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John Paul's new encyclical on the Eucharist targets liturgical abuses

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 Contents - Jun 2003AD2000 June 2003 - Buy a copy now
Editorial: Three Feasts: Ascension, Pentecost, Trinity - Peter Westmore
Liturgy: John Paul's new encyclical on the Eucharist targets liturgical abuses - Michael Gilchrist
AD2000 staff members awarded federation Centenary Medals - AD2000
News: The Church Around the World - AD2000
Interview: Vatican II and the liturgy, 40 years later - Zenit News Service
Events: Corpus Christi Procession - Brisbane, 22 June 2003
The environment: rediscovering the balanced Catholic perspective - Michael Casanova
Laity: The role of lay Catholics in a time of crisis - Mary Ann Glendon
Those dreadful old Catholic hymns? - Fr Fabian Duggan OSB
The seal of confession: how a priest put his life on the line - Clem Lack
Letters: Eucharistic encyclical and the priesthood (letter) - John Kelly
Letters: Requirements fulfilled (letter) - John Young
Letters: Four conditions (letter) - Fr G.H. Duggan SM
Letters: Holy Orders (letter) - Francis Vrijmoed
Letters: Brisbane Synod (letter) - Alistair Barros
Letters: Catechetics (letter)
Letters: Teilhard de Chardin (letter) - Grahame Fallon
Letters: Latin Mass (letter) - Philip Robinson
Letters: Death by 'nice blokes' (letter) - Lisa-Maree
Letters: Abortion (letter) - Betty Griffin
Letters: Prayer to Our Lady of Good Counsel (letter) - Marie E. Curtin
Books: Culture and the Thomist Tradition : After Vatican II, by Tracey Rowland - Fr Peter Joseph STD (reviewer)
Books: From Physics to Metaphysics, by Fr Francis J. Selman - Michael Casanova
Books: The Story of Christianity : 2000 Years of Faith - Anthony Cappello (reviewer)
Books: Family in the Bible, edited by Richard H. Hess and M. Danial Carroll - Bill Muehlenberg (reviewer)
Books: Our books are the cheapest!
Reflection: Church scandals: focus on the message, not just the messengers - Fr Kevin Brannelly

On Holy Thursday, 17 April 2003, Pope John Paul II released his 14th encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, formally signing it during the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord's Supper in St Peter's.

The six-chapter document contains reminders of important matters raised in earlier papal and Vatican writings, e.g, Sunday Mass obligation, confession, Eucharistic adoration, the real presence, the Mass as a sacrifice, the priesthood, intercommunion, Church music and architecture, and liturgical abuses.

John Paul II affirmed the identification between the Church and the Eucharistic sacrifice - the source and summit of all Christian life.

In light of this fundamental truth, the Pope is especially forceful about the urgent need to eliminate abuses: "No one is permitted to undervalue the mystery entrusted to our hands: it is too great for anyone to feel free to treat it lightly and with disregard for its sacredness and its universality."

Sacrificial emphasis

In his introduction the Pope remarks: "The Church was born of the paschal mystery. For this very reason the Eucharist, which is in an outstanding way the sacrament of the paschal mystery, stands at the centre of the Church's life. This is already clear from the earliest images of the Church found in the Acts of the Apostles." Every Eucharistic celebration, he says, captures the central mystery of Redemption, and recalls to the faithful the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Particular emphasis is placed on the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist: "In instituting it, [Jesus] did not merely say: 'This is my body', 'this is my blood', but went on to add: 'which is given for you', 'which is poured out for you' (Lk 22:19-20). Jesus did not simply state that what he was giving them to eat and drink was his body and his blood; he also expressed its sacrificial meaning and made sacramentally present his sacrifice which would soon be offered on the Cross for the salvation of all."

In regard to the "real presence" - another aspect of the Eucharist tending to be confused in some quarters - the Pope reminds us: "The sacramental re-presentation of Christ's sacrifice, crowned by the resurrection, in the Mass involves a most special presence which - in the words of Paul VI - 'is called "real" not as a way of excluding all other types of presence as if they were "not real", but because it is a presence in the fullest sense: a substantial presence whereby Christ, the God-Man, is wholly and entirely present'.

