Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki occupies a prominent position as Archbishop of Cologne, and obviously as a cardinal; but the current situation of the Church in Germany makes his voice particularly relevant. In this conversation he reviews the main aspects of the current ecclesial situation from a Eucharistic perspective, which in his opinion will allow "faith and communion among the faithful" to grow again.
–"When your assembly meets assembly." (1 Cor 11:18): this is the title of his recent Pastoral Letter on the singular place of the Eucharist in the Eucharist. of his recent Pastoral Letter on the singular place of the Eucharist in the life of the Church. What is the purpose of the letter?
To the centrifugal forces that the Church in Germany is currently experiencing, and that threaten to break it upMany respond by calling for structural reforms, convocations and activities, or simply adapting the Church's faith to public opinion.
I, on the other hand, prefer to remember what is the true center of the Church, from which true center of the Church, from which its unity proceeds. The German word Church, Church, contains the Greek concept of the kyriakéshe belongs to the Kýrios, to the Lord. The Church is the Body of Christ. For this reason, it seems important to me to emphasize the source and summit of its unity: "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread we break, is it not the communion of the Body of Christ? of the Body of Christ? Since the bread is one, we are many a single body, because many of us participate of a single loaf of bread" (1 Cor 10:16-17).
This aspect is reflected in its beautiful Spanish language more strongly than the German language: in Church the Latin word resonates ecclésia, the assembly summoned, especially for the celebration of the Eucharist. The presence of Christ in the Church and through the Church has its root and culminates in his bodily culminates in his bodily presence in the Eucharist.
–And what is the meaning of the Eucharist in the life of every Christian? life of every Christian?
I am deeply moved by what St. Paul writes to the Galatians. to the Galatians: "It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. And the life I now live now in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. himself for me." (2, 19-20). In the Eucharist, this redemptive love of Christ, so personal of Christ's redemptive love, so personal and so "intimate" in the best sense of the word, literally takes shape for each one of us. in the best sense of the word. Since the Host is not the Body of Christ only in a symbolic way, but truly and truly symbolically, but truly and substantially, we can accept him in us also in a true and substantial way. in us also in a true and substantial way. We become one with him, we are "conformed to Christ. conformed to Christ.
Nevertheless, from the earliest times the Eucharist was also understood as the deepest reason for ecclesial communion, beyond its individual saving efficacy. We have already heard the Apostle Paul in this sense. St. Augustine exclaims it perhaps even more incisively to the neophytes before they received communion: "The bread is the body of Christ, the cup is the blood of Christ... Therefore, if you want to understand the body of Christ, listen to the Apostle who says to the faithful: 'You are the body of Christ and its members' (1 Cor 12:27). Consequently, if you are the body of Christ and its members, the mystery that you yourselves are is laid on the table of the Lord: you receive the mystery that you are... Be what you see and receive what you are.". The Eucharist gives the Church her identity.
–On the celebration of the Eucharist on Sundays, you state in your letter that it is "essential". In what sense?
We could ask ourselves: if God is omnipresent and omnipotent, why do we need the Eucharist? omnipotent, why do we need the Eucharist? Well, we human beings are not only a soul, but also a body soul, but we are also a body with which we can come into contact with each other. with each other. Even the Logos eternal and unfathomable God -Christ- has assumed form in time and space has assumed form in time and space, has become literally tangible in his Incarnation. in his Incarnation. The Eucharist continues this reality in the most dense and profound way. and profound way.
The presence of Christ in the consecrated species of bread and wine is not called "real" because other forms are not real, but because other forms are not real. bread and wine is not called "real" because other forms are not real, but because only in the Eucharist is Christ bodily present. because only in the Eucharist is Christ present in a bodily way, substantial, "essential" way. This is in accord with the nature of human beings, who cannot live and communicate can neither live nor communicate with one another without a body.
-In some places there are fewer priests and priests and it is more difficult to ensure the celebration of the Eucharist in all parishes. What solutions seem preferable to you?
What is specific to the current problem is not only that the number of priests not only that the number of priests is decreasing, but also, to an equal or even greater extent, that the number of the faithful is decreasing. the number of the faithful is also decreasing. Today, active Catholics do not have a smaller percentage of priests, but the number of faithful is increasing. the active Catholics do not have a smaller percentage of priests, but the pastoral spaces are expanding. pastoral spaces are expanding. This leads to a greater mobility of both pastors and faithful. faithful.
