE LATIN TRANSLATION (ST. JEROME'S) FROM THE ORIGINAL GREEK AND ARAMAIC TEXTS. WHILE LATIN SERVED THE CHURCH VERY WELL IN THE PRE-VATICAN II CHURCH AS A UNIVERSAL LITURGICAL LANGUAGE, AN EXPECTATION OF THE RE-LEARNING OF THE LANGUAGE IN TODAY'S MULT-CULTURAL SETTINGS IS UNREALISTIC AT BEST. RATHER THAN AN INTENSIVE EFFORT AT BRINGING LATIN BACK AS A SEMINARY EDUCATION COMPONENT, SEMINARIANS WOULD BE BETTER SERVED BY HAVING TOOLS NECESSARY FOR THE REALITIES OF CONTEMPORARY PARISH LIFE.
DIVORCED AND RE-MARRIED CATHOLICS AND THE EUCHARIST (Proposition no. 40)
"In keeping with the numerous pronouncements of the Church's Magisterium, and sharing the anxious concern expressed by many Fathers, the Synod of Bishops reaffirms the importance of attitudes and a pastoral actions that express attention and welcome towards divorced and re-married faithful.
"According to the tradition of the Catholic Church, they cannot be admitted to holy communion, being in a position of objective contrast with the Word of the Lord which conferred on marriage the original value of indissolubility. ... Nevertheless, people who have divorced and re-married still belong to the Church, which welcomes them and follows them with special attention that they may cultivate a Christian lifestyle through participation in Mass (though without receiving communion), listening to the Word of God, adoring the Eucharist, prayer, participating in community life, confidential dialogue with a priest or a master of spiritual life, dedication to living charity, works of penance, and educational commitment to their children. If, then, the nullity of the matrimonial bond is not recognized and objective conditions arise that render cohabitation irreversible, the Church encourages them to commit themselves to live their relationship in accordance with the law of God, transforming it into a firm and faithful friendship; thus they will be able to return to the Eucharistic table, receiving the attention laid down by time- honored ecclesial practice. But such relationships should not be blessed, so as not to create confusion among the faithful concerning the value of marriage.
"At the same time, the Synod hopes that all possible efforts be made both to ensure the presence, pastoral character, and correct and swift activity of ecclesiastical tribunals for causes of the nullity of marriage, and to dedicate further study to the essential elements of the validity of marriage, also bearing in mind the problems emerging from the profound anthropological transformations of our times, by which the faithful themselves risk being conditioned, especially given the lack of solid Christian formation."
I SHARE THE VIEW OF CARDINAL KASPER, IN THAT THIS ISSUE NEEDS INTENSE STUDY AND FURTHER CONSIDERATIONS. IT CAN BE RIGHTLY ARGUED THAT THE ANNULMENT PROCESS HAS POSITIVE ASPECTS - MOST NOTABLY, THE PROCESS ALLOWS APPLICANTS TIME FOR REFLECTION ON THE REASONS THEIR PRIOR UNIONS FAILED, AND FOR REFLECTION ON THE SACRAMENTAL UNIONS THEY WISH TO PURSUE. HOWEVER, ON THE NEGATIVE SIDE, TRIBUNALS ARE NOT CONSISTENT FROM DIOCESE TO DIOCESE. (IN SOME DIOCESES, ANNULMENTS ARE GRANTED RATHER LIBERALLY, WHEREAS ANNULMENTS ARE DIFFICULT TO SECURE IN OTHER DIOCESES.) FURTHERMORE, THERE ARE VALID REASONS WHY SOME PERSONS CHOOSE TO REMARRY OUTSIDE THE CHURCH. (SOME OF THESE PERSONS LATER SEEK FULL COMMUNION WITH THE CHURCH, EITHER THROUGH THE PROCESS OF 'INTERNAL FORUM' OR BY SIMPLY SEARCHING FOR A PARISH WHERE THE RECEPTION OF COMMUNION IS NOT PROBLEMATIC.)
ONE OF THE LARGEST COMPLAINTS I CONTINUE TO HEAR IS THAT DECISIONS ON THE VALIDITY/NON-VALIDITY OF PRIOR BONDS ARE BEING MADE BY THOSE WHO HAVE NEVER BEEN MARRIED (CELIBATE PRIESTS). OPINIONS VARY AS TO WHETHER OR NOT THIS IS A VALID CRITICISM.
