Read Bishop Bill's March column in his Writings section of this website, which inspired Michael Belcher to write to Aurora.
When I read Bishop Bill’s comment in the last Aurora on whether it matters who is named Pope, as the incumbent in many ways has no real effect on the lives of ordinary Catholics, I almost choked on my cornflakes. I suppose, like many things in theology and especially ecclesiology, it’s a matter of semantics – but forgive me if I profoundly disagree.
I may be misrepresenting the Bishop but I believe he was saying that our faith is essentially a personal relationship between ourselves and our God, lived out in a like-minded and hopefully supportive community. The Pope needn’t come between the two but the trouble is, the Church he leads is that community and the role of the institutional Church is to facilitate that personal relationship.
If you look at what is required to maintain a relationship, the Church provides it all: talking (prayer); sharing meals (eucharist); sharing life events (births/baptism); coming of age (confirmation); marriage, death, and the healing of broken relationships (penance). The problem, as I see it, is encapsulated in that old saying: “The Spirit moves in wonderful ways through the Church but as often despite it.” I am not talking faith and morals here, merely the disciplines imposed on people by the institutional Church. Unfortunately, often the disciplines are cloaked in a mantra of faith and morals that does not stand close scrutiny.
To imply that the Pope, or more often the Papally-sanctioned Curia, does not directly impact the relationship between me and my God simplifies the way the institutional Church operates. Doesn’t the denial of the Third Rite of Reconciliation impact on people’s relationship with God? Didn’t the removal of Bishop Bill Morris in Toowoomba have an effect on parishioners’ relationships with their God and their Church? One can hardly deny the devastating impact that Humanae Vitae had on people’s relationship with their God and the Church. The insistence on the disciplines of masculinity and celibacy imposed on our priests again directly affects our relationships with our God because of the lack of pastoral leadership and care.
But let’s get close and personal. I am a coeliac, which means that I cannot eat any wheat or other gluten-bearing products without major health consequences. I was first diagnosed back in the mid 1980s when I was working for the Diocesan Pastoral Support Unit. I investigated and found that rice-based gluten free hosts were available so the DPSU bulk purchased and then provided them to those afflicted in smaller lots. At Mass, with the co-operation of the presider, I would put my host in a pyx and take it to the altar to be consecrated with the others and I would receive communion with everyone else. But then the Pope, or the Curia, decided that was not good enough. The hosts had to be made of wheat. So they devised a low gluten host (it is marketed as gluten free but is not!) and decreed that they alone are to be used. This is despite the fact that some people have a severe allergic reaction to even the slightest trace of gluten while others, like myself, are lucky to get away with just a couple of days of upset stomach.
So let’s examine the logic of this decision. Note that the words of the consecration say “bread” not “wheaten bread”. Does this mean that “bread” is only “bread” when it is “wheaten”? If so then the rice bread in Asia, the corn bread in the Americas and the acacia damper of our Aboriginals, to name just a few, are not fair dinkum and these people have been living under a delusion for millennia. As well, the “bread” of the original eucharist was the bitter Jewish unleavened flattened bread of the Passover and bears no resemblance to the bleached, tasteless, polystyrene wafer of today. How anyone could classify that wafer as “bread” is beyond me. Clearly then, the emphasis in their minds has shifted from “bread” to “wheat” for which there are only cultural rather than theological justifications.
So what do I have to do? Well, I just forget about receiving the host and receive the precious Blood alone. Some people, however, even reject that because it has been tainted with the fragment of the host during the “Intermingling”. Many coeliacs I know still go to Mass but don’t receive communion – an appalling situation. If communion is not offered under both species (and this is frequent outside my parish) then I am caught on the horns of a dilemma. If I feel okay, I risk the host. If I don’t feel okay, I give it a miss.
Can somebody explain to me how, when I miss the most vital part of the Mass (its raison d’être), this arbitrary, disciplinary decision of the Pope does not interfere with my relationship with my God?
Another example is the new translation of the text of the Mass, something that directly resulted from Pope Benedict’s intervention. There are numerous examples that make my blood boil (simple grammatical errors like singular subjects and plural verbs in Offertory Prayers which repeat the mistakes in the Latin, to the most profound, like the implicit rejection of the universality of Christ’s redemptive act in the Consecration). But the one that gets me more than anything is the reintroduction of “soul” or “spirit” rather than “you” or “I”. I have spent my whole life explaining to people that God cares about them, that they will live eternally – not just their souls. You aren’t your body, you aren’t your soul – you are you. My wife has spent her career teaching health professionals that they have to take a holistic approach to human beings – not just treat the body but the whole person.
So what do we get in the new translation? A reversion to an emphasis on the “soul” or “spirit” with all the overtones of Manichaeism and Jansenism. Just because it is in the Latin is no good reason – our understanding of humanity and our theology have progressed somewhat in the last 500 years and one would hope that this would be reflected in the translation.
People say that I should just roll with the punches but I can’t, so now every time I go to Mass I continue to say the old response at the offending sections, which puts me at odds with the community. On both levels this further erodes the relationships the Mass is supposed to be facilitating between myself, the community and God.
I pray to God that this new Pope, and the signs are that he is more community and pastorally oriented than the norm, will revisit some of these decisions. My hope is that he will make clear distinctions between what are essential for faith and morals and what are peripheral disciplines that can be best left, under the principle of subsidiarity, to local ordinaries (Bishops). I am more confident I can bend Bishop Bill’s arm than the Pope’s.
You can read Bishop Bill's acknowledgement of Michael's letter in his April column.