Celebrating Mass more frequently does not seem to be an excessive burden for priests. burden for priests, if one thinks, for example, of what the Apostles did for Christ. for Christ. However, the dignity of the celebration of the Eucharist must be celebration of the Eucharist. It will be difficult for a priest who hurries restlessly from one Mass to another can continue to celebrate with dignity the redemptive sacrifice of Christ's cross. Christ's redemptive sacrifice of the cross. Hence, in effect, we will have to reduce the number of Masses. Moreover, it means adapting to the sad decline in Mass attendance.
-Beyond the numerical problems Beyond the numerical problems, where is the core of the problem?
When we talk about the decrease in the number of faithful Catholics, we are also talking about the loss of the believing identity Catholics, we are also talking about the loss of the believing identity in our latitudes. in our latitudes.
Here we cannot perform a temporal analysis with pretensions of exhaustiveness. pretensions of completeness. Let us simply note that some postmodern trends have negative effects on the continuity of ecclesial life. postmodern tendencies have negative effects on the continuity of ecclesial life; This is the case with the lesser willingness of our contemporaries to commit themselves in a binding way, with the cornering the cornering of religion into the private sphere, or the arbitrary selection of the contents of the the arbitrary selection of the contents of the faith in order to make them into a patchwork. of patchwork. Reforms may make sense in some respects, but above all, we need to relive a living faith. we need to return to living a living faith, to live our lives "before the face of God", to know that we are protected in his God", knowing that we are protected in his paternal hands, both personally and as a Church. as Church.
If faith and communion among the faithful grow again in this way, the breeding ground for vocations is also being prepared. the faithful, the breeding ground for priestly vocations is also being prepared. vocations to the priesthood.
-If it were impossible to celebrate If it were impossible to celebrate Mass, would it be appropriate to substitute some other celebration?
When, in spite of our present mobility, it is really impossible to go to Mass on Sunday, the Sunday precept ceases. impossible to attend Mass on Sunday, the Sunday precept ceases. Then, and only the liturgy of the word offers a good opportunity to "gather in community", to hear the word of God and to pray together. community", to hear the word of God and pray together. This is how the Church in Russia in Russia to communist oppression, for example. I do not yet see that in the archdiocese of Cologne archdiocese of Cologne that this is the situation in general. But I can clearly see that we cannot that we cannot treat the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist lightly, for which Christians, like the martyrs of Abitene, have gone to death. We do not mind We don't mind driving a few kilometers to take advantage of a sale; why don't we do it? Why don't we do the same for the offer of Christ's redeeming love? Christ's redeeming love?
–His letter reminds us that the custom of celebrating only one Mass in each parish Mass in each parish, so as to facilitate the attendance of more people.
Exactly. If the faithful are not so much spread out in several Masses, but are more grouped together, the "radius" within which all can attend Mass grows. to Mass. In any case, I also recommend that the places where Mass is celebrated become centers of religious attraction. Mass is celebrated as centers of religious attraction, which give a spiritual impulse to the spiritual impetus to the whole surrounding area. This is similar to what many orders have done throughout the history of the Church. the history of the Church.
-At present, the Church's social influence is also diminishing. How do you see pastoral action in these circumstances? circumstances?
Yes, for example, if we think of the little political resonance political resonance of the brilliant speech of the now Pope emeritus Benedict XVI before the German Benedict XVI before the German Parliament in 2011, we can feel nothing but despondency. Today, in spite of some consoling exceptions, we must bid farewell to the so-called "watering can pastoral care", which works for and with large numbers, and concentrate and concentrate above all on the personal attention of those who are open and interested. open and interested. The unitary State-Society-Church bloc has already been broken up. if it ever existed.
But this also offers new opportunities: today, who truly believes is less and less a runner "in the pack" and more and more a confessor of faith. more and more a confessor of faith.
-How is the mission of the laity in the world How is the mission of the laity in the world linked to the Eucharist?
I just said it indirectly. When I live in faith in faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me, I can only transmit this love to others! transmit this love to others! To this must be added the fact that the faithful are not the faithful are not bound to the Church only by Baptism, which is so often mentioned, and by Confirmation, which is less often mentioned. Confirmation, which is less often mentioned, but also and finally by the Eucharist, of which we do not Eucharist, which is not often spoken of, and which is the source and summit of all Christian action, as the Council says of all Christian action, as the Second Vatican Council says. If I am part of the Church, if I belong to her as a member of her, I also have the task of serving the world. the world. I am also a small part of the great "sacrament of salvation which is the Church," which must which is the Church," which is to unite the world with God and with one another.
According to the words of the Second Vatican Council, in the celebration of the Eucharist celebration of the Eucharist "each one, whether minister or simple faithful, in the office, is to do all and only that which pertains to him by the nature of the action and the liturgical norms. nature of the action and the liturgical norms". (Constitution on the Liturgy, 28). This applies in an analogous way to our parish life: in carrying out his task, each one in the life of the parish must do everything and only everything he can do. each one in the life of the parish must do all and only what is his or her task. that which is proper to him.
