European Bishops Endorse Encyclical "Ecclesia de Eucharistia"

Back Norms on Respect for the Blessed Sacrament

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BRUSSELS, Belgium, MAY 5, 2003 ( Church leaders in Europe are endorsing the norms designed to guarantee respect for the Eucharist, as spelled out by John Paul II in his latest encyclical.

Support for «Ecclesia de Eucharistia» has particularly come from Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Belgium, where debates regarding the Eucharist have been going on for decades.

On Holy Thursday, when the encyclical was being published in Rome, Cardinal Karl Lehmann, president of the German episcopal conference, said the document had been long-awaited by German Catholics to emphasize the unique relation between the Church and the Eucharist, and at the same time, to confirm the commitment to ecumenism.

«A text that at times is very personal,» the bishop of Mainz wrote, «in which the main topic» is treated with «meditative passages, allusions to the pastoral situation and theological considerations.»

«The text is primarily a statement addressed to the Catholic Church» in which the «Pope takes nothing away from the Catholic Church’s ecumenical commitment; what is more, he reinforces it,» Cardinal Lehmann said.

He also commented on the «clarity» of the encyclical, which avoids «harshness» while calling in a loud voice for «the Churches, but especially the Catholic, to be reinforced by respect and the solemnity of the Eucharist.» This can be achieved «when it is possible to avoid improper uses, ambiguities, and manipulations of this most lofty mystery,» the cardinal said.

Cardinal Lehmann was grateful for the publication of the encyclical on the eve of Berlin’s National Catholic Days, which will take place this month. For the first time the event will be open to other Christians with an ecumenical spirit.

The cardinal highlighted No. 30 of the papal document, which states that Catholics cannot go to communion in the ecclesial communities that emerged in the West from the 16th century onward. These communities are separated from the Catholic Church, as there is no communion of faith in sacramental matters.

However, the cardinal suggested that during the National Catholic Days an emphasis be placed on those elements that now unite Catholics and children of the Reformation. These include «common reading and knowledge of the Bible, witness to the Gospel in society and throughout the world, attention to the poor, the common new evangelization of Christians in Europe,» he said.

In a statement issued after the publication of the encyclical, the Dutch bishops’ conference described it as a «little catechism» of the Church’s doctrine on the Eucharist and said it would begin initiatives so that the text will be read by the greatest possible number of people.

The Dutch episcopate said it will be a source of inspiration to make the sacrament «the center of one’s life.»

The bishops acknowledged that some of the «shadows» the Pope refers to — abuses or lack of respect for the Eucharist — are present in the Netherlands. In this respect, they say the document should lead to reflection on «the place the Eucharist has in each one’s personal life of faith and in the liturgical practice of parishes.»

The Dutch episcopate also proposed new initiatives for eucharistic adoration as being important «to revitalize eucharistic devotion.»

Meanwhile, the Swiss episcopal conference described the encyclical as a «precious instrument» at times «with affectionate accents,» which offers «clear directives for an ecumenical dialogue in love and truth.»

It confirms the «central position of the Eucharist in the life» of Catholics, which implies a responsibility both «in daily life as well as in liturgical celebrations,» the Swiss prelates said in a statement.

The Swiss deny that the document is a «‘battle plan’ against abuses.» On the contrary, its personal style seeks to help Catholics give more profound witness of their faith, they say.

Cardinal Godfried Danneels, archbishop of Malines-Brussels, said in a statement that «Ecclesia de Eucharistia» presents the Blessed Sacrament as a sign of hope at this time of world concern.

«The Church and the Eucharist cannot be understood without one another,» the Belgian cardinal affirmed. The Eucharist is like a «diamond,» and because of this, there is a risk of being amazed by one facet, forgetting other angles that are equally brilliant, he said.

Cardinal Danneels called the Eucharist a treasure that «cannot be neglected, reduced or manipulated,» whose link with the Church «is manifested through the person of the ordained minister, bishop, or priest, who acts ‘in persona Christi'» (in the person of Christ).

Lastly, he underlined the Holy Father’s contribution in presenting a whole chapter dedicated to Mary, «living, conscious and loving tabernacle.» Therefore, he invites Belgian Catholics to welcome Mary and allow themselves to be led by her «toward a life illuminated by the Eucharist.»

«May the treasure be, precisely, a treasure, recognized as such, in the first place by Catholics, called to rediscover it and witness to it; then by all Christians, invited to accept it in its fullness,» the cardinal said. This is «the objective of the ‘exigencies’ and ‘rules’ of which John Paul II reminds us in the encyclical.»

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