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Catholic World News News Feature

Analysis: Main themes for October Synod July 09, 2005

The working document for the October meeting of the Synod of Bishops shows that discussions, which will focus on the Eucharist, will also include topics such as secularization in the Western world, the loss of a notion of the sacred, the importance of Sunday Mass, ecumenism and intercommunion, and the problem of liturgical abuse.

The instrumentum laboris -- the working document on which the Synod discussions will be based-- was introduced to the media at a July 7 press conference in Rome. Archbishop Nikola Eterovic and Msgr. Fortunato Frezza, the secretary general and under-secretary, respectively, of the Synod of Bishops, briefed reporters on the document.

The 11th session of the Synod of Bishops will meet in Rome from October 2 to 23. The theme for the Synod discussion is: "The Eucharist: Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church." The full text of the instrumentum laboris is available on the Vatican web site, although the English-language translation has been delayed. The French version of the text runs to 89 pages.

The working document is divided into four sections, of two chapters apiece, and a conclusion. The main sections focus on: the Eucharist in today's world, the teachings of the Church, the Eucharist in the life of the Church, and the Eucharist in the mission of the Church. The instrumentum laboris was prepared in the basis of suggestions from the world's Episcopal conferences, the Eastern Catholic churches, leaders of religious communities, and Vatican officials. The document is now being circulated so that the 250 prelates taking part in the October discussions can be fully prepared. The instrument laboris is available in English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Polish, and Portugese as well as Latin.

After offering some statistical information about the practice of the faith in the Catholic world (see today's separate CWN story), the document calls attention to the tensions in today's world, and the "strong contrasting forces within the human family." The Synod discussions will take place against a background marked by violence, terrorism, warfare, and injustice, as well as epidemics such as AIDS that ravage the world's poor, the document notes.

The instrumentum laboris calls attention to the advance of secularization and the "weakening of the sense of mystery" in developed countries, adding that these trends have encouraged "interpretations and acts that do not conform to the sense of the liturgical reform" begun by Vatican II. The document also notes the severe decline in practice among Catholics in Europe and North America. In a reference to a topic that has become a focal point for debate in the US, the Vatican notes with concern that many Catholics continue to receive Communion despite being in flagrant conflict with the Church on issues such as abortion, homosexuality, and euthanasia; the document also notes that few Catholics use the sacrament of Penance prior to receiving the Eucharist.

The document does not give a detailed exposition of Church teaching on the Eucharist, but observes that these teachings are interpreted differently in different cultures. Today, the Synod paper observes, in the Western world "many perceive the Eucharistic mystery as simply the fulfillment of a Sunday obligation and a meal of fellowship." In countries troubled by war and poverty, on the other hand, the faithful tend to "understand the Eucharistic mystery more fully, that is, including its sacrificial aspect."

The instrumentum laboris insists that the faithful should appreciate the full meaning of the Eucharist, and that the celebration of the Mass must ensure proper reverence. The document decries the use of unauthorized liturgical texts and vestments, inappropriate music, and uninspired church architecture. While saying that these problems arise "more often in the Latin liturgy than the liturgies of the Eastern churches," the document adds that they "should not lead to great alarm, since they seem to be limited."

On several occasions the instrumentum laboris notes with alarm the decline in regular attendance at Sunday Mass. The Catholic faithful have a grave obligation to attend Mass each Sunday, and should participate actively, the document repeats. Better catechesis and greater pastoral energy are needed to encourage regular attendance, the document says. It also calls for consideration of different means of promoting reverence for the Eucharist, including the installation of kneelers where they are lacking, the promotion of Gregorian chant, and the encouragment of popular forms of Eucharistic piety.

The Church's laws must be observed regarding intercommunion with the faithful of other Christian denominations, the instrumentum laboris says. But the document reveals that many bishops, in their responses to an earlier draft, suggested some means of recognizing non-Catholics and even non-Christians at the time of Communion.

The Eucharist is the source of strength for the Church's missionary work, the document observes in the final section. Nourished by the Eucharist, the faithful should pursue their evangelical work with renewed vigor, and fulfill their duty to proclaim the Gospel and to promote the dignity of human life.

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