Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference

Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference

Michael Gilchrist

Pope John Paul II's latest Holy Thursday Letter to Priests (see page 7) sets out aspects of the priesthood and Eucharist which he sees as most in need of re-emphasis.

"The sacrificial aspect is a profound mark of the Eucharist," and "an essential dimension .. of our own priesthood," the Holy Father points out. The ordained priesthood is different "in essence" from the priesthood of all baptised and, while Christ is present in different senses in the Scriptures and in gatherings of believers, the Eucharistic presence is "supreme." Furthermore, the Eucharistic sacrifice is pivotal to all other priestly responsibilities.

This teaching is a necessary corrective to the view that a priest merely presides at the Eucharist - in a congregational sense - and the Eucharist is just a symbol of communal "togetherness" rather than the Real Presence of the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

Commenting on the lack of Eucharistic orthodoxy among student teachers at Australian Catholic University (see page 3), Professor Denis McLaughlin quotes from Bernard Cooke's The Future of the Eucharist (1997) that "over the past twenty-five years Catholic theology concerning the Eucharist has offered challenging insights that are very different from previous formulations."

Those possessing such "challenging insights" regard the fall in priestly numbers as the work of the Holy Spirit and a window of opportunity for setting up more lay-led communion services. They also dismiss any suggestion of orthodox reforms to seminary programs, of any review of vocations promotion, or of accepting priests from overseas or from other dioceses to make up shortfalls.

The Holy Father's reference to the all-importance of Eucharistic adoration connects with the undeniable fact that dioceses where this is encouraged and widely implemented experience more priestly vocations - not to mention increasing practice of the Faith on the part of Catholics as a whole.

Michael Gilchrist: Editor (E-mail -

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