Over 200 bishops debate Communion for remarried Catholics and ways of stamping out liturgical abuses
BY FREDDY GRAY
POPE Benedict has opened a major Synod of the world’s bishops that could dramatically improve the quality of Catholic worship.
The three-week meeting is the most important event in the Vatican since the election of Benedict in April. It is also the largest gathering of bishops since John Paul II’s funeral in the same month.
The prelates and other invited observers are expected to discuss a number of divisive issues facing the Church. These include: the possibility of married priests; how to crack down on liturgical abuse and protect the dignity of the Mass; the role the Eucharist in politics; ecumenism and the exclusion of divorced and remarried Catholics from the Sacraments. The Pope will preside over most of the debates.
Speaking at the Synod’s opening Mass on Sunday, Pope Benedict urged his bishops to bring God out of the private sphere and into public life.
“A tolerance which allows God as a private opinion but which excludes Him from public life, from the reality of the world and our lives, is not tolerance but hypocrisy,” he said.
“When man makes himself the only master of the world and master of himself, justice cannot exist. Then, arbitrariness, power and interests rule.” Too many Catholic lives could be compared to “vinegar rather than wine”, because of the indifference to God, he added. On Monday Cardinal Angelo Scola, Patriarch of Venice and general relator for the Synod, introduced a number of topics for discussion.
He spoke about exclusion of divorced and remarried Catholics from the Sacraments, lamenting modern society’s superficial understanding of the sacrament of marriage.
He admitted that the Church’s tough stance had caused divorcees to “suffer”, but offered no suggestion that this would change.
He also acknowledged that the exclusion of nonCatholic Christians from Communion was “a rather delicate pastoral problem” and applauded changing Protestant attitudes to Eucharistic celebration.
“We should also welcome positively the new climate on the Eucharist in the ecclesial communities born at the time of the Reformation,” he said. “In different degrees and with few exceptions even these communities always underline the decisiveness of the Eucharist as the key element in dialogue and in ecumenical practice.” But he insisted that the distribution of Holy Communion needed to be considered in light of “the inseparable connection between the Church and the Eucharist”.
However, in an intervention that surprised many observers, Haitian Coadjutor Bishop Pierre-Antoine Paulo of Port-de-Paix, said the Church should increase “intercommunion” and be less exclusive with the Eucharist. He called on the Church to give remarried Catholics Holy Communion in certain circumstances, just as the Church occasionally allows non-Catholics to receive the Sacrament under special conditions.
He also told reporters that if the Church proclaims that the Eucharist strengthens its own unity, it cannot ignore the possibility that sharing Holy Communion could assist Christian unity. “I would like to have an ecumenical celebration to show we are marching toward this unity,” he said, adding that the Sacrament “does not belong to anyone”.
On another point, Cardinal Scola addressed the issue of married priests. He defended the Church’s reluctance to allow married men into the priesthood, rejecting the argument that their ordination might counter the critical shortage of priests. “[The Church] is not a business which needs to be equipped with a determined quota of team managers,” he said.
He added, however, that the subject needed further study and invited all delegates at the conference to make suggestions as to how the lack of priests might be resolved. “In this area the path to be walked seems very long as yet,” he said.
Synod discussions will be based on guidelines laid out in Instrumentum Laboris, a working paper that consists of responses to a questionnaire on the Eucharist (the Lineamenta).
The document stresses the need to improve standards of liturgical worship. It highlights the “neglect by the celebrant and the ministers to use proper liturgical vestments and the participants’ lack of befitting dress for Mass; the use of profane music in Church; the tacit consent to eliminate certain liturgical gestures thought to be too traditional, such as genuflexion before the Blessed Sacrament; an inadequate catechesis for Communion in the hand and its improper distribution; a lack of reverence before, during and after the celebration of Holy Mass.” Some have criticised the paper’s emphasis on liturgical practice and catechesis. Fr Mark Francis, an American liturgist and Synod delegate, said: “[The text] almost suggests that if people have the proper doctrinal formation in their minds, everything will be OK, which is patently absurd.” The Instrumentum Laboris also raises the problems in balancing inculturation – allowing the different cultures within the global Church to shape Catholic worship – and the need for unity in the liturgy, which is intended to provide a common experience and vocabulary for Catholics across the world. The document says that the “legitimate demands of inculturation” must be accommodated “without detracting from the idea of universality”.
On Tuesday Archbishop William Levada, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, raised the issue of barring Catholic politicians who support abortion from Communion – a subject that prompted furious debate during the last American election after it emerged that Democrat candidate Senator John Kerry, a Catholic, was in favour of abortion. The Instrumentum Laboris says: “Some receive Communion while denying the teachings of the Church or publicly supporting immoral choices in life, such as abortion, without thinking that they are committing an act of grave personal dishonesty and causing scandal.
“Some Catholics do not understand why it might be a sin to support a political candidate who is openly in favour of abortion or other serious acts against life, justice and peace. Such attitudes lead to, among other things, a crisis in the meaning of belonging to the Church and in a clouding of the distinction between venial and mortal sin.” Continued on Page Two