Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist: areas for remedial action identified

Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist: areas for remedial action identified

Peter Westmore

Among the many themes expressed at the recent Synod of Bishops in Rome - which was still underway at the time of writing - was the reintroduction of Eucharistic Adoration in parishes throughout the world, as an essential element in addressing the Church's contemporary challenges.

Many bishops, cardinals and lay leaders spoke bluntly about the major problems facing the Church today: the decline in the number of priests, declining Mass attendance, infrequent use of confession, and inadequate catechesis.

Cardinal Dias from India said that these problems had been with the Church for a long time. He suggested that the Synod should look at those who had overcome these difficulties, such as St Jean Vianney and Archbishop Fulton Sheen. "The secret of their resounding success was the many hours they spent in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament."

Cardinal Julian Herranz, the President of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, reported that many lay people complained about liturgical abuses, churches that are closed, and priests who do not hear confessions. "Since justice consists in giving each their rights," he said, bishops should guarantee a satisfactory response to justified complaints from the laity.

A bishop from Holland noted that Eucharistic Adoration outside the context of the Mass had virtually disappeared in his country, as it has in many other Western nations. "Eucharistic fasting, the solemn exposition of the most holy Sacrament, but also silent adoration in front of the tabernacle can be a great help," he said.

Cardinal Angelo Scola of Venice, recording secretary of the Synod of Bishops, said the Church must help Catholics understand Christ's presence in the Eucharist to increase their devotion, their participation at Mass and their commitment to charity and justice in the world.

The Synod, he added, was calling for a renewed effort to explain Christ's real presence in the Eucharist, to ensure reverence at Mass and to promote adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

A recurring theme of the Synod was the poor understanding which many priests have of the Church's teaching.

A Lutheran observer crystallised the problem, saying that bishops were out of touch with what was happening inside their own Church, where he said priests ignored a Vatican ban on sharing communion with Protestants.

Cardinal Pell in his address observed: "Many Synod Fathers have spoken of the difficulties experienced by the Church throughout the world. Some of these are caused by our own mistakes.

"The Second Vatican Council brought great blessings and substantial gains; for example, continuing missionary expansion and the new movements and communities. But it was also followed by confusion, some decline, especially in the West, and pockets of collapse. Good intentions are not enough.

"Two areas of decline in Oceania are the number of priestly vocations in Australia and New Zealand (but not everywhere in Oceania) and the confusion evident in the proliferation of Communion services.

"My recommendations to the Synod on how to deal with these 'shadows' presuppose the maintenance in the Latin Church of the ancient tradition and life-giving discipline of mandatory celibacy for the diocesan clergy as well as the religious orders.

"To loosen this tradition now would be a serious error, which would provoke confusion in the mission areas and would not strengthen spiritual vitality in the First World.

"It would be a departure from the practice of the Lord Himself, bring significant practical disadvantages to the work of the Church, e.g., financial, and weaken the sign value of the priesthood. It would weaken, too, the witness to loving sacrifice, and to the reality of the Last Things, and the rewards of Heaven.

"We should remember the situation of the Church 500 years ago just before the Reformation", when it was "a small weak community separated from the East.

"The enormous expansion since then and the purification of Church leadership (imperfect but substantial) were achieved primarily under grace, through the lives of celibate sisters, brothers and priests. The recent sexual scandals have not invalidated these gains.

"I request the Synod to draw up a further list of suggestions and criteria to regulate the celebration of Communion services, especially on Sundays." Communion services or liturgies of the Word, he emphasised, should not be substituted for Mass when priests are available.

Basic formation needed

Leonardo Casco, President of the Honduran Alliance for the Family, pointed out that "a huge number of Catholics in the world today have no exact knowledge of the doctrinal principles of the faith they profess, living what could be called (to use a fashionable term) 'light' Catholicism." It was therefore "indispensable, 40 years after the conclusion of the Vatican Council II, to find ... a formula giving the lay faithful basic doctrinal, ethical and moral formation."

He stressed that it was "equally necessary that bishops and priests should have no hesitation in joyfully proposing to the lay faithful a life of demanding and robust faith," saying that this would not only refer to "insisting on attendance at Sunday Mass, but also in recommending daily practices of piety, ranging from the offering of works in the morning, to praying the Angelus and the Holy Rosary, to - and why not? - daily Mass whenever possible."

Casco concluded: "On the basis of my personal experience, I can say that when these practices of piety are continually proposed and carried out, without respite and without fatigue, the fruits are harvested almost immediately, leading the lay faithful to live in an atmosphere of faith which improves them as much in their personal as in the supernatural lives."

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