Synod on the Eucharist: different and even divergent opinions

Source: FSSPX News


The bishops synod on the theme "The Eucharist, source and apex of the life and mission of the Church" begun on October 2nd, it will end on October 23, closing day of the "Year of the Eucharist" desired by John Paul II.

The synod of bishops is a consultative organ which does not take decision but allows an exchange of information and experiences between the synodal Fathers on a precise topic. It was instituted by Paul VI in the Motu Proprio Apostolica Sollicitudo of September 15, 1965.

The danger of secularization in Western societies, morals and the loss of the notion of sacredness, the importance of participation to Sunday Mass, the shadows cast on the celebration of the Eucharist, ecumenism and intercommunion, ordination of married men, the situation of divorcees who are remarried, such are the topics tackled by the 250 synodal Fathers. On these issues and on others, very different opinions are being voiced.


The Eucharist, ecumenism and interreligious dialogue

Mgr Sofron Stefan Mudry, emeritus bishop of Ivano-Frankivsk (Ukraine), was very open to communion given to the Orthodox. "By making the non-Catholic Orthodox partake of communion, we make communion between us real", he explained. He also asked that the interdiction of concelebrating with non-Catholic priests be reconsidered "taking into account again a certain number of fundamental points about the Eucharist and ecumenism, and on the other hand defining the term "non-Catholic" used by the Canon" of the Eastern Churches.

The president of the Swiss Bishops Conference, Mgr Amédée Grab, for his part emphasized the "increasing convergence" with the other Christian communities on "very important" issues such as "the real presence, the sacrificial character of the memorial, the necessity of ordination". The bishop of Chur noted that "intercelebration, intercommunion, general hospitality offered to all the baptized, or even to all those present were not possible", but he recalled that participation to communion of non-Catholic baptized persons, "individually, in exceptional circumstances and under well defined conditions" was explicitly foreseen by the Ecumenical Directory of 1993 in specific conditions. The president of the Council of the Bishops Conferences of Europe noted that, among these conditions "belonging to the Catholic Church is not indicated". He then invited them not to forget this possibility.

Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the Unity of Christians, also spoke of the possibility of communion "in some particular well defined cases". And he quoted the criteria enumerated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: "a serious reason, the spontaneous request, a good disposition and the manifestation of a Catholic faith concerning the sacrament". The German cardinal said "he was personally (…) convinced that with those criteria the truly pastoral problems can find a positive solution". Because "these issues are, in many countries, of a great pastoral importance", Cardinal Kasper finally recommended that "they be included in the final text or in the proposals" of the synod.

The Dominican Georges Cottier manifested a less conciliatory position. The theologian of the Pontifical House, recalled that the Church rejected intercommunion and affirmed that "Eucharistic communion is not a starting point". This communion, explained Cardinal Cottier, "expresses and brings to perfection a communion which it presupposes in its integrality: communion in the doctrine of the apostles, in the sacraments and in the communion with the apostolic college whose head is Peter". The Swiss theologian acknowledged that "this position being not understood seemed unjustly harsh" to some Protestant brethren. "Consequently, it is a fraternal duty for the Church to say that she does not consider she has the right to dispose freely of what is a gift received from her Lord", he concluded.

Cardinal Angelo Sodano, secretary of State of the Holy See, explained that intercommunion did not in itself favor the unity of Christians. Noting the "relation between the Eucharist and ecclesial unity", the cardinal emphasized that the Eucharist is always an invitation "to unity of all the disciples of Christ". However, "the delicate problem", he continued, is the attention to give to "our separate brethren". "I wish to remind you that in order to foster unity with our separate brethren, we must not become divided between ourselves. The safest way to avoid division is fidelity to the discipline enforced in the Church", he added. On this issue, "the discipline is clear", it suffices to read the last encyclical of John Paul II Ecclesia de Eucharistia" (2003). "True unity supposes the bonds of full and entire communion in the profession of faith, in the sacraments and in the government of the Church. It is not possible to concelebrate the same Eucharistic liturgy until these bonds be re-established", then recalled the cardinal secretary of State. "Failing this, he explained, we cannot speak of unity." Cardinal Sodano thus recalled the "extraordinary" character of communion given to non-Catholics. He insisted that "fidelity to the discipline of the Church on this delicate issue should be a pledge of unity between us, in the expectation of the fulfillment of the prayer of Christ: Ut Unum Sint."