-There are voices in your country that are proposing that the laity take on the leadership of Christian communities in parishes. parishes. Is this idea compatible with the Catholic vision of the priesthood?
The laity have always assumed important services and tasks in the Church. important services and tasks in the Church, some of which have entailed responsibility and leadership. and leadership. But what is decisive is that these tasks do not presuppose the status of pastor, but are to be fulfilled under the direction of the pastor. but are to be fulfilled under the direction of the shepherd. Christ was the Christ was the Good Shepherd also when he gave his life for the sheep. Bishops and priests priests, who make present and exercise this ministry of Christ, cannot act in any other way, even if they are very and exercise this ministry of Christ, cannot act in any other way, even though they are very grateful to the laity for their collaboration through advice and works, without collaboration through advice and works, without which we would not be able to move forward.
-The German Bishops' Conference The German Bishops' Conference has initiated a "synodal journey" to reflect on celibacy, the moral doctrine on sexuality and the use of power in the Church. and the use of power in the Church. To what extent can a Eucharistic perspective shed light on this stage of the Church's Eucharistic perspective can shed light on this stage of the Church in Germany? Germany?
First of all, I must say in all honesty that I doubt that it is useful to that it is useful to continue to assume a link between these issues and cases of abuse, which is not at all abuse, which is not at all evident. Now, of course, there are powerful relationships between them and the Eucharist. I can also only give a few references about this:
-Christ himself lived celibacy, and this was very rare in his environment. very infrequent in his milieu. After having sacrificed to the mission a possible possible married and family life, he gave himself totally to the mission on the cross, and this is what is actualized in the Eucharist;
-if the eternal Son of God Himself has assumed a human body, and if He has similarly human body, and if he has similarly made his body both the Church and that discreet little piece of bread, the and that discreet little piece of bread, the Host, into his body, this cannot fail to translate into respectful treatment of one's own body and that of others;
-Our Lord says that he did not come to be served, but to serve and to to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many (cf. Mk. 10:45). 10, 45). The evangelist John's account of the Last Supper shows us the Lord's idea of the proper use of power. the Lord's idea of the proper use of power. Where the other three Gospels the other three Gospels convey the institution of the Eucharist, John speaks of Christ's inferior and slave-like service. service that Christ performs by washing the feet of his disciples. disciples.
But these are only impulses, which could be expanded and multiplied. could be expanded and multiplied.
-The Holy Father has written to German Catholics, and in particular to the bishops, about this "synodal journey. "synodal path". What is your assessment of this letter?
According to its Greek roots, the concept of "synod" designates a meeting. "synod" designates a meeting. At the same time it also brings to mind the "synod".synody"Christian community, the community on the in faith and in the confession of faith. Both perspectives reflect the being of the of the Church, which, as I said at the beginning, is an assembly called together and by the will of the Lord must come together and walk together. the will of the Lord, it must come together and walk together. For this reason I rejoice in the synodal synodal journey, and I only warn against inappropriate interpretations.
The laity and the clergy undertake together the search for what is the will of God in our time and in our place and how we can fulfill it, but with different and specific roles. This joint action is seen in the first synod of the Church, the so-called "council of the apostles," which took place in Jerusalem around 48-49 AD. In the Acts of the Apostles we literally read that "the apostles and the presbyters met together to examine this question." (15, 6). It seems evident that not only members of the hierarchy are involved, since "it seemed good to the apostles and to the priests, and to the whole church." (15, 22) how the results of the council were to be transmitted. The responsibility for the decisions, however, rests exclusively with "the apostles and presbyters". (15, 23, cf. v. 6). This is still the case today in the universal Catholic Church: the magisterium does not want to and cannot renounce the information or advice of the laity, but it cannot be replaced by them. The important contributions of the laity and of its various bodies have a consultative, not a decisive, character.
"In" and "with" your letter Pope Francis makes a careful correction of the German perspective of the synodal path, which at times is somewhat one-sided. It is obvious that a new orientation cannot break through without concrete and tangible reforms. But in Germany we hardly talk about more than that. On the other hand, Francis also invites "to make contact with what in us and in our communities is necrotic and needs to be evangelized and visited by the Lord. And this requires courage because what we need is much more than a structural, organizational or functional change.".
