Dear Pope Benedict,
As you and the Synod of Bishops discuss the Holy Eucharist, the source and summit of our Church life, I would like to offer to you these reflections.
In the Working Paper for the Synod, in section #7, it states: (regarding the scarcity of clergy in rural areas) "In these situations the practice of entrusting a Sunday service to lay people is unavoidable." This statement is a lie! Such a sad situation is avoidable. You can correct it with the stroke of your pen.
In section #52, the Working Paper states, "the bishop has a particular responsibility for the Eucharist and the duty to ensure that the faithful's participation at the Eucharist be "full, conscious and active.'" "He is watchful that the faithful have the opportunity to participate at Mass..." I agree.
I believe it is the number one obligation of the Pope to provide the baptized faithful with a beautiful and positive (and understandable) experience of Eucharist on Sunday. A "Liturgy of the Word" service that does not flow into the Liturgy of the Eucharist robs the faithful of the chance to respond to God's Word with praise, sacrificial remembrance, thanksgiving, and communion. To have a Liturgy of the Word service only, a Protestant church would suffice. This is avoidable. Baptized Catholics have a right to something more, the full Eucharistic celebration. And that is within our reach right now, if only...
Because you still enforce the old rule of obligatory celibacy before one can minister as a priest, you are denying the Catholic faithful participation in the full Eucharistic celebration. In my 38 years as a priest, I have met many young men who were called to the priesthood, but were not called to celibacy. So they chose to marry, and their priestly ministry was lost to the faithful. Often these men were the "best and the brightest," healthy heterosexuals, who could have served as married priests in a most exemplary way, but the law did not allow it. So today we have situations in many parts of many countries were there is no priest available for Sunday Eucharist. (Or we get candidates who are not the best and the brightest, and often have other problems the church should not have to deal with.) This IS avoidable. Make celibacy optional, as it was in our roots, as it was in the early church.
"Do we not have the right to take along a Christian wife, as do the rest of the apostles, and the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas?" (1 Cor 9:5)
The church has always taught that priesthood and celibacy are two distinct vocations. Obviously the Holy Spirit is not obliged to give both vocations to the same person, often did not, and often today does not. But the law of obligatory celibacy, in practice, chooses to bind the Holy Spirit. And many of the faithful continue to suffer the pain of no Sunday Eucharist. It is not the people's fault. It is not the Holy Spirit's fault. It is not the fault of those called to both priesthood and marriage. The responsibility rests with the Pope. And I believe it is a heavy responsibility to answer for.
To paraphrase Matthew 25:41 and following, "Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me... ...for I longed to participate in the Sunday Eucharist, but your mere human law of obligatory celibacy denied it to me. I longed to go to the sacrament of Reconciliation, but there was no priest, because your law demanded celibacy. I longed to go to confession on my deathbed, but there was no priest, because of your law of obligatory celibacy. And