BY LUKE COPPER
CATHOLICS must rediscover the fullness of the mystery of the Eucharist, Pope John Paul II has said in a major new encyclical calling for the Mass to be celebrated with renewed awe and dignity.
In an impassioned and highly personal encyclical letter, the Pope said he wanted to rekindle "Eucharistic amazement" among the faithful and to stamp out sacramental abuses that have appeared in the wake of the Second Vatican Council.
He said he hoped the encyclical would "help to banish the dark clouds of unacceptable doctrine and practice, so that the Eucharist will continue to shine forth in all its radiant mystery".
In the encyclical. the 14th of his 25-year pontificate, the Pope reaffirmed the Church's traditional teaching on the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the connection between confession and communion and the need to respect norms on intercommunion. John Paul II signed the document. entitled Ecclesia de Eucharistia, on April 17, Holy Thursday, during the evening Mass of the Lord's Supper.
The encyclical will be followed by the publication of new norms on the celebration of the Eucharist, drawn up by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship. The Pope said the new guidelines were necessary because in some parts of the Catholic world the Eucharist was devalued and celebrated "with disregard for its sacredness and its universality".
He wrote: "In some places the practice of Eucharistic adoration has been almost completely abandoned. In van
ous 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.
"Furthermore, the necessity of the ministerial priesthood, grounded in apostolic succession, is at times obscured and the sacramental nature of the Eucharist is reduced to its mere effectiveness as a form of proclamation. This has led here and there to ecumenical initiatives which, albeit well-intentioned, indulge in Eucharistic practices contrary to the discipline by which the Church expresses her faith, "How can we not express profound grief at all this? The Eucharist is too great a gift to tolerate ambiguity and depreciation.
"I consider it my duty, therefore, to appeal urgently that the liturgical norms for the celebration of the Eucharist be observed with great fidelity. These norms are a concrete expression of the authentically ecclesial nature of the Eucharist; this is their deepest meaning. Liturgy is never anyone's private property, be it of the celebrant or of the community in which the mysteries are celebrated."
The Pope said that priests and communities that faithfully followed the norms "quietly, but eloquently" demonstrated their love for the Church.
Reflecting on the Church's relationship with the Eucharist since the Second Vatican Council, the Pontiff said Vatican II had led to a "more conscious. active and fruitful participation" in the Mass, but in some cases the Eucharist had been marred by arbitrary innovations. "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," he wrote.
"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."
The Pope reserved some of his strongest words for Catholics who received the Eucharist while still in a state of mortal sin. The Pontiff issued a stern reminder that Catholics must be in a state of grace in order to receive Holy Communion.
In Britain, attention focussed on the section of the encyclical concerning intercommunion between Catholics and Protestants. The Pope argued that regular Eucharistic sharing was the end and the not the means of Christian unity.
He wrote: "Precisely because the Church's unity, which the Eucharist brings about through the Lord's sacrifice and by communion in.his body and blood, absolutely requires full communion in the bonds of the profession of faith, the sacraments and ecclesiastical governance, it is not possible to celebrate together the same Eucharistic liturgy until those bonds are fully re-established.
"Any such concelebration would not be a valid means, and might well prove instead to be an obstacle, to the attainment of full communion, by weakening the sense of how far we remain from this goal and by introducing or exacerbating ambiguities with regard to one or another truth of the faith.
"The path towards full unity can only be undertaken in truth, In this area, the prohibitions of Church law leave no room for uncertainty, in fidelity to the moral norm laid down by the Second Vatican Council."
The Pope said Catholics should not receive communion in Protestant churches, because to do so would be to "fail in their duty to be a clear witness to the truth". Similarly it was "unthinkable" that dioceses would substitute Sunday Mass for ecumenical celebrations.
Nevertheless, the Pope emphasised that the Church was still unequivocally committed to the search for Christian unity.
"The treasure of the Eucharist, which the Lord places before us, impels us towards the goal of full sharing with all our brothers and sisters to whom we are joined by our common Baptism. But if this treasure is not to be squandered, we need to respect the demands which derive from its being the sacrament of communion in faith and in apostolic succession," he wrote.
The Pope's comments were interpreted in some quarters as blow to hopes for reunion between Britain's Catholics and Protestants. The Times newspaper said the encyclical "crushed" Tony Blair's chances of enjoying a happy Catholic Easter with his family and represented a setback for the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams.
But last week, Dr Williams said he welcomed the Pope's letter.
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Extracts: Pages 6, 7 Aldan Nichols: Page 8 Editorial Comment Page 9