John Paul II’s lengthy encyclical letter on the Eucharist “does not reflect any listening by the pope,” sacramental theologian Bernard Cooke told ChurchWatch. “The Spirit of God is present to the faith community; the pope should listen to the Spirit but also listen to the people” [in whom the Spirit is alive!].
A prime example of not listening: the pope keeps emphasizing the exclusive role of the ordained priest presiding at Eucharist, but ignores the critical shortage of (male, celibate) priests. “And he is also worried about Bible services taking the place of the Mass,” said Cooke. “This is really a head-in-the-sand posture.”
Vatican statistics for 2001 report that of the world’s 218,000 parishes, nearly half (over 105,000) have no resident priest. Also in 2001, the world’s Catholics increased by 15 million while the number of priests continued to drop. Fr. Lou Trivison of Cleveland said, “Catholics in Central and South America are fortunate to have Mass once a year. They have one priest per 7000 Catholics, while in North America it is one priest per 1300.” He called the encyclical “far removed from the daily struggle of priests, pastoral ministers and bishops to provide even the minimal sacramental care Catholics need and deserve.” Catholic people throughout the world need not be starving for Eucharist if the Vatican would change its rules limiting ordained priesthood to celibate males.
What’s more, said Cooke, John Paul II in the encyclical continues to think it is the presider who does the Eucharist instead of seeing that it is the community that celebrates the ritual under the presidency of the presider. (This fits in with the pope’s oftentimes expressed teaching that it is the ordained, and not the baptized community, that acts in persona Christi.) The pope’s theology in this instance is antiquated.
The encyclical claims to be pastoral, but it is really more legal than pastoral in tone, Cooke declared. Most of the footnotes are not scripturally based; they are references from Canon Law or from the same pope’s earlier documents.