Staying the Course

Oct. 27-Nov. 2, 2005
VOL 124 NO. 37
Staying the Course
By Catholic News Service
SUN photo(s) CNS
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — In a final list of propositions, the Synod of Bishops acknowledged a priest shortage but said eliminating priestly celibacy and ordaining married men were not the solution.

The 50 propositions, approved Oct. 22, upheld current church rules on celibacy, shared Communion, and divorced and remarried Catholics.

The propositions emphasized that while the Eucharist is the center of Christian life not everyone has an automatic right to receive it at all times.

To promote better Mass attendance, the bishops recommended better liturgies, strong preaching and improved education for Catholics to understand the Eucharist.

The synod voted on the propositions after minor amendments were made to an earlier draft version of the proposals. Written in Latin, they were given to Pope Benedict XVI for his use in a possible future document.

In an unusual move, the pope ordered that an Italian translation of the propositions be made public immediately. Even before his decision was announced, several news outlets, including Catholic News Service, had obtained copies of the text.

The issue of ordaining married men of proven virtue, or “viri probati,” was raised by several bishops who cited the shortage of priests that afflicts many parts of the world.

Proposition 11 said the lack of priests was a cause of “acute pain,” but added: “In this context, the synod fathers affirmed the importance of the inestimable gift of ecclesiastical celibacy in the practice of the Latin Church.”

“Some participants made reference to ‘viri probati,’ but in the end the small discussion groups evaluated this hypothesis as a road not to follow,” it said. The propositions called for new efforts at fostering vocations. They said pastors should not be afraid to propose the priesthood as a radical way of following Christ. They encouraged prayers and eucharistic adoration celebrations for the intent of priestly vocations.

They also called for a more equitable distribution of priests and for a willingness among priests themselves to serve where they are most needed.

The propositions contained proposals on several other topics of interest during the Oct. 2-23 synod on the Eucharist:

— Proposition 40 said Catholics who have divorced and civilly remarried without an annulment “cannot be admitted to holy Communion” because they are in clear contrast with church teaching on marriage. At the same time, it said such Catholics should be welcomed at Mass and at other activities of the church community. —

It repeated the church’s teaching that divorced Catholics who do not obtain an annulment of the previous marriage should be encouraged to live their new union as a “friendship” instead of as a conjugal relationship. It also suggested that some margin of flexibility might be found in further study of church law on the conditions for annulments.

— Proposition 46 said there is no “eucharistic coherence” when Catholic politicians promote laws that go against human good, justice and natural law. It indicated pastoral flexibility in determining whether specific politicians should receive Communion, saying bishops should “exercise the virtues of fortitude and prudence” and take into account local circumstances. —

— Proposition 41 reiterated church teaching that shared Communion with non-Catholic Christians “is generally not possible.” An “ecumenical concelebration” of the Eucharist would be even more objectionable, it said. At the same time, it said exceptions that would allow for shared Communion when “precise conditions” are present should be respected.

— Regarding Sunday Liturgies of the Word when no priest is present, Proposition 10 said it was up to bishops’ conferences to set policies on distribution of Communion and to make them clear to the faithful. The final version of the proposition dropped an earlier request that the Vatican consider preparing a new document spelling out universal rules on such liturgies. Significantly placed near the top of the synod’s recommendations was a strong endorsement of the Second Vatican Council. Proposition 2 said the changes introduced by Vatican II had greatly benefited the church. It said liturgical abuses had occurred in the past, but said they had diminished substantially in recent times.

Weighing in on the synod’s debate over whether the Eucharist should be seen as a gift or a right, Proposition 4 said both elements came into play. It said the Eucharist is a gift from God, but it also said the Catholic faithful generally have a right to receive the sacraments and that pastors have a duty to “make every effort” to provide access to the Eucharist.

Proposition 35, however, said reception of Communion should never be seen as automatic. Non-Catholics attending Mass should be told “delicately but clearly” that their nonparticipation in Communion does not signify a lack of respect for them; Catholics should be reminded of the need to be in a state of grace before receiving Communion.

“No one should be afraid of causing a negative impression by not coming forward for Communion,” it said.

Proposition 19 took up a point strongly made by more than one U.S. participant, on the need for vibrant, inspiring preachers. To favor homilies that correspond thematically to teachings of the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” and other doctrinal sources, it proposed the preparation of a pastoral resource that connects Sunday readings with doctrinal themes.

Proposition 6 cited a promising trend toward renewed interest in eucharistic adoration and encouraged pastors to keep local churches open, as far as possible, to favor the practice. At the same time, it emphasized that eucharistic adoration springs from the Mass and should not be seen in isolation.

Proposition 30 said pastors need to reaffirm the importance of Sunday Mass. To promote respect for Sunday, it suggested that local churches also organize Sunday social gatherings, religious education encounters and pilgrimages. Two propositions thanked the world’s priests for their selfless service, often given with great sacrifice and personal risk.

Other propositions briefly treated several liturgical and sacramental issues:

– Proposition 13 said the links among baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist are not adequately understood and that the right age for confirmation should perhaps be reconsidered. It asked whether, in the Western church, the sequence of baptism, confirmation and first Communion, which is used for adults, should not also be used for children, as is the practice in Eastern churches.

— Proposition 23 questioned whether the sign of peace might be better placed elsewhere in the Mass, with some bishops suggesting the end of the prayer of the faithful. A line about priests not leaving the altar area during the sign of peace was dropped in the proposition’s final version.

— Proposition 25 called for the preservation of the dignity and sacred character of liturgical celebrations, specifically warning against the introduction of nonliturgical texts. The first draft of the proposition had asked the Vatican to prepare a practical instruction for priests on how to celebrate the Mass; that was dropped in the final version.

— Various other propositions suggested the continued use of Latin in liturgies with international participants; asked for study of the practice of concelebrating huge Masses; highlighted the importance of genuflection or other gestures of adoration before the consecrated host; and said the church tabernacle should be in a place that is “noble, esteemed, well-visible” and adapted to prayer. —

The propositions made no mention of granting wider latitude for celebrating the pre-Vatican II Tridentine Mass, reflecting a general lack of discussion on the issue during synod assemblies.

One proposition, titled “The Eucharist and Polygamy,” said the church’s teaching on marriage requires that those entering the church break off polygamous relationships before receiving the sacraments. It said the church recognizes that this process may take time and requires a combination of “tenderness and firmness” on the part of pastors.

The propositions underlined the Eucharist’s connection with social justice issues and even with ecological concerns. They said eucharistic celebrations can have prophetic power in places of conflict and war.

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