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Synod Preliminaries

On July 8, the Vatican issued the working document (Instrumentum Laboris) which is a summary of responses from the world's Bishops meant to aid in the work of the Synod on theEucharist . It is not “the final word” on issues to be dealt with by the Synod as some recent media stories have implied.
Here is a link so you can read it yourself.

There are both discouraging and encouraging notes sounded by the working document.


1. It doesn’t address strategies for dealing with the worldwide priest shortage. Even though for the first time, the Vatican acknowledges a “fluctuation” (aka shortage) of priests, there is no mention of solutions such as ending mandatory celibacy or ordaining women deacons.

2. It laments the decline in Mass attendance at great length but makes no attempt to analyze why this might be. Some examples are too few priests, poorly prepared priests or (often) preaching and celebrations that do not touch people's lives.

3. It gives little attention to the reality of “God with us” ie: Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist as our loving brother and friend. Instead God’s awe-inducing sacredness, the transcendence of Eucharistic worship, “the inseparability of the Eucharist and morality,” and Christ's presence in the sacred species is elaborated upon at length. The end result is a document that appears to value cultic and moral purity over human presence, mercy and forgiveness.

4. It spends a lot of time dwelling on the perceived link between the sacrament of Penance and the Eucharist: “Certainly thought needs to be given to the great disproportion between the many who receive Holy Communion and the few who go to confession.” (p. 13) While acknowledging that only those in mortal sin must confess before receiving communion some Bishops seem to regard the divorced and remarried “who don’t know they’re in mortal sin” as mortal sinners. As any Catholic grade school student knows, if you don’t know it’s a mortal sin, it isn’t.

5. It gives little attention to the wide disparities between rich and poor Catholics in our world. When poverty is touched upon, only charity is recommended as a response, rather than social analysis and empowerment. The word justice appears very rarely and only at the very end of the document.

6. It would have benefited by inviting reflection from the lay faithful. It is also very hampered by language that excludes women. Unfortunately laity were not consulted and if any women religious raised questions about the language, these were not addressed.



1. It finally acknowledges the worldwide priest shortage. For the first time, statistics about declining priests compared to increasing numbers of Catholics are included. We should consider this a small victory because so many CTA and FutureChurch activists publicized the worldwide priest shortage that there is no longer any point in
trying to hide it. The document also acknowledges Communion services conducted by lay people in communities “awaiting a priest.”

2. The theological language is better than the original Lineamenta (outline). Specifically, there is frequent use of Vatican II phrases such as “People of God,” “Bishop of Rome” (for the Pope) etc.

3. The “celebratory banquet” aspects of Eucharist and the Eucharist as a memorial have been included, albeit minimally. The original Lineamenta made no mention of either. However, nearly all of the theological reflection is focused on the Eucharist as sacrifice/sacrificial meal.

4. Social justice issues are included, though more minimally than one would expect and for the first time ecologic concerns are included. The original Lineamenta did not address ecologic issues at all and paid very little attention to work for social justice.

5. The document nuances moral decisions about politicians and Eucharist. A direct quote: “Some Catholics do not understand why it might be a sin to support a political candidate who is openly in favor of abortion or other serious acts against life, justice and peace” (emphasis ours).

A final encouraging note is that Benedict XVI has built in more discussion time in response to complaints from Bishops that their was little time for exchange among them in previous synods. Individual speeches will be limited to six minutes each allowing more time for more wide ranging discussion and exchange at the end of each session.


How You Can Help

In September Catholic leaders in Spokane, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Erie, Pa will seek meetings with U.S. Bishop delegates to deliver nearly 30,000 petition signatures asking them to make sure the priest shortage gets on the agenda. Please support them!

Write or email our synod delegates. Assure them of your prayerful accompaniment during the time of the synod and ask

  • their support of petition requests
  • that we model our Eucharistic practice according to Jesus’ inclusive table- sharing as described in the Gospels, especially Jesus concern and welcome for the poor and marginalized.
  • that we emphasize all the ways Christ's Real Presence is with us in addition to the sacred elements.

Bishop William S. Skylstad, President of the USCCB, Diocese of Spokane, P.O. Box 1453 Spokane, WA 99210

Most Reverend Wilton D. Gregory, Archdiocese of Atlanta, 680 W. Peachtree Street N.W., Atlanta, GA 30308

Cardinal Justin F. Rigali, Archdiocese of Philadelphia, 222 North 17th Street, Philaelphia, PA 19103-1299

Bishop Donald W. Wuerl, Diocese of Pittsburgh, 111 Boulevard of the Allies, Pittsburgh, PA 15222; Secretariat for Ministerial Leadership

Bishop Donald W. Trautman, Diocese of Erie, P.O. Box 10397, Erie, PA 16514-0397

Summer 2005



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