Fr Daniel Donovan was recently interviewed on The Religion Report on ABC Radio National concerning the comments he first aired on Catholica over the Draft Pastoral Plan for the Archdiocese of Sydney. We invited him to provide us with a debrief following the interview. In overview his commentary ends up essentially being a critique of how and why our views on religious belief and how we practice them have changed in the last half century.
The changing nature of the Church...
The interview covered a range of issues from the recent statements of the Archbishop on stem cell research, the oath of fidelity for teachers to the general shape of the Archdiocese of Sydney today. Specifically, the electronic media such as the ABC, Catholica, Eureka Street and the secular print media are providing a forum in which the faithful can dialogue, express their opinions and be informed.
The Archdiocese of Sydney has had a proud reputation over the years since the days of the Freeman's Journal of fostering discussion and informing the faithful on matters of faith and morals. This tradition was continued in the final decades of last century in the catholic press, journals and quality bookshops around the various Archdioceses and dioceses of Australia.
With the event of cheap air travel in the 1960's, it became possible for many lecturers from Europe and America to come to Australia to conduct workshops and lecturer tours. As distance became relativised by air travel and communication became instantaneous through the electronic media, the Church underwent its own renewal during Vatican II. Catholic life was transformed through an empowering of the people by the Holy Spirit. Sacraments emerged from the shadow of moral theology and were presented as actions of the Christian community. Sunday Mass became a proclamation of the mystery of faith and a participation in paschal mystery (Directory of Masses for Children DMC #8). It was the celebration of the risen Jesus' victory over death, sin and evil and those who participated were transformed through the power of the Spirit to live the mystery which they celebrated and were sent forth from the assembly to be eucharist in the world.
The impact of Vatican II…
Indeed since Vatican II, the sacraments of initiation baptism/confirmation and eucharist have become the bedrock of religious education and ministry in the community. Parish renewal has been based on the teachings of Vatican II and generally there has developed among the people a "living faith" (DMC #55) which has been nourished by "an authentic, conscious and active" participation in the liturgy (DMC #12). In fact, the General Instruction on the Roman Missal (GIRM #5) states that the eucharist is an "ecclesial act" in which each person fulfils the ministry assigned to him or her and only that ministry. These ministries are "gifts of the Spirit" as Paul writes in 1 Cor 12:4-67:
There is a variety of gifts but always the same Spirit; there are all sorts of service to be done, but always the same Lord; working in all sorts of different ways in different people, it is the same God who is working in them. The particular way in which the Spirit is given to each person is for a good purpose.
Paul stresses that these divers gifts are to build up the Church for service. The author of the letter to the Ephesians agrees with Paul stating that the purpose of these various gifts is "...so that the saints together make a unity in the work of service, building up the body of Christ." In this way we are to come to unity in our faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God, until we become the full Man, fully mature with the fullness of Christ. Both Paul and the author of Ephesians agree that service is the mission of the Church to the world. This service draws its power from love (1 Cor 12:31-13:1-13).
During the interview with Stephen Crittenden at the ABC, it was clear that the program would be heard by many catholic (active and retired) around the State and Australia. It was interesting that The Religion Report was followed by a presentation on the Archdiocese's plans for the Corpus Christi procession on Sunday June 10. It would seem that this external devotion to the presence of Jesus in the consecrated elements of the eucharist is presented to the people as eucharistic participation. There is certainly no argument about the presence of Jesus under the consecrated elements and the organisers of the event consider it a success with a crowd of 10,000 attending. However the emphasis in such a procession is that the focus is not on the eucharist but on doctrine. Jesus is present under the forms of bread and wine and of course this raises the "how question." Jesus is present because the priest has the power to consecrate the bread and wine and no one denies that the priest does have the power to consecrate. Yet the eucharist is an "ecclesial action" it is not just the power of the priest, but the priest in assembly with the people. The eucharist is not simply an answer to the "how question" of Jesus' presence but the heart of the Christian life. Eucharist is that encounter of the assembly with the risen Jesus in the context of the community through the power of the Holy Spirit. People today believe that Jesus is present under the forms of bread and wine and they likewise accept the role of the priest. However the people are asking the "why question" that is the question of relevance. If through the eucharist, the community participates in the paschal mystery, Sunday after Sunday and it is empowered by the Spirit of the risen Jesus then the challenge is to re-cognise Jesus in the poor, the marginalised and the powerless (Mt 25:45).
