The Eucharist, politics and the horizontal dimension
The 11th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, on the topic 'The Eucharist: Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church', opened in Rome last Sunday. Malta is represented by Archbishop Joseph Mercieca.
The Synod takes place on the 40th anniversary of its establishment, on September 15, 1965, by Pope Paul VI with his motu proprio Apostolica Sollicitudo. The Synod of Bishops, one of the promising fruits of the Second Vatican Council, during the last four decades, has shown itself to be a very worthy instrument for exercising episcopal collegiality and deepening ecclesial communions.
Two hundred and fifty-six Synodal Fathers from 118 nations are taking part in the Synod of Bishops - the highest number of participants ever in a synodal assembly. They come from all the continents - 50 from Africa, 59 from America, 44 from Asia, 95 from Europe and eight from Oceania.
Reports being published by several news agencies, especially Catholic ones, are evidence of a lively and interesting debate. The link between the Eucharist and the public commitment of Catholics - what is termed as the horizontal dimension of the Eucharist - is being emphasised.
The topic was taken up again by two cardinals in the session of free interventions on Tuesday evening. Cardinal Edmund Szoka, president of the governorate of Vatican City, asked to speak on the issue, quoting No. 73 of the synod's instrumentum laboris, or working document.
The text states that "some receive Communion while denying the teachings of the Church or supporting publicly immoral choices, such as abortion, without thinking that they are committing an act of serious personal dishonesty and causing scandal".
"Moreover," it adds, "there are Catholics who do not understand why it is a sin to support publicly a candidate who openly favours abortion or other serious acts against life, justice and peace."
Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, presented Eucharistic life as a remedy for the many evils that beset the family today.
While the Church recognises itself as the community of those redeemed, saved and reconciled with God through Jesus, Cardinal Stafford said, it also recognises that each of its members is tempted by sin and are in need of reconciliation.
Bishop Gerald Wiesner of Prince George, British Columbia, urged the synod members to examine ways to ensure that Catholics fully and actively participate in the Mass with an understanding of what they are celebrating. The bishop said ongoing education for children and adults is needed, but so is attention to the rites and prayers used at Mass.
Fr Mark Francis, superior-general of the Viatorians, criticised the synod's working document for appearing to give the same importance to Eucharistic adoration and the celebration of the liturgy in opposition to the teachings of the Council of Trent and the Second Vatican Council. A key for improving devotion to the Eucharist, he said, is to improve the way it is celebrated.
"Rather than simply blame our Catholic people's lack of faith and the secularisation of society for the small percentage who attend Mass in many countries, we also need to acknowledge with sadness that bad preaching and poorly prepared and poorly executed Eucharistic celebrations sometimes drive good people away from the Church," he said.
Bishop Donald W. Wuerl of Pittsburgh urged the synod members to take a holistic approach to catechesis on the Eucharist, and social and moral issues. Catechesis, particularly on moral and social justice issues, he said, must not be disconnected from the heart of the Catholic faith: the death and resurrection of Christ, and participation in it through the Eucharist.
The issues of Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics as well as keeping the Eucharist were discussed. Archbishop John Dew of Wellington, New Zealand, said that the Synod must remember to have a pastoral approach, seeking to find ways to offer spiritual sustenance to divorced or remarried Catholics and Catholics in mixed marriages.
He said the bishops have a pastoral duty "and an obligation before God to discuss and debate the difficulties burdening so many of our people". The Church "would be enriched" if those who are currently excluded from Communion because of divorce and remarriage could "return to the Lord's table", he said.
Archbishop Jan Lenga of Karaganda, Kazakhstan, said removal of the tabernacle from the center of the church and receiving the consecrated host in the hand "cloud in a certain way the visible aspect of the Eucharist concerning its centrality" and sacredness. He asked that the Vatican establish a universal norm "making the official way of receiving Communion" be on the tongue and kneeling. He said receiving the host in the hand should be "reserved only to the clergy."
The Synodal discussions, meanwhile, continue.