FR JOHN McKINNON…
We have received a greater amount of private email feedback than uusal as a result of a number of recent commentaries published on Catholica recently, including Fr Kevin Murphy's commentary last Sunday on "Tridentine Spirituality" vs "Vatican II Spirituality". One of the responses during the week came from Fr John McKinnon who is now parish priest at Horsham in Victoria. He referred me to a lengthy (4000+ word) commentary he'd published in 2001 on the www.auspriest.org website which explored some of the issues we've been exploring in-depth about the challenges facing the Church in Australia. While his full commentary is worth reading by those with an interest in exploring the the leadership of local communities as the supply of priests dwindles we have taken the liberty of extracting here today just a small section of what he had to write. It is basically a reflection on what it means to be a "Eucharistic Community" in the context of the thinking, or spirituality, that was encouraged by the Second Vatican Council and in the context of dwindling priest numbers. He argues lay communities need to take greater ownership of their liturgies.
What really matters?
The Second Vatican Council made the point that "…the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; it is also the source from which all its power flows" (S.C., para.10). Consistently it later affirmed that "full and active participation (in the Liturgy) by all the people is the paramount concern; for it is the primary, indeed the indispensable source from which the faithful are to derive the true Christian spirit" (S.C., para 14). Those coming from an Irish tradition will have heard the comment: "It's the Mass that matters". It has been said that the Eucharist gives us our identity as Catholics. An unnuanced reading can mistakenly give the feeling that people have an undisputed right to the Eucharist.
Vital faith communities have lived without Eucharist for long periods…
It is important not to absolutise this consideration. Vital faith communities have lived without Eucharist for long periods and still do in many places, particularly in mission countries. It is not an ideal situation but it remains a fact. If active participation in the liturgy is the "primary, indeed the indispensable" source of the true Christian spirit, the fact that it is "primary" implies clearly that it is not the only source; but in calling it "indispensable" that means we need to look at what it is referring to quite seriously.
The Council is talking about liturgy. This is a broader concept than Eucharist, though Eucharist is obviously its climax. However, the Council had earlier stated that Christ: "… is present in his word since it is he himself who speaks when the holy scriptures are read in church. … he is present when the church prays and sings, for he has promised 'where two or three are gathered together in my name there am I in the midst of them' (Mt 18:20)" (S.C. para.7). In the context cited, the Council was not referring to Liturgies of the Word, but to the word as it is proclaimed in the Mass. The more does not exclude the less.
Not every participation in Eucharist nourishes the true Christian spirit…
It is also true that not every participation in Eucharist nourishes the true Christian spirit. Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth, who were not sensitive to each others' needs, that their celebrations of Eucharist were not really Eucharists at all, and in fact were lethal in their effects, precisely because of their insensitivity to each other. (I Cor.11:17-32)
"Full and active" participation would seem to be the crucial qualifier. In fact, the better translation of the Latin word used by the Council is not so much "active" as "effective" or "vital". After Vatican II "active" was sometimes understood as referring simply to the exercise of different ministries or even the external dialogue with the priest or the occasional changing of posture. The real meaning was more extensive, and pre-supposed among other things a willing acceptance of the meaning of the Eucharist:
On the need for a community to accept ownership of its liturgies…
Authentic Eucharist is the liturgical expression and celebration of a life of active pastoral caring and participation.
It would seem to me that a local Catholic community that is unwilling to take responsibility for its own pastoral care, or that is not interested in the sharing in faith and trust that happen in gatherings for Liturgies of the Word at times when there is no Eucharist, loses whatever claim it might otherwise have to Eucharist in a time of scarce resources.
People may love the Mass but, if they are not prepared to move beyond a quite passive participation in it, it is hard to see that it could mean little more to them than a pious private devotion, the fulfilling of an obligation or a congenial habit developed over the years. When it comes to deciding preferences, it would be better to provide Eucharist for a community that accepts ownership of its own pastoral life and that gathers regularly to celebrate Liturgies of the Word than for a community that is not prepared to service its own needs to any reasonable extent.
LINK TO ORIGINAL ARTICLE: The foregoing should also be read within the full context of the original article it has been extracted from. The original lengthy essay was published under the title "Re-structuring: Looking at some of the Issues" and can be found at: www.auspriest.org/past3_restructuring.htm.
We welcome your thoughts in response to Fr John's commentary in our forum.
©2007 John McKinnon