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John Paul II sends mixed message on Eucharist
Juan Pablo II envia mensajes contradictorios sobre la Eucaristía

    (True charity does not condone contradictions, especially
in those who are loved very much)

On reading Pope John Paul II's latest encyclical on the Eucharist, one wonders what Roman theologian prepared, or actually wrote, the text.  The document contains many statements that reflect an outdated theology, a misunderstanding of scripture, pastoral contradictions, a view of ecumenism that is not received by many, and all expressed in an exclusive language not acceptable to many.  Here are some instances of problematic messages. 

The Pope begins: "This church draws her (sic) life from the Eucharist," and this truth is "a daily experience of Faith."  If this is true, then large sections of the Church, especially in Latin America and Africa, are dead or dying.  If "the Eucharist is the most precious possession which the Church can have in her (sic) journey through history," then why deny this "most precious possession" to millions because of theologically doubtful ideas on priestly ordination? 

The Pope recalls that he has always marked Holy Thursday as the day of his ordination to the priesthood.  But no theologian worth his salt would agree that the priesthood was "instituted" at the Last Supper.  (This false notion is perpetuated every year on Holy Thursday in cathedrals throughout the Catholic world, when great crowds of priests assemble to celebrate this pious fiction.) 

Talking of the early Church, the Pope quotes Acts 2:42: "They devoted themselves to the breaking of the bread," and says that this refers to the Eucharist. This view is no longer held by most scripture scholars.  

The Pope says that what happens at Mass "the Church is fittingly and properly been called transubstantiation" and that the priest "effects" the consecration.  Most theologians no longer use the term transubstantiation," in vogues since the Council of Trent in the 16th century.  It is also more accurate to say that the prayer of the whole church "effects" the change. 

Speaking of the materially poor of the world, John Paul says that "they appear to have little hope."  Indeed the poor Catholics of African and Latin American have little hope of gaining access to the sustaining spiritual food of the Eucharist because of the Pope's policies.  There is an Eucharistic famine in the Church. 

The Pope speaks of  "the uninterrupted sequence, from the very beginning, of valid episcopal ordinations." And that "the necessity of the ministerial priesthood is grounded in apostolic succession."  Most scholars say this is not true. 

"The Eucharistic assembly" says the Pope "absolutely requires the presence of an ordained priests as its president," and that "the community is incapable of providing an ordained minister."  This is not true.  In post-Apostolic times the head of the household (often a woman?) where the faithful gathered for the Eucharist was the presider. 

John Paul says that there has been "significant progress" in ecumenical dialogue with regard to the Eucharist.  Indeed that has been, as when Catholic, Lutheran and Episcopal theologians have agreed that there should be no problem with intercommunion among those three denominations.  The Pope disagrees. He says, "because of the lack of Sacred Orders, non-Roman Catholic communities have not preserved the genuine and total reality of the Eucharistic ministry."  This will be news to most theologians working on the field of ecumenism.      

According to the Pope, Catholics may not receive the Eucharist at non-Roman celebrations.  This teaching has not been received by the Catholic faithful.  The Church's teaching on Reception states, briefly, that if over a period of time the body of the faithful does not agree with (receive) a teaching of the Church, then the teaching may be regarded as inauthentic.  (ARCC's document on Reception is available at: http://www.arcc-catholic-rights.net/internal_forum.htm )

The Pope says that a Christian community without a priest over a period of time is in a "distressing and irregular situation." But he could change this "situation" with a stroke of the pen.  He charges pastors with the "duty" of seeing to it that it is practical and possible for all to fulfill the precept of participating in Mass on Sunday.  Apparently the Pope, by insisting on maintaining the current policy of mandatory celibacy, exempts himself from this "duty." 

John Paul repeats the prohibition by which Catholics in second marriages without an annulment may not receive the Eucharist.  Does he really believe that such Catholics, who are otherwise leading "good" lives, come under the Canon Law stricture; "those who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin" may not receive the Eucharist?  (See the website).  

He says that non-Catholic persons may be given the Eucharist "to meet a grave spiritual need with regard to their eternal salvation.  "When the Pope recently gave the Eucharist to the non-Catholic British Prim Minister, Tony Blair, we doubt whether Blair was in "grave spiritual need with regard to his eternal salvation." 

When the Catechism of the Catholic Church came out some years ago, an eminent American theologian lamented that it ignored 100 years of Biblical scholarship.  It is good for the Pope to remind us of the centrality of the Eucharist in our Catholic Faith, but his message is vitiated by his ignoring what Biblical scholars have had to say about the Bible and the Eucharist, the Bible and ordained priesthood, the Bible and Eucharist assembly. 

Fr. Patrick Connor, SVD, ARCC board member 

Originally published in July-August 2003 edition of ARCC Light, the newsletter of the Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church

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