Participating in "the dangerous memory" of Jesus…
Why then does the Church celebrate the eucharist? The answer is not about going to a procession, but to participate in "the dangerous memory" of Jesus who came to serve and to give his life for the many (Mk 10:45). It is not therefore an issue of knowledge ie how is Jesus present? Eucharist today is why is Jesus present? Today Jesus is present in the poor, the outcasts, the disenfranchised, the voiceless, those who experience injustice and social exploitation, eucharist requires that the community would recognise Jesus in these and each other (Introductory Rites of the Mass) and thereby respond to Jesus' command of service which is eucharist. Jesus gives himself fully body and soul "for us" the response to eucharist is to give ourselves "for others." Remember when receiving the host understand "The body of Christ" as a question. Through participation in the eucharist the community has been transformed into the body of Christ and you are now sent out to be Christ in the world (DMC #55). Are you the body of Christ? How will you be Christ's body in the world?
In the last four years, the Church in Sydney has gradually had its means of education handed over to the various movements in the Church. The Adult Education Centre at Lidcombe to Opus Dei. The Liturgical Centre at Lidcombe has been placed under the direction of an American who would be unlikely to know the history of the Australian Catholic Church and in particular the Church in Sydney. Recently, the educational program for schools, To Know Worship and Love has re-introduced a catechism/doctrinal approach to catechesis in the catholic and public school systems. The newsletter, Inform, which was designed to assist teachers in preparing lessons has been absorbed into the functions of the Adult Education Centre as has the Mustard Seed Bookshop at Lidcombe. The Catholic Weekly has long been abandoned by people in the parishes as simply a sounding board for the various groups and movements. Therefore as stated at the beginning, Catholica, ABC and the print media have become an essential to the Church's ongoing work of Adult education. Initiation into the Christian community places the responsibility on the community to provide ongoing formation and education in faith for its members. The leaders of the community must respond to the people who demand to be included in developing the agenda and shaping the vision of the Church as it moves further into the new millennium and reject a non consultative leadership. The "disconnect" between the people and the hierarchy is obvious in the visions of Mary and the report on people seeking a "miraculous oil" flowing from the wall of a house in a Sydney suburb. Historically this phenomenon has always been associated with the disconnect between the people and the leadership. The people tend to leave the Church and seek spiritual care and solace in other means. Others are turning to Buddhism for prayer, meditation and peace without guilt, shame or threats of excommunication.
Communication: a two-way street…
It is true that the Archbishop has the right to teach the people, it must be remembered that the community has a reciprocal right of reception. In the First Century of the Church, doctrines were accepted because of their inherent truth. Communities recognised their faith in the doctrine for example Churches believed in the Immaculate Conception of Mary and her Assumption before these doctrines were defined. By the Second Century, there was a shift in this process with greater emphasis placed on the authority of the person who proposed the doctrine. However there has always been the right of reception by the community in matters ranging from ordination to Church teachings. It is interesting that with Pope Benedict XVI recent statements on Limbo which was only a theological opinion to soften the rather harsh teaching of Augustine that any child who died before baptism went to hell. While Benedict was correct in debunking this opinion which has caused such sorrow and grief for couples he has failed to address the real problem which is the doctrine of original sin. Therefore if the unbaptised child will go to heaven then what is the status of original sin?
In the coming days, there will be an update of the material on the Draft
Pastoral Plan with a critique of the suggestions on Parish Renewal. The
parishes have not asked for a new version of the English Mass. Also the
costs which would be involved in reprinting the necessary Liturgical Books
is unjustifiable in a world which is racked by disease, war, famine, drought,
depression, etc. It is obscene that the Church would seriously consider
this outlay of money to achieve what end? It is yet another example of
the "disconnect" between the people and the leadership. Who
has been asked as to whether the people want a new translation of the
liturgy? Who has been consulted? Perhaps the people on the various commissions,
in the offices and committees were consulted? These people do not represent
me nor do they express my opinion. Do you know who they are? Do you they
represent your opinion? Perhaps when the leaders can get over the excitement
of the Big Day Out - sorry World Youth Day, they might answer these questions.
Yet by then the answers will be irrelevant because no one will be listening.
What are your thoughts on this commentary?
©2007 Fr Daniel Donovan