TiE PUBLICATION Of the Pope's new encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, is a maor event in the life of the Church. It is a document of great power and profundity. We have to re-learn our eucharistic piety, concludes the Pope, "at the school of the saints", and he ends by by quoting Lauda Sion, the great Eucharistic hymn by St Thomas Acquinas, "an eminent theologian and an impassioned poet of Christ in the Eucharist". A fellow Dominican, Fr Aidan Nichols, comments on page eight that "the combination of theological power with lyricism in Ecclesia de Eucharistia makes one think Karol Wojtyla must be rather in the same mould".
None of this has emerged in the coverage of the encyclical which has appeared in the secular media. It is on occasions like this that one realises the paradoxical combination of indifference and hostility with which much of the world regards the Church. One knows, with an absolute certainty, that if a papal document of this kind is reported at all, it will be because it offers an opportunity for criticism of the Pope on the grounds that he has reasserted some well-established Catholic principle incomprehensible to Protestants and atheists. The Times newspaper excelled even its own prodigous capacity for anti-Catholic malevolence. Before the encyclical had even been published, an article appeared under the headline "Pope's ruling bans Blair from taking Communion with family", which begins, "Any hope that Tony Blair had of enjoying a happy Catholic Easter with his family will be crushed today by the Pope. John Paul H is issuing a new encyclical that explicitly forbids Protestants like the Prime Minister taking communion with Catholics such as Cherie and their children".
Later, the paper reveals the full extent of its ignorance by surmising that the encyclical "represents a setback for Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is a firm advocate of ecumenism".
In fact, Dr Williams understands perfectly well why the Catholic Church cannot offer unrestricted access to its sacraments to those who are not in full communion with it. During a visit to Rome shortly before his enthronement, he told Vatican Radio's One-O-Five station that Anglicans and Catholics should not defy restrictions on intercommunion because there were "good theological reasons" why they could not yet receive Holy Communion in each other's churches; he also said that both Churches took a public stand on the issue and were justified in doing so.
The trouble with coverage like The Times's is that it may give some Catholics the notion that the encyclical is simply a restrictive document about intercommunion, one which they can ignore without missing anything very much. Untrue: this is a document about the very basis of the Church, by which no Catholic who takes his faith seriously can fail to be moved and spiritually enriched.
The Pope longs to rekindle in the Church the sense of Eucharistic awe which he has himself never lost, and which he powerfully conveys in these pages. In the gift of the Mass, he says, Christ "brought about a mysterious 'oneness in time' between [the] Triduum and the passage of the centuries. The thought of this leads to profound amazement and gratitude.... This amazement should always fill the Church assembled for the celebration of the Eucharist". Later, he says that the purpose of his encyclical is to "rekindle this Eucharistic 'amazement"; and in doing so he deals on the way to his real goal with some of the underlying causes of Eucharistic indifference. As he says, "In some places the practice of Eucharistic adoration has been almost completely abandoned. In various parts of the Church abuses have occurred, leading to confusion with regard to sound faith and Catholic doctrine concerning this wonderful sacrament. At times one encounters an extremely reductive understanding of the Eucharistic mystery".
It was inevitable that he should touch on such matters; but this is not a negative document. It is one which glows with the fire of his own great faith; it is wonderful gift to the Church of which he is one of the greatest chief pastors, not merely of his own time but of all the Christian centuries