AT A TIME WHEN MASS ATTENDANCE IN THE UNITED STATES IS APPROXIMATELY 30%, AND MASS ATTENDANCE IN EUROPE RANGES BETWEEN 10-20%, I THINK THE CHURCH NEEDS TO RE-EXAMINE ITS POLICY OF DENYING COMMUNION TO CATHOLICS WHO REMARRY OUTSIDE THE CHURCH WITHOUT AN ANNULMENT. (PERHAPS A BETTER STRUCTURED/MORE INTENSIVE PRE-CANA PERIOD MAY BE A BETTER ALTERNATIVE TO THE ANNULMENT PROCESS.)
ADMISSION OF NON-CATHOLIC FAITHFUL TO COMMUNION (Proposition no. 41)
"On the basis of the communion of all Christians, which the single Baptism already accomplishes though not yet completely, their separation at the Lord's table is rightly felt as being a source of pain. As a consequence, from both within the Catholic Church and from our non-Catholic brothers and sisters, the urgent request often arises for the possibility of Eucharistic communion between Catholic Christians and others. It must be made clear that the Eucharist does not designate and effect only our personal communion with Jesus Christ, but above all the full 'communio' of the Church. We ask, therefore, that non-Catholic Christians understand and respect the fact that for us, in accordance with the whole of biblically-founded tradition, Eucharistic communion and ecclesial communion are intimately connected, and thus that Eucharistic communion with non-Catholic Christians is not generally speaking possible. Even more so is ecumenical concelebration to be excluded. However, it should be made clear that, with a view to personal salvation, admitting non-Catholic Christians to the Eucharist, the Sacrament of Penance, and the Anointing of the Sick, in certain particular situations and under specific conditions, is possible and even to be recommended."
THE MOST VALID POINT THAT CAN BE MADE IS THAT JESUS DIDN'T EXCLUDE ANYONE FROM THE TABLE. WHILE THERE ARE CERTAINLY THEOLOGICAL DIFFERENCES IN THE VARIOUS CHURCHES AS TO WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENS DURING THE CONSECRATION, THERE ARE NEVERTHELESS CIRCUMSTANCES THAT WOULD ALLOW FOR JOINT EUCHARISTIC CELEBRATIONS. THESE CIRCUMSTANCES MUST BE FULLY EXPLORED BEFORE BENEDICT XVI RELEASES A SYNOD RESPONSE THAT COULD BE POTENTIALLY DIVISIVE IN THE CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY.
EUCHARISTIC COHERENCE OF CATHOLIC POLITICIANS AND LAWMAKERS (Proposition no. 46)
"Catholic politicians and lawmakers must feel their consciences particularly aroused ... by the heavy social responsibility of presenting and supporting iniquitous laws. There is no Eucharistic coherence when legislation is promoted that goes against the integral good of man, against justice and natural law. The private sphere and the public sphere cannot be separated, placing oneself in a position of contrast with the law of God and the teaching of the Church, and this must also be considered in Eucharistic terms. In applying this guidance, bishops should exercise the virtues of courage and wisdom, bearing in mind actual local situations."
AS SOON AS WE BEGIN DENYING COMMUNION TO CATHOLIC POLITICIANS WHO STRAY FROM CHURCH TEACHINGS, WE CROSS INTO DANGEROUS TERRITORY. WE SAW THE RAMIFICATIONS OF 'COMMUNION AS A WEAPON' DURING LAST YEAR'S PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN. JOHN KERRY WAS CHASTISED BY BISHOPS FOR HIS PRO-CHOICE STAND, WHILE BISHOPS READILY WELCOMED GEORGE BUSH AT THEIR DOORSTEPS, DESPITE BUSH'S QUESTIONABLE RATIONALE FOR OUR WAR WITH IRAQ.
IN CONCLUSION, I BELIEVE THE EUCHARISTIC SYNOD WAS A DISMAL FAILURE. THERE WAS NO NEW GROUND BROKEN. RATHER THAN USING THE OCCASION FOR POSITIVE DIALOGUE ON THE EUCHARIST AND VIABLE SOLUTIONS FOR THE PRIESTHOOD SHORTAGE, THE SYNOD WAS RATHER A VEHICLE FOR SIMPLY AFFIRMING THE STATUS QUO. IN SHORT, IT WAS AN OCCASION FOR MISSED OPPORTUNITIES.