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...
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
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
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
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.
Fr Daniel Donovan is a lecturer in the School of Religious Education at the Strathfield campus of ACU National. He has a long history in the education of primary school teachers in Religious Education. He has given special attention to teaching beliefs and values courses, and to field supervision of students in practicum. Further details about his research interests and contact details can be found on the ACU National website at rel-ed.acu.edu.au/ren2/staff.html.
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©2007 Fr Daniel Donovan
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