"I wish that at the synod they would have talked more about ecumenism" declared Mgr Pierre-Antoine Paulo, coadjutor Archbishop of Port-de-Paix in Haïti, during a press conference. He was commenting upon the first general congregation of the Bishops synod, during which the general chairman, Cardinal Angelo Scola, Patriarch of Venice, had presented the main issues to discuss during the synod.

If, in his intervention, Mgr Paulo took up the words of Cardinal Scola: "The Eucharist makes the Church and the Church makes the Eucharist", he regretted the lack of exhaustivity of his introductory speech for the synod. In this spirit, the coadjutor Archbishop of Port-de-Paix emphasized what was "in his opinion" missing at the synod. For him, "the great expectation", in a spirit of unity, is "the day when all Christians now divided will be able to celebrate the Eucharist together". "This is why I would have wished that at the synod, there be more insistence upon ecumenism", stated the Haitian Archbishop. Alluding to the presence of the twelve representatives from non-Catholic Christian Churches and communities, he affirmed that he would "even have wished that there had been an ecumenical celebration to show clearly that we are on the way to this unity".

The Haitian prelate also asked the question of the access to communion of divorcees who are remarried. Thus, he talked of the panis viatorum, – the bread of the travelers – explaining that, in some cases, members from another Christian tradition could received communion in the Catholic Church and vice-versa", for "the Eucharist does not belong to anybody". He also estimated that the "question of the panis viatorum" could be raised in the case of the divorcees who are remarried. Thus he explained that "if someone who is outside the Church, someone who is not in full communion, may in some cases receive communion, then the question may be raised for he who is already in communion, but who may have a problem, an impediment to receiving the Eucharist", referring to the divorcees who are remarried. "May not this be considered?" asked the Archbishop.

Lastly, he said he agreed with the Patriarch of Venice who mentioned the "Jewish roots of the Eucharist" in his discourse, even though this reference was not in the Instrumentum Laboris. "This could place one more marker along the path of Judeo-Christian dialogue", he thought, for the Eucharist is "legacy, a heritage from Jewish spirituality", he explained.

 Mgr John Atcherley Dew, Archbishop of Wellington and president of the New-Zealander Bishops Conference, also spoke up on the question of admitting the divorcees who are remarried to communion. The prelate proposed a "pastoral approach" of the problem just like for "Catholics married with persons baptized in other Christian denominations". The prelate thus declared himself favorable to intercommunion. "As bishops, we have the pastoral duty and the obligation before God to consider and discuss these difficulties which oppress so many people". "We must find a means of including all those who hunger for the bread of life", concluded Mgr Atcherley, speaking of the "scandal of Eucharistic hunger".

Mgr Michael Fitzgerald, president of the Pontifical Council for interreligious dialogue, wished to favor the reception of members from other religions at Mass: "In the Eucharist, the sacrifice of the Lord is offered for the whole world; including those who belong to other religions. It is good, from time to time, to make this situation explicit by means of the homely, special prayers and even at times a special Mass which could be added to the Roman Missal", he proposed. "When persons from other religions are present for the celebration of the Eucharist, special attention should be given to them, so that they may attend with profit", he continued. "Eucharistic adoration is also an opportunity to pray for people from other religions", concluded the irish prelate.


