The 50 final propositions summarising the viewpoints expressed during the three weeks of discussion among the 256 synod fathers and the Pope during the Synod on the Eucharist, which concluded on Sunday, 23 October, have been released in Italian, with only extracts in English available at the time of writing. These will provide the basis for an exhortation on the Eucharist to be written by Benedict XVI.
Some clues as to the Holy Father's likely approach in his exhortation could be inferred from the concluding Mass which he celebrated in St Peter's Square.
Benedict chanted the Mass in Latin, with the Gospel also chanted in Latin, but then also in Greek immediately afterwards by an Eastern-Rite deacon. The first two readings were proclaimed in modern languages, while the Pope delivered his homily in different languages.
The hymns were all performed according to the Church's great tradition, from Gregorian chant to ancient and modern polyphony. The only musical instrument used was the organ.
In previous synods, the final propositions were normally kept secret. But this time, the Pope wanted them made public immediately. The Vatican press office released an "unofficial" Italian version on the day the final vote was taken at the Synod hall, on Saturday, 22 October.
The first proposition asks Benedict XVI to issue a document "on the sublime mystery of the Eucharist in the life and mission of the Church", while proposition two affirms both the goodness "and the validity" of the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council "which still contain riches not fully explored."
Among other propositions is an affirmation of clerical celibacy along with a request that the reasons for the relationship between celibacy and priestly ordination be better explained to the faithful, in full respect for the traditions of the Eastern churches.
Likewise, the Church's position on Communion for the divorced and remarried is restated. These Catholics, said the Synod, "belong to the Church," which "welcomes them and follows them with special attention," encouraging them to participate in the Mass, though without receiving Communion.
If such Catholics cannot obtain an annulment, and "objective conditions" exist why their new marriage cannot be dissolved they are to be encouraged to live their new marriage "according to the exigencies of the law of God, transforming it into a loyal and trustworthy friend-ship." In other words, these couples should not consummate their relationships.
Further, blessing these relationships is to be avoided, the proposition says, "so that confusion does not arise among the faithful regarding the value of marriage."
Proposition 41, on "The Admission of Non-Catholic Faithful to Communion," affirms existing discipline barring general inter- communion.
It adds, however, that "it should be clarified that in view of personal salvation, the admission of non-Catholic Christians to the Eucharist, the Sacrament of Penance and the Anointing of the Sick in determined individual situations under precise conditions is possible, and even recommended." (My emphasis).
Proposition 46 concerns "The Eucharistic Coherence of Catholic Politicians and Legislators." It points out that "one's private opinion and public opinion cannot be separated, putting oneself in contrast with the law of God and the teaching of the Church, and this must also be considered with respect to the reality of the Eucharist (1 Corinthians 11:27- 29)."
In situations where Catholic politicians publicly support "iniquitous" laws, "bishops should exercise the virtues of firmness and prudence, taking account of concrete local situations."
Proposition seven, dealing with "The Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation," states that the Synod "vividly recommends" that bishops not permit collective absolution in their dioceses except in exceptional circumstances outlined in Church law.
Proposition 17 calls for the preparation of a "Compendium on the Eucharist," either by the Vatican or bishops' conferences, bringing together liturgical, doctrinal, catechetical and devotional materials on the Eucharist, along with patristic commentaries and material from both the Eastern and Western churches.
Proposition 19 suggests the preparation of a set of thematic homilies as an aid to priests, tied to both the Sunday readings and the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Sign of Peace
Proposition 23 warns that the way the Sign of Peace is currently offered sometimes goes on too long, or causes distractions prior to Communion, and hence suggests the possibility of putting it somewhere else in the Mass, "taking account of antique and venerable customs." This may be suggesting the possibility of moving the Sign of Peace to immediately after the Prayers of the Faithful, before the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
Proposition 32, on "The Eucharist Celebration in Small Groups," appears indirectly to be considering, among other things, the question of Masses for some of the newer church movements. It cautions that such groups "must serve to unify the parish community, not to divide it," and that as much as possible they must preserve "the unity of the family."
Proposition 36 suggests that in international celebrations the Mass be said in Latin, apart from the readings, the homily, and the Prayers of the Faithful, and that priests be trained from the seminary to use Latin prayers as well as Gregorian Chant. It also recommends that the faithful be educated to do so as well.
When taken in conjunction with current work on a revised English translation of the Missal, Benedict XVI's forthcoming exhortation should provide some interesting challenges for the bishops in Australia and other Western nations where Mass attendances are down and knowledge and understanding of the Eucharist less than satisfactory.