|PASTORAL MESSAGE OF KANSAS BISHOPS ON SUNDAY COMMUNION WITHOUT MASS|
|Bishops of Kansas
Eucharist is a priceless gift, essential to our identity as Catholics and
central to our life as church.
Of all the gifts God has given to us, there is none so filled with grace as this one gift of the Eucharist celebrated at each holy Mass.
The Eucharist holds within itself the church's entire spiritual wealth: the fullness of Christ himself. The other sacraments, like every other ministry of the church and every other work of the apostolate, are irrevocably tied to the holy Eucharist and have it as their beginning and their end.
This clear and yet mysterious faith of the church in the Eucharist makes us all that we are and hope yet to be.
What, then, are we? What do we Catholics believe about this priceless, essential and central gift? What is the Eucharist for us?
We believe that the Eucharist is who is on the altar. But the Eucharist is also who is around the altar and beyond the altar.
We believe that the bread and wine, through the words of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, become Christ's body and blood.
We believe that the Lord, knowing his hour had come to leave this world, instituted the Eucharist as the memorial of his death and resurrection. We believe he commanded his apostles to celebrate it until his return, thereby constituting them as priests of the New Testament.
We believe that this awesome mystery stretches even to our place and our time when the priest takes bread in his hands, takes a cup of wine in his hands and says the words of consecration. We believe that, while the ordinary elements remain, an extraordinary difference has taken place through the invocation of the Holy Spirit. The ordinary elements of bread and wine have been totally and absolutely transformed into the very body and blood of Christ.
While the single voice of the priest proclaims the words of consecration, the whole Eucharistic prayer also has a larger meaning. It is the prayer of the whole assembly. It expresses praise, reconciliation, remembrance and intercession. It is the prayer through which the Holy Spirit transforms people as well as gifts.
The meaning of the Eucharistic prayer is even larger still. It reaches those who are beyond the altar by means of those who are around the altar. It gives rise to ecumenism, evangelization, missionary activity and stewardship.
The parish is the usual place where all the faithful gather for the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist. "The parish initiates the Christian people into the ordinary expression of the liturgical life: It gathers them together in this celebration; it teaches Christ's saving doctrine; it practices the charity of the Lord in good works and brotherly love."
"Participation in the communal celebration of the Sunday Eucharist is a testimony of belonging and being faithful to Christ and to his church. The faithful give witness by this to their communion in faith and charity. Together they testify to God's holiness and their hope of salvation. They strengthen one another under the guidance of the Holy Spirit."
The priest will always remain essential to the Eucharist, therefore, and will always be an important gift to the church. In our day many dioceses have begun to study the different look of this gift in the church. Conditions have changed, as is evidenced by the declining number of priests, as is evidenced by the growing and shifting of our populations. Many dioceses have given sustained thought to these changed conditions so that the celebration of the Sunday Eucharist may be made as widely available as possible.
These studies have resulted in more focused pastoral actions such as the following:
—Promotion and recruitment of vocations to the priesthood.
—Systematic development of stewardship.
—Continuing formation of lay ministers.
—Amalgamation of parishes.
—Reduction in Masses of convenience.
—Distribution of Holy Communion and the worship of the Eucharist outside Mass.
We, the bishops of Kansas, have come to judge that Holy Communion regularly received outside of Mass is a short-term solution that has all the makings of becoming a long-term problem. It has implications that are disturbing:
—A blurring of the difference between the celebration of the Eucharist and the reception of Communion.
—A blurring of the distinction between a priest and a deacon or a nonordained minister presiding over Communion service.
—A blurring of the relationship between pastoral and sacramental ministry.
—A blurring of the connection between the Eucharist and the works of charity and justice.
—A blurring of the need for priests and therefore a blurring of the continual need for vocations.
—A blurring of the linkage between the local church and the diocesan and universal church that is embodied in the person of the parish priest.
These implications give us pause in approving the distribution of Holy Communion outside Mass on Sundays. Such practice could well contribute to the erosion of our many-sided belief in the Eucharist. It is for this reason that we restrict such services to emergencies only. And by that, we mean unforeseen circumstances when a priest is not available. We recognize that this policy calls some of the faithful to sacrifices and hardships that match those of our ancestors in the faith.
Where great distances impose unreasonable sacrifices and hardships, an exception to this policy may be made by the local bishop. Such an exception is rooted in the universal law of the church.
"If because of lack of a sacred minister or for other grave cause participation in the celebration of the Eucharist is impossible, it is specially recommended that the faithful take part in the Liturgy of the Word if it is celebrated in the parish church or in another sacred place according to the prescriptions of the diocesan bishop, or engage in prayer for an appropriate amount of time personally or in a family or, as occasion offers, in groups of families."
In this context it may be helpful to recall the role of the priest beyond word and sacrament. The priest is not just a functionary who consecrates the Eucharist, pours water, anoints with oil or absolves the penitent, important as these functions are. He is not just a circuit rider who offers Mass and celebrates the sacraments.
He is also a builder of the communion of the faithful, a co-worker with the bishop in building up the diocesan church and a symbol of the universal church in the particular parish. He is not only one who sanctifies, he is also one who proclaims the Gospel. He is not only an administrator, he is also a shepherd who serves the cause of human dignity. He is none of these things alone, of course. Nor is he any of these first, of course. He comes to these, as we all come to these, by way of the family, and often by way of a parish family in which the seeds of his calling were first sown by a small band of laypersons or religious men and women.
To know the history of the faith in Kansas is to give thanks to God for the generosity of the priests, lay women and men, and dedicated religious of our dioceses. An awareness of this history gives us a profound appreciation for the working of the Holy Spirit, who inspires all the baptized to a more conscious placing of their gifts, talents and charisms at the service of their brothers and sisters. There is nothing better than a gift carefully acknowledged and freely given for others. The result is a source of untold blessings and an immeasurable enrichment for the church and for the entire human family.
We now call ourselves and all the faithful to preserve and to promote the prime place of the Sunday Eucharist in our lives as Catholics. We echo the Second Vatican Council in calling all Catholics to a full, active and conscious participation in the Eucharistic worship.
May the Lord who has begun this good work in us bring it to fulfillment, making us one body in the body of Christ.
Given on June 18, the solemnity of Corpus Christi, 1995.
1 <Catechism of the Catholic Church>, 2179.
2 <Ibid>, 2182.
3 Code of Canon Law, Canon 1248.2. Holy Communion may be given outside of Mass with the celebration of the Word (see Congregation for Divine Worship, "Holy Communion Outside of Mass," 16 (June 21, 1973) and "Directory for Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest" (June 2, 1988). The faithful should be instructed carefully that even when they receive Communion outside Mass, they are closely united with the sacrifice which perpetuates the sacrifice of the cross (see "Holy Communion Outside of Mass,"15).
Issued on June 18, 1995.
Archbishop James Kelcher of Kansas City
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