Communion denied to political men favorable to laws against the family

Political men and legislators who do not uphold the rights of the family, but support laws on free union, divorce or homosexual marriage, cannot have access to communion. This was affirmed by Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, president of the Pontifical Council for the family. "May we allow access to Eucharistic communion to those who deny Christian and human principles and values", he asked, stating that "the responsibility of politicians and legislators was great". "You cannot separate a personal stand from socio-cultural duty. It is not a private problem, it requires the acceptation of the Gospel, the magisterium and sound reason! The word of God is valid for all, and also for political men and legislators", let out the cardinal. "It is a recurring problem in many nations and parliaments", he continued. "Today, bills and the choices made or to be made gravely jeopardize the Gospel, the family and life". "The future of man and of society is at stake", declared the Spanish cardinal. And he denounced the "alleged political free choice which would have priority over the principles of the Gospel". "Juridical positivism, continued the cardinal, would be a sufficient explanation" to justify the "ambiguous positions of the legislator on divorce, de facto couples (i.e. concubines)… and worse still when it is a question of same-sex "couples" something still unheard of in the cultural history of the nations and in the law". "Politicians and legislators must know that, by proposing or defending iniquitous bills, they have a grave responsibility and  must remedy the evil done in order to have access to communion", concluded Cardinal Lopez Trujillo.

Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, president of the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral, affirmed that a Catholic could not support a pro-abortion politician. We report here some words said during an interview published on October 5 by the Italian daily La Repubblica, aside from the synod. "A Catholic cannot support a politician who presents abortion as a general rule". The Mexican cardinal upheld that "when the magisterium rejects laws which are against life, a son of the Church cannot feel in full communion if he supports what the Church condemns". A Catholic voter, also estimated the "Health minister" of the Holy See, must practice "discernment in the choice of the various aspects of a political program, distinguishing between what represents an attack against life and what sets into relief the defense of life". Thus he specified that "we cannot approve anything that constitutes an attack against life". "A Catholic should speak up for the change of these rules, by supporting the doctrine of the Church", he concluded.

The Instrumentum Laboris, the preparatory document to the Synod, deplored the fact that some faithful "communicate even if they deny the teaching of the Church or publicly uphold immoral choices like abortion, without thinking that they perform a personal act which is profoundly dishonest nor that they are a source of scandal". "Beside, there are Catholics who do not understand why they commit a sin when they politically support a candidate openly in favor of abortion or other serious actions against life, justice and peace", also read this working document made public on July 7.

 The ordination of married men

 The Synod fathers appear to be clearly divided on the question of married priests. Cardinal Nasrallah Pierre Sfeir recalled that half of the diocesan priests of the Lebanese Maronite Church are married. The question of the ordination of married men in order to make up for the lack of priests, he acknowledged was “a problem which could not be ignored” and which “deserves serious reflection”. “Celibacy is the most precious jewel in the treasure of the Catholic Church” the Maronite Patriarch reaffirmed, before wondering “how it could be protected in an eroticized atmosphere”, where in the papers, on the internet, on advertising posters, in shows, “everything is displayed without shame and cannot fail to offend the virtue of chastity”. “It goes without saying that, once ordained, a priest can no longer contract a marriage”, continued Cardinal Sfeir, but without being more precise on the solution which the ordination of men already married would represent.

 The patriarch also said that “if the marriage of priests resolved one problem, it would create others, equally serious”. He explained that a married priest “has the duty to look after his wife and children, to make sure they have a good education, to house them socially…” He also noted that it would be difficult to transfer a married priest “because of the impossibility of his family moving with him”. On the other hand, cardinal Sfeir stressed that “these married priests have preserved the faith of the people whose hard life they have shared”, and that “without them, this faith would have disappeared”. Finally, Cardinal Sfeir mentioned the question of sending priests from countries which have many priests, to those which do not have enough. He confirmed that this was not “an ideal solution, in view of differing traditions, customs and mentality”.