"This sets forth once more the perennially valid teaching of the Council of Trent: 'the consecration of the bread and wine effects the change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord, and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood. And the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called this change transubstantiation'."

Theologians who analyse the Church's Eucharistic teachings are reminded of the "boundary" pointed to by Paul VI: "Every theological explanation which seeks some understanding of this mystery, in order to be in accord with Catholic faith, must firmly maintain that in objective reality, independently of our mind, the bread and wine have ceased to exist after the consecration, so that the adorable body and blood of the Lord Jesus from that moment on are really before us under the sacramental species of bread and wine".

Among the many topics covered in the new encyclical, Eucharistic adoration is singled out for particular encouragement: "The worship of the Eucharist outside of the Mass is of inestimable value for the life of the Church ... It is the responsibility of pastors to encourage, also by their personal witness, the practice of Eucharistic adoration, and exposition of the Blessed Sacrament in particular, as well as prayer of adoration before Christ present under the Eucharistic species."

The Holy Father also underlines the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church that "anyone conscious of a grave sin must receive the sacrament of Penance before coming to communion" and refers to the situation of people seriously and publicly out of line with Church teachings: "The judgment of one's state of grace obviously belongs only to the person involved, since it is a question of examining one's conscience. However, in cases of outward conduct which is seriously, clearly and steadfastly contrary to the moral norm, the Church, in her pastoral concern for the good order of the community and out of respect for the sacrament, cannot fail to feel directly involved. The Code of Canon Law refers to this situation of a manifest lack of proper moral disposition when it states that those who 'obstinately persist in manifest grave sin' are not to be admitted to Eucharistic communion'."

Sunday obligation

The Pope then refers to his earlier Apostolic Letter on the sanctification of Sunday, Dies Domini: "There I recalled that the faithful have the obligation to attend Mass, unless they are seriously impeded, and that pastors have the corresponding duty to see that it is practical and possible for all to fulfil this precept."

The faithful are also reminded of the Church's firm stance on intercommunion with other churches which, following the 16th century Protestant Reformation, "especially because of the lack of the sacrament of Orders ... have not preserved the genuine and total reality of the Eucharistic mystery."

Catholics, he cautions, "while respecting the religious convictions of these separated brethren, must refrain from receiving the communion distributed in their celebrations, so as not to condone an ambiguity about the nature of the Eucharist and, consequently, to fail in their duty to bear clear witness to the truth. This would result in slowing the progress being made towards full visible unity."

On the other hand, he explicitly approves reception of the sacrament by our separated brethren in special circumstances and where there is a belief in the real presence.

Given the Pope's concern throughout his pontificate for the spiritual health of the priesthood, he devotes considerable space to this subject in the present encyclical. He repeats his own words from Dominicae Cenae (1980) that the Eucharist "is the principal and central raison d'Étre of the sacrament of priesthood, which effectively came into being at the moment of the institution of the Eucharist".

Any effective promotion of priestly vocations must also be based on "the centrality of the Eucharist" and "the diligence of priests in carrying out their Eucharistic ministry", for this "provides young men with a powerful example and incentive for responding generously to God's call."

Lay-led services

In view of the priesthood's vital role, the Pope finds it "distressing and irregular" that priests have been in short supply in some parts of the Church. While describing as "praiseworthy" efforts to provide substitutes for the Eucharistic sacrifice through lay-led services, he is adamant that "such solutions must be considered merely temporary, while the community awaits a priest", adding that "the sacramental incompleteness of these celebrations should above all inspire the whole community to pray with greater fervour that the Lord will send labourers into his harvest (cf. Mt 9:38)."

Meanwhile, advantage should be taken "of the occasional presence of a priest who is not impeded by Church law from celebrating Mass."

