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Online Edition - June 2004

Vol. X No. 4

2005 Synod of Bishops - Lineamenta

ON THE EUCHARIST: SOURCE AND SUMMIT OF THE LIFE AND MISSION OF THE CHURCH

by Helen Hull Hitchcock

In early June, the Holy See made public the Lineamenta, or working outline, for the tenth world Synod of Bishops that will take place in October 2005.

The topic of the Synod is the Eucharist. The Lineamenta reviews essential teaching on the Eucharist, drawing on the encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, with liberal quotations of the early Church fathers and the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The Preface explains the reason for selecting the Eucharist as a topic for the Synod so soon after the encyclical. "The Church is undeniably experiencing a certain 'Eucharistic need' based ... on a Eucharistic practice which calls for a renewed attitude of love that is expressed in acts of faith [in Christ]".

The Preface also asks that "all in the Church" be invited to "enter into discussion". Questions for reflection are appended at the end of the document's seven chapters for this purpose. It seems likely that diocesan bishops will arrange means to receive people's responses by the end of this year.

One question in particular may spark discussion, especially in this election year, when some prominent Catholic office seekers openly reject Church teaching on abortion and other key moral issues but regularly receive Holy Communion -- a situation that has caused consternation among the bishops.

The Lineamenta's Question 18, "The Eucharist and the Moral Life", asks, "What do the faithful think about the relation between the reception of the Sacrament of the Eucharist and other aspects of the Christian life: personal sanctification, moral obligations, fraternal charity, the construction of an earthly society, etc.?"

Several bishops have issued statements in an attempt to clarify the vexed matter; however, their statements revealed a disparity of views and approaches, a disparity that was magnified by news stories that were too often inaccurate in conveying Church teaching or the bishop's actual position.

The "task force" of bishops charged with implementing the Holy See's 2002 Doctrinal Note on Catholic politicians and Communion may not have anticipated the intensity of controversy this topic would present. Originally set to present a plan at the November meeting (after the election), they scheduled a discussion at their Spring meeting in Denver this June.

The Lineamenta offers other clarifications. Chapter Four, "The Liturgy of the Eucharist", is a descriptive guide to the Mass. In this chapter's section on "Holy Communion", the document stresses that one does not take Communion, but receives it, "an act symbolizing the Sacrament's meaning: a Gift received with adoration". [§44]

Sections on "Preparation for Communion" [§41] and "Holy Communion" [§ 43] also strongly emphasize the necessary disposition of the communicant before receiving:

41. ... Grave sins required a canonical penance. The insistence by many Church Fathers on the necessity of a worthy reception of communion proves that the call for the forgiveness of sins, even in the epiclesis after the consecration, is not an invitation addressed to those guilty of grave sin to approach the Eucharist without the foreseen penitence. Even though a person can truly participate at Mass without receiving communion, the integrating but non essential part of the sacrifice, full participation in the Body of Christ should only be done by those who are properly disposed....

43. The Eucharist is the Sacrament for those who have been reconciled. The Lord offers it to those who have become one with Him. Therefore, from the very beginning, discernment precedes the Eucharist (cf. I Cor 11:27ff) under pain of sacrilege. The Didache takes up this apostolic tradition and speaks the following words to the priest, before he distributes the Sacrament: "If one is holy, come; if one is not, repent."

In its concluding paragraph, the Lineamenta explicitly connects the way we celebrate the Eucharistic Liturgy with belief and action integrated for the Church's mission in the world:

73. Faith finds its strength and dynamism in the Sacrament of the Real Presence, because truly the lex orandi remains linked to the lex credendi which, in turn, is translated into the lex agendi of the Church's life and mission. The Eucharist, then, has also a personal dynamism: it is the gift to celebrate, bringing a deeper knowledge of the mystery of salvation, accomplishing communion, leading to adoration, and finally affecting the Church's life through mission and pastoral ministry, all the while fostering charity inside and outside the Church.

By its nature, the Eucharist is inseparably bound to the Church's marks of unity, holiness, apostolicity and catholicity, professed in the Creed. Thus, the life and mission of Christian communities in the world conserve their proper ecclesial character, when they guard it and foster the entire richness of those gifts. The topic of the Synod indicates that the Church lives through the Eucharist, in that she receives from the Eucharist as from a font the divine life which comes from above, and in her mission tends toward it as the summit of her mystery of communion: "The Eucharist thus appears as both the source and the summit of all evangelization, since its goal is the communion of mankind with Christ and in Him with the Father and the Holy Spirit".

The Preface and the Questions appear below. The General Secretariat of the Synod asks that responses to the questions be sent to its office before December 31, 2004, so that they will be considered in preparing the final document that the bishops of the world will examine when the Synod meets in Rome, October 2-29, 2005.

Go to Lineamenta

The Lineamenta is accessible in several languages on the Vatican web site: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/synod

***

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