The bishop of Hamilton (New Zealand) also referred to the question of the ordination of married men. “As the Church, we have a duty to seek every possible means of making the Eucharist easily available to all the faithful”, said Mgr. Denis George Brown, president of the Bishops’ Conference of Oceania. He called on his fellow bishops to “remain open to the questions put (to them) by (the) faithful”. As an example, he cited the question : ‘Why does it appear possible for married former priests of the Anglican Communion to be ordained and become Catholic priests, whereas former Catholic priests released from their vow of celibacy are not authorized to fulfill their pastoral office?’”.

 Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos supplied them with an answer. The Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy also invoked the “richness” of celibacy, confirming that, “in the current sexual culture, allowing the marriage of priests would constitute neither guarantee nor security in the face of the problems of a moral nature which affect certain of them”. Thus, he hoped that Benedict XVI would give the bishops “the strength to ever more appreciate in our Church the inestimable gift of celibacy and block the route to false expectations which could only create anxiety and confusion”.

 The Colombian cardinal also wondered “Do Catholics really know what the Eucharist is?”. He then went on to condemn, in no uncertain terms, “the half-hearted participation at Sunday Mass, the disappearance of Eucharistic adoration associations, the lack of consistency in many people, between their Eucharistic practice and their life, the widespread habit of receiving Communion without going to Confession, the practice of receiving the Eucharist on the part of divorced and remarried people and violent people”.

 A few days later, the debate on the ordination of married men was taken up once again. “I have heard the deplorable assertion, that we lack priests because we demand they be celibate”, one of the Synod fathers lamented. He said that in his opinion, this constituted “a symptom of a crisis of Faith”. The prelate was opposed to the ordination of married men, considering it not to be a solution, making it clear that this could lead to grave situations such as “the problem of divorced priests” or “the desertion of family”. During this discussion, another bishop spoke on possible solutions to the lack of priests. He expressed the desire that even if the Synod had come to work on the question of the ordination of married men, it should also reaffirm the beauty of celibacy, taking care not to weaken it.


The role of the laity in the face of the shortage of priests

 The Filipino bishop of Imus called for “an impartial analysis of the shortage of priests”, and asked for more responsibility on the part of the faithful. “Whereas we are looking out at the world as regards threats to priestly celibacy, we should also ask ourselves if the Church herself, knows how to manage such a gift”, said Mgr. Luis Antonio G. Tagle. He pointed out, that in the Philippines, “in order to respond to the need for the Eucharist, the priests are saying many masses”, and “sending lay ministers for the services of the Word and Communion”. Speaking to the press at the opening of the Synod on October 3, the Filipino bishop had already explained that in his country, lay or pastoral leaders conducted what they called “services of the Word, biblical services”, in order to make up for the lack of priests.

 The Indonesian bishop of Jayapura also, focused his speech on the role of the laity. Mgr. Leo Laba Ladjar regretted that the working document of the Synod, Instrumentum laboris, was “too priest centered”. He then went on to say that “the link between the Eucharist and reconciliation or penance, is seen from the point of view of the priest only” and regretted that “the importance of reconciliation in the community and in the liturgical assembly was undervalued”. The Indonesian bishop also called for the role of the laity “not to be reserved solely for emergency situations”. “We have to encourage theologians to study and formulate a new theology of the priest”, Mgr. Ladjar asked his colleagues for a theology “which also takes into account the practices in Apostolic times and in the Eastern Churches”.

 The Polish cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education, spoke on formation in seminaries, demanding that it “be taken seriously”. In front of the Synod fathers, the cardinal emphasized that it “would not be realistic to expect their observations concerning the promotion of the Eucharist to bear fruit without reinforcing the adequate preparation of those who would principally put it into practice, in the life of the Church”.