In chapter five, under the heading of "The Dignity of the Eucharistic Celebration", the Pope examines ways in which the Church over the centuries has continued to seek more fitting contexts for celebrations of the Eucharistic sacrifice, e.g., through inspired music and beautiful, imposing architecture.

"Could there ever be," he says, "an adequate means of expressing the acceptance of that self-gift which the divine Bridegroom continually makes to his Bride, the Church, by bringing the Sacrifice offered once and for all on the Cross to successive generations of believers and thus becoming nourishment for all the faithful? Though the idea of a 'banquet' naturally suggests familiarity, the Church has never yielded to the temptation to trivialise this 'intimacy' with her Spouse by forgetting that he is also her Lord and that the 'banquet' always remains a sacrificial banquet marked by the blood shed on Golgotha."

The Holy Father notes: "On this foundation a rich artistic heritage also developed. Architecture, sculpture, painting and music, moved by the Christian mystery, have found in the Eucharist, both directly and indirectly, a source of great inspiration ... The designs of altars and tabernacles within Church interiors were often not simply motivated by artistic inspiration but also by a clear understanding of the mystery.

"The same could be said for sacred music, if we but think of the inspired Gregorian melodies and the many, often great, composers who sought to do justice to the liturgical texts of the Mass. Similarly, can we overlook the enormous quantity of artistic production, ranging from fine craftsmanship to authentic works of art, in the area of Church furnishings and vestments used for the celebration of the Eucharist?"

However, John Paul II points out: "In various parts of the Church abuses have occurred, leading to confusion with regard to sound faith and Catholic doctrine concerning this wonderful sacrament. At times one encounters an extremely reductive understanding of the Eucharistic mystery. Stripped of its sacrificial meaning, it is celebrated as if it were simply a fraternal banquet."

In this regard, priests have a "great responsibility ... to preside at the Eucharist in persona Christi and to provide a witness to and a service of communion not only for the community directly taking part in the celebration, but also for the universal Church, which is a part of every Eucharist."

Here, the Pope uses his strongest language in the encyclical: "It must be lamented that, especially in the years following the post-conciliar liturgical reform, as a result of a misguided sense of creativity and adaptation there have been a number of abuses which have been a source of suffering for many. A certain reaction against 'formalism' has led some, especially in certain regions, to consider the 'forms' chosen by the Church's great liturgical tradition and her Magisterium as non-binding and to introduce unauthorised innovations which are often completely inappropriate.

"I consider it my duty, therefore to appeal urgently that the liturgical norms for the celebration of the Eucharist be observed with great fidelity ... Liturgy is never anyone's private property, be it of the celebrant or of the community in which the mysteries are celebrated. The Apostle Paul had to address fiery words to the community of Corinth because of grave shortcomings in their celebration of the Eucharist resulting in divisions (schismata) and the emergence of factions (haireseis) (see 1 Cor 11:17-34).

Liturgical norms

He continues: "Our time, too, calls for a renewed awareness and appreciation of liturgical norms as a reflection of, and a witness to, the one universal Church made present in every celebration of the Eucharist. Priests who faithfully celebrate Mass according to the liturgical norms, and communities which conform to those norms, quietly but eloquently demonstrate their love for the Church.

"Precisely to bring out more clearly this deeper meaning of liturgical norms, I have asked the competent offices of the Roman Curia to prepare a more specific document, including prescriptions of a juridical nature, on this very important subject."

The Holy Father concludes his encyclical: "Every commitment to holiness, every activity aimed at carrying out the Church's mission, every work of pastoral planning, must draw the strength it needs from the Eucharistic mystery and in turn be directed to that mystery as its culmination.

"In the Eucharist we have Jesus, we have his redemptive sacrifice, we have his resurrection, we have the gift of the Holy Spirit, we have adoration, obedience and love of the Father ...

"The mystery of the Eucharist - sacrifice, presence, banquet - does not allow for reduction or exploitation; it must be experienced and lived in its integrity".

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Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 16 No 5 (June 2003), p. 3

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