Then he again expressly warns against the temptation temptation of wanting to extract "solutions to present and future problems... exclusively from purely structural, organic or exclusively from purely structural, organic or bureaucratic reforms". bureaucratic". The Pope does not see there "the vital nuclei that demand attention". Because purely structural reforms may lead to "a well organized and even 'modernized' ecclesial body but without soul and evangelical evangelical novelty; we would live a 'gaseous' Christianity without evangelical bite. evangelical bite".
To perceive this means to relativize the confidence in "forecasts, environmental forecasts, calculations or surveys, encouraging or discouraging either at the ecclesial, political or ecclesiastical, political, economic or social level". or in our pastoral plans which we have very strongly marked in Germany. "All these things are important to important to value them, to listen to them, to reflect on them and to be attentive to them, but they do not in themselves do not in themselves exhaust our being believers.. Like "our guiding criterion par excellence excellence" Francis mentions a spiritual objective: evangelization, that is, the proclamation of the Gospel in word and deed. "Evangelization evangelization constitutes the essential mission of the Church"..
-The Pope's initiative is unusual. How do you see the situation of the Church in Germany after this letter and in relation to the latest decisions of the Bishops' Conference? and in relation to the latest decisions of the Bishops' Conference?
Indeed, the Holy Father's intervention goes beyond the usual procedures. the framework of the usual procedures. It is clear that the Pope is following with with interest, and perhaps even with some concern, the Catholic Church in Germany, which in some respects is so rich and in others so poor. Catholic Church in Germany, which in some respects is so rich and in others so poor. The Church is a "sacrament" in an analogical sense, i.e., as we know, a sign and instrument of salvation, sign and instrument of salvation, and therefore needs visible and palpable structures. palpable structures. But the visible elements are at the service of invisible grace. Perhaps Pope Francis fears that we sometimes reverse this relationship in Germany. I would understand that concern.
The situation of the Roman Catholic Church in Germany is difficult to assess The situation of the Roman Catholic Church in Germany is difficult to assess adequately, especially in the context of an interview. an interview. In fact, the Church does not present itself as a unitary reality at the national level, but in 27 dioceses (in our case) with different but in 27 dioceses (in our case) with different situations, approaches and intellectual currents. situations, approaches and intellectual or spiritual currents. I can only I can only hope and invite that in the synodal journey the Pope's indications will be given adequate space for the Pope's indications. I am not referring to a rigid scheme of command and obedience, but in the literally vital interest of the Catholic Church in Germany. Catholic Church in Germany.
-In Germany, there is a debate on whether Protestant spouses of In Germany there is a debate about the possibility of Protestant spouses of faithful Catholics being able to receive Communion not only in exceptional cases, but as a general rule. Communion not only in exceptional cases, but as a general rule. Is there any regulation in this regard? regulation in this regard?
This is precisely what is being studied now in Rome, by order of the Holy Father. In the Archdiocese of Cologne we are waiting for the result before acting. other bishops have thought that they should reverse this order. From However, I am very skeptical about the advisability of putting in writing such regulations intended for exceptional cases. regulations intended for cases of exception. According to the Catholic, Orthodox and Catholic, Orthodox and Eastern understanding, Eucharistic communion expresses a full ecclesial communion or, in cases where it is not full ecclesial communion or, in exceptional cases, at least very broad. In this regard, we are still In this respect, we are still on the way with respect to Protestant communities. Protestant communities. It seems to me that to give the Eucharist to evangelical spouses only because they ask for it means not taking seriously the convictions (i.e., the confession of faith) of this spouse or the of faith) of this spouse or those of the Church.
There may be some pastoral exceptions pastoral exceptions, but "cannot be elevated to the status of a standard."as Pope Francis Pope Francis writes in his encyclical Amoris Laetitia (n. 304): its is not an ecclesial document, but the protected space of personal pastoral care. pastoral care. Whoever receives Catholic Communion in the Archdiocese of Cologne, without belonging to the Catholic Church, disdains the convictions of his own Church in a rather crude way. the Catholic Church, rather crudely disdains the convictions of his liturgical host. liturgical host. It happens frequently, however; I regret this and consider it a I deplore it and consider it to be disrespectful and not a good ecumenical sign.
-Do you wish to add anything else? anything else?
In my opinion, everything important everything important has already been said. The most important thing is that, as Christians, we must always and always and in everything put the Lord at the center of our thoughts and actions. He must be reflected in all aspects of our life, from our words, our thoughts, our actions, our love. our words, our thoughts, our actions, our love. He must be recognizable, tangible in everything. This is the way in which today we must bear witness to him and make him known. and make it known. It is the path of a new evangelization, to which we are called. On this path, I heartily wish your readers God's Holy Spirit and His abundant blessing. God's Holy Spirit and his abundant blessing.