19 September 2014, The Tablet

The Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect, Cardinal Pell

by Fr Peter Day

I understand that in the lead up to next month’s Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family, you and a number of your confreres are re-asserting the Church’s longstanding exclusion of divorced and remarried people from Communion.

Your foreword to the soon to be published The Gospel of the Family (Professor Stephan Kampowski and Fr Juan Perez-Soba), appears to leave us with little doubt: outsiders are not welcome.

As you say, "The sooner the wounded, the lukewarm, and the outsiders realise that substantial doctrinal and pastoral changes are impossible, the more the hostile disappointment (which must follow the reassertion of doctrine) will be anticipated and dissipated."

Respectfully, I have a number of questions I’d like to thrash out with you, conscious, of course, that neither of us in our grappling can claim to really know the mind of Christ.

What did our Lord have in mind when he instituted the Eucharist with these self-emptying words, “This is my body … this is my blood”? Whose hunger was he responding to? Scripture records the Pharisees complaining that Jesus “welcomes sinners and eats with them”. He said “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. Go and learn the meaning of the words: ‘Mercy is what pleases me, not sacrifice.” I could go on.

If we believe Jesus – called a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of sinners by his enemies – is real and present in our Breaking of Bread, are we not also compelled to look beyond the in-crowd and welcome outsiders? Are we not compelled to take risks such as being pilloried for sharing our table with those we are not supposed to? I am concerned for those who are hungry for love and long to share even the crumbs from the table.

Cardinal, can any of us look our Lord and Master in the eye and say: “Yes, I am a follower; but you must understand there are rules …”?

If the Eucharist is an encounter with the real presence, rather than an institutional-cum-cultic sacrifice, then surely the Master’s interactions make it clear: hunger, not worthiness underpins Table Fellowship. To allow the law, cultic statutes, and theology to take precedence over mercy and love and encounter is tantamount to perpetuating the hardline rigour of those Pharisees who complained and moralised about so many things. Theirs tended towards a cold, superficial, Temple-based faith.

I do not presume to know the mind of Pope Francis but his musings on spiritual worldliness seem apt:

[There] are those who ultimately trust only in their own powers and feel superior to others because they observe certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style from the past. A supposed soundness of doctrine or discipline leads to a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism… (Evangelii Gaudium, 94)

In some people we see an ostentatious preoccupation for the liturgy, for doctrine and for the Church’s prestige, but without any concern that the Gospel have a real impact on God’s faithful people and the concrete needs of the present time. In this way, the life of the Church turns into a museum piece or something which is the property of a select few … The mark of Christ, incarnate, crucified and risen, is not present … (Evangelii Gaudium, 95)

It prompts the question: has a simple, inclusive and profound “family” meal been overwhelmed by an impersonal and, often times, sterile institutional sacrifice; one that tends towards mass exclusion?

Fr Peter Day, priest of Corpus Christi parish, Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn, Australia

Pell adds voice to growing opposition to Kasper’s efforts to relax Communion ban for remarried divorcees 17 September 2014
Kasper says Pope Francis would like to see an ‘opening’ on church teaching on divorced and remarried 18 September 2014

What do you think?


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User comments (6)

Comment by: Gerard
Posted: 23/09/2014 07:08:26

Listening to the recent declarations of Cardinal Pell, one cannot help notice the legalistic way in which he considers the question of divorced and remarried catholics who want to receive Holy Communion. He dismisses the issue saying that it is “impossible”, and he seems quite satisfied that a whole lot of believers live with the suffering of being rejected by the Church.
At the same time, speaking to the Royal Commission on Child Sexual Abuse in Melbourne, he dared say that the Church was no more responsible for priests’ crimes than any other organisation was for its employees. He completely overlooks the role that priests and bishops played in covering up for the numerous cases of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, which is more serious than divorcees who remarry, as those priests who sexually abused the people in their care, were allowed to celebrate mass and receive Holy Communion, which is in itself a sacrilege in which all those who covered up are as responsible as the abuser. Cardinal Pell dissociates himself from these crimes and instead goes on judging remarried divorcees. The Catholic Church is lucky to have a Pope who accepts responsibility for the Church’s sins and showed great humility in telling victims of priestly abuse that the Church would “weep” for its “grave sin” and must make amends for the suffering it has caused. Let us thank God to have given us Pope Francis instead of a George Pell.

Comment by: Frank Czistow
Posted: 21/09/2014 17:28:06

Bob Hayes might wish to define sin in the following scenario. A spouse deserts the family home and 2,3,4 children. The abandoned spouse struggles to hold the family together, providing a loving home and a moral upbringing. The deserter can remarry, have more children and lead some definition of a happy life. The innocent spouse who wishes to remain true to her or his Faith is denied any chance to rebuild her or his life, or else forgo receiving the Eucharist. Can anyone count this as sin? To deny an innocent person the chance of happiness in Communion with Our Lord seems a far greater sin. Our Lord called sinners. Why would he turn away victims?

Comment by: Margaret Callinan
Posted: 21/09/2014 11:08:59

In the Uniting Church in Australia (and perhaps elsewhere) the term “right relationships” is used. It's a helpful concept in determining the right and wrong way to treat others. Bob Hayes, you could say that “employers of sweatshop labour, corporate tax avoiders and abortion providers” are in wrong relationships. And so are some marriages that the Church would deem valid and therefore not qualify for annulment. I'm divorced but for a variety of reasons I haven't remarried. So I “qualify” to receive the Eucharist, right? But occasionally I envy the divorced who are in “right relationship” second marriages. In that envy am I “committing adultery in my heart” and so I don't “qualify” to receive the Eucharist after all? (Never mind that I rarely attend Catholic Mass these days, the only vote I get, with my feet, against the hierarchy which I do indeed find cold and Pharisaic.) Unless the Synod on the Family looks seriously at all the relationships that human beings find themselves in, and “really listens” to the voice of experience of those living in those relationships (marriage, divorce, divorce and remarriage, homosexual relationships, etc), then the Church is doomed to its slide into irrelevance. It will be a remnant for the perfect, not a place of nurture for the Gospel-believing imperfect.

Comment by: robinmolieres
Posted: 20/09/2014 22:14:14

By focussing on a single word, you seem to have lost perspective, Bob. There are other points more worthy of our attention in this generous post by Father Peter.

Comment by: Doug
Posted: 20/09/2014 02:05:11

I'm sorry Bob but I'm confused. I thought that the line "go and sin no more" came from an incident where Jesus intervened to prevent the punishment of a woman who committed adultery. I also seem to recall a similar incident where Jesus offered the water of eternal life to an unmarried woman who had lived with five different men who was isolated because she came from the wrong group. She was told that all she had to do was ask. Isn't coming to the Eucharist asking?

Comment by: Bob Hayes
Posted: 19/09/2014 16:54:41

It is regrettable that Fr Peter opts to use the word 'exclusion' for dramatic effect while sidestepping the subject of mortal sin.

Clearly, if we are to avoid 'exclusion' in such a context we open the way to countenancing sin, as to do otherwise amounts to 'exclusion'. Should employers of sweatshop labour, corporate tax avoiders and abortion providers have their mortal sins set aside in the name of 'inclusion'? It seems our Saviour's command to 'Go and sin no more' carries little weight in some quarters.

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