The Church in the face of the secularization of society

 “We must make our choice with regard to the secularization taking place: it is an historic trend, serious and long lasting,” declared the bishop of Angers, France. “It has given rise to a mentality – that of secularism – which questions, in particular the Christian conscience”, he continued. Mgr. Bruguès stated that there even exists an auto-secularization within Christian communities. “What happens to the Eucharist, ‘the Bread of Heaven’…if there is no longer a Heaven?” he asked. In his view, the role which the Eucharist must play in the “new evangelization, – founded on evangelization through culture”– particularly with young people, should be made clear.

 Cardinal Sepe, for his part, spoke about the evangelization of those who have abandoned their faith or do not know it. “It is true that the evangelization is unique in its content, but it differs according to whom we are speaking” was the opinion of the Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. The Cardinal estimated a number around five billion people worldwide, who “do not know Jesus Christ”. “The Church has the duty to bring them the Bread of Life and the Chalice of Salvation”. For the Italian cardinal, it is necessary that “the doctrine of the Eucharist be offered to non-Christians in its entire truth, without yielding to the ‘fashion of cultures’, so that the Eucharist does not lose its mystical dimension, to become merely a variant of the cultural anthropology which relativizes the very person of Christ”.

Liturgy and inculturation

The President of the Symposium of the Bishops’ Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), Mgr. John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan, archbishop of Abuja in Nigeria, declared himself to be very pleased about the inculturation of the Eucharistic celebrations on his continent, “My speech is a hymn of thanks and praise to God for the great blessings which the African people have experienced in the period following Vatican Council II, through active, conscious and fruitful, but also joyful participation in the Eucharist, celebrated in the richness of our cultural expressions”, declared Mgr. John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan.

 If the President of SECAM referred to the “measure, the prudence and sometimes the anxiety,” expressed in Instrumentum laboris, “in the face of errors, exaggerations and hazardous experimentations on this subject”, acknowledging that it is “undoubtedly reasonable to express these reservations” which must be taken seriously, he added that in spite of everything, “on the whole, they should not be cause for false alarms”. “Throughout Africa, in the last forty years, there have been many very beautiful Eucharistic celebrations, which have deepened people’s faith, improved the quality of their participation, intensified their love for the priesthood, infused joy and hope in the midst of despondency and despair, favored ecumenical relations and generally promoted evangelization”, the Nigerian bishop continued.

 “The Eucharist deserves and receives the best of our culture”, stated Mgr. Olorunfemi Onaiyekan. “We do not have much to offer (…) but what we do have, we are happy to give, he explained, our songs, our poetry, the rolling of our drums and the rhythm of our dance, all for the glory of God”. For him “solemnity and sacredness” may actually “be expressed” not only by chants and instruments used traditionally in the Western world, “but also with the gong, the xylophone and the tom-tom”. However, in his speech the president of SECAM did admit that “the problems in Africa are legion.”

 The bishop of Mbujimayi, in the Congo, Mgr. Tarcisse Tshibangu Tshishiku had drawn up the list “of very important questions which have to be tackled” on the occasion of the second special assembly of the Synod of bishops for Africa, - convened in November 2004 by John Paul II, it was confirmed in June of this year by Benedict XVI, but the date has yet to be announced. Mgr. Tarcisse Tshibangu Tshishiku, in his analysis of the challenges facing the Catholic Church in Africa, spoke of the problems of “the inculturation of divine worship and of the liturgy”, in the continent and of “the current situation of globalization and of the mission of the Church”. He also spoke of “interecclesial solidarity, of the current situation and of the future of the missionary institutions and of religious congregations”, of “the global development of Africa and the commitments of the Church, “as well as the “challenges of the missions and pathways of theological research in Africa”.

 The opinion of non-Catholic “fraternal delegates” in favor of intercommunion

Eleven out of twelve representatives of the Orthodox and Protestant Churches invited to follow the Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist – twice as many as at previous ordinary synodal assemblies – spoke during the afternoon of October 11. Only Robert K. Welsh, of the Church of the Disciples of Christ (United States), did not speak. These eagerly-awaited discourses, were focused on ecumenism and the possibility of the practice of intercommunion.

