On this day, my dear Friends, with our Holy Mother Church we commemorate the Last Supper at which Our Lord instituted the Most Holy Eucharist, the Sacrament of His Body and Blood, offered up by the ministry of priests as the renewal and the eternal making present of the Sacrifice of Calvary. The Mass is offered to Almighty God as a sacrifice of praise, thanksgiving, petition and satisfaction for sins. The Holy Eucharist, the Body of Christ, is also foundational of the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, for the Eucharist both symbolises and realises the unity of Church in one faith, one worship and one moral life. This celebration is therefore an opportunity to reflect upon the Church.
A few days ago the Archbishop of Hobart made public some rather sharp criticism of the working document for the Second Session of the Australian Plenary Council. Among other things he writes: “… one senses that the salt has lost its flavour and, as the Lord warned, will be trampled underfoot by men. There is no sense in the document of the Catholic Church in Australia being prepared to be a prophetic voice speaking truth with love within the culture, to challenge the prevailing ethos. Have we become afraid to speak out what we believe? When the prophet Jeremiah was called, the Lord told him to speak what he was commanded to speak and the Lord warned him, ‘Do not be dismayed in their presence or in their presence I will make you dismayed’. (Jer 1:17) If we shrink from our prophetic task we will become caught in a spiritual paralysis.”
Strong words indeed, from a man known for his moderation and gentleness. One might be tempted to think that he is a being excessive. And yet, one of the most alarming passages of the critique laments that the Church in Australia “does not seem to believe that it alone can offer the transcendent truth and the way to salvation. It lacks a call to personal conversion”. Many Catholics today in Australia would interject: “Well of course we are not the only ones to offer the transcendent truth, for there are many ways to God and to salvation. What’s this idea about being exclusive?” Which leads to another remark that the Archbishop made when he writes that, “It (the working document) uncritically adopts the language of the day, like its repeated declaration that we are an ‘inclusive Church’ ”. I would suggest that we are here at the very heart of the grave crisis the Church finds herself in, not only here in Australia, but around the world. And it is closely linked with the mystery of Holy Thursday.
We just heard indeed St Paul tell the Corinthians about the night the Lord bade farewell to His apostles and instituted the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist (1 Cor 11). The apostle takes advantage of this reminder to point out to the Corinthians a number of things that are not right in their Eucharistic gatherings (passage omitted from the new lectionary). Among them, he cites people who bring their own food to eat during the celebration, while others are left to go hungry, and he points out that there should be no schism among the faithful. Furthermore, and more importantly, he challenges them to make sure that when they approach the altar to receive the Sacrament, they make sure to “discern the Body of the Lord”, for if they do not, they will be guilty of profaning that same Body.
What is this profaning, for lack of discerning the Body? It essentially refers to two manners in which one can sin against the Blessed Sacrament. The first is to approach without sharing the faith of the Church in its fullness, picking and choosing what one agrees with, something like choosing from a menu at a restaurant. Such an attitude is grave affront to the Church and to Christ. The Eucharist being the sacrament of unity, to approach it while being divided from the Church in one’s beliefs is to profane the very sacrament that creates Church unity. The second is to approach Holy Communion without living a morally upright life, that is to say, in a state of mortal sin, any mortal sin. To receive the Lord in such a state is essentially to hand Him over to His enemies, to play the traitor Judas all over again and sell the Lord for a few miserable pieces of silver or a few minutes of vile pleasure.
Returning to the working document of the Plenary Council and Archbishop Julian’s very pertinent remarks, it seems appropriate to point out what should be obvious, namely that the Catholic Church, in its very essence, is an exclusive community. It has never been and never will be an “inclusive community”. To suggest that it is, is already heretical, for it would be to deny that there are requirements for being a Catholic and taking part in the sacraments. It is totally inadmissible for anyone in the Church, be they cleric or layperson, priest, bishop or pope, to suggest that everyone is welcome at the Table of the Lord, that anyone can be admitted to Holy Communion as long as they follow their conscience. Our Lord was very clear about that, as were His apostles. The only way to be in communion wit Him and with the apostles, and therefore the only way to salvation is to accept and embrace the faith in its entirety and to strive to live according to the unchanging moral law. The law does not change because men do not want to live up to it. God’s merciful embrace of the sinner is conditional upon the sinner’s acceptance of God and His eternal law.
This in turn is closely linked with the loss of the truth, dogmatically defined by several ecumenical Councils that the Catholic Church alone is the true Church of Christ outside of which there is no salvation. This truth was preached by the apostles and has always been preached by true Catholic priests. To not preach it is to already be outside the community of believers which in its very essence excludes all those who not only reject Christ but also refuse to admit accept His exclusive claim to minds and hearts. On this night in His discourse to the apostles, He made that exceptionally clear when He said: I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me. (Jn 14)
Reading our dear Archbishop’s comments was a breath of fresh air. At the same time, it was painful to realise that our Church here in Australia is in such dire straits that those in charge of the plenary Council do not seem to have any correct notion of what the Catholic Church really is. Archbishop Julian is a gentle and loving shepherd. For him to speak with such force is out of character. It denotes a situation of exceptional gravity. So what are we to do?
The liturgical celebrations of these holy days are the opportunity for us to be reminded of how dearly the Church cost the Sacred Heart of Our Lord. In His immense love, He bore with the betrayal of Judas and the denial of Peter. He bears with the ungrateful sinners who continue to fall into sin and to trample upon His precious blood. We really have only one task before us. It is not within our power to change the course of the Plenary Council. What is within our power is to make reparation for sins, to console our Lord for so much ingratitude and so much treachery. Tonight we will have the opportunity of keeping Him company at the altar of repose. This altar is erected outside of the church because it symbolises Our Lord being rejected by His own people. As we keep Him company tonight, let us seek to console His Sacred Heart for two things: the profanations of the Holy Eucharist, the sacramental Body of Christ and the profanations of the Holy Church, the mystical Body of Christ. The profanations of the Eucharist are all too visible: loss of reverence, neglect, insufficient preparation and thanksgiving, abandonment of His presence among us, not to mention the awful sacrileges inflicted upon it by evil men. The profanations of the Church are equally numerous and grave, though often hidden: the misuse of the structures of the Church to promote an agenda, the secret will to change the Church while declaring oneself to be a good Catholic, the subtle mixing of truth and error, leading astray God’s little ones. So many awful sins that wound the Sacred Heart of Our Lord.
The future of the Church is unknown to us, dear Friends. We know that it will remain for it is founded upon the unshakable Rock. But we have no guarantee that it will continue in Australia. Other countries have lost the faith they once held dear, due to the infidelity of its faithful and the weakness of its shepherds. They are no more. On this holy night, let us beg the omnipotent Lord, in His infinite goodness, to hear our prayers, to accept our offerings of penance and expiation – our keeping watch and doing with less sleep, our fast and abstinence –, so that the beloved Church in Australia may rise from the ashes of its present crisis and once again fearlessly proclaim the truth that Jesus Christ came to teach all of humanity: there is one God, one Lord, one faith, one path to salvation, and that path is offered to the world through the Holy Catholic Church. May Mary, Mother of Sorrows, accompany us as we seek to play our humble role in assisting our agonising Mother Church. To live and die with and for her is our honour and glory. Amen.