 It was John Hind, the Anglican bishop of Chichester in Great Britain, who first of all caught everyone’s attention. He asked : “When is the right moment to share Holy Communion?” He gave the example of Brother Roger of Taizé. “How should we interpret the public accession to Communion of brother Roger Schutz?”. The founder of the ecumenical community of Taizé, assassinated last August, had received Communion from the hands of cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the then dean of the Sacred College, during the funeral of John Paul II in St. Peter’s Square last April.

 The Eucharist is not in the first place, a question, a rite, or a ceremonial, but a benefit of the new life of Christ”, said the Anglican minister. “If we are to be real Christians, there must be criteria of mutual recognition. The way in which we tolerate one another is no less important”, he went on . “The problems of inculturation bring to light the need to discuss the diversity and the unity within the Church”, he pointed out. “It is only in dialogue between the Incarnation and the particular cultures that we can identify the true Catholic”.

 The Lutheran Per Lonning, bishop emeritus of the church of Norway, followed this lead. Giving several examples where he himself had been invited to receive Communion by Catholic Bishops, he said he was “saddened” by the stand against intercommunion in Instrumentum laboris. Paragraphs 86 and 87, he felt, “sadden many of my Catholic friends : bishops, deans, abbots. These conclusions are supported with logic, with no reference at all to what has happened and what is happening in your Church. No attention is given to the differing opinions which are no less founded on the Bible than the prevailing position”. In this case “it could be useful to the progress of ecumenism that the latter be published as the official voice of the Roman Catholic Church”, said Per Lonning.

 The Orthodox patriarch Johannis Zizoulis, the Metropolitan of Pergamum, also stressed that it was fundamental that “Roman Catholics and Orthodox talk with one voice” on the importance of the Eucharist. “It is a sin to have the same convictions regarding the importance of the Eucharist without being capable of sharing it at the same Mass”. “Perhaps there are still several points which divide our Churches, but we both believe that the Eucharist is at the very heart of the Church. It is on this basis that we are able to carry on the official theological dialogue between our two Churches”, he said.

Other fraternal delegates were eager to bear witness to the practice of the Eucharist in their respective Churches. The representative of the Patriarchate of Moscow, Filippo Vasyltsev, declared that he would be “very happy” if “the Orthodox experience of the Eucharist, as historic as it is contemporary, could be useful and help the Catholic Church.” He also said that the Russian Orthodox were invited to Communion once a month, with the obligation to go to confession three days before. Mgr. Mor Serverius Malke Mourad, of the Syro-Orthodox patriarchate, said that his Church had recently authorized general confessions. Mgr. Abuna Samuel archbishop of the Orthodox Church of Ethiopia, for his part indicated that priests as well as faithful who received Communion were constrained to a nine hour Eucharistic fast.



 The decline in the practice of Confession has opened the door to esotericism, magic and the occult. So says Mgr. Rimantas Norvila, the bishop of Vilkaviskis (Lithuania). “The decline of the practice of confession” has broken the bonds between “the parish community and the Church” but also favored those – particularly in the West – who were seeking, in esoteric practices, magic, occultism and New Age”, a response to their “own religious needs”, he said. In order to remedy this Mgr. Norvila has called for a return to the practice of Confession and “spiritual direction”, in order to “restore the religious practice of the laity and priests”. For the prelate, the lack of recourse to confession “increased suggestiveness” and was distancing the faithful from the Eucharist and the Church.

 Finally, we salute the courage of Mgr. Jan Pawel Lenga, archbishop of Karaganda (Kazakhstan), who did not hesitate to ask in front of the bishops of the Synod that Communion not be distributed by the faithful, but solely by the priests and that to receive Communion one must kneel. He added that Communion in the hand could permit the theft of hosts for use in Satanic rites. Furthermore, in some countries, this practice would be considered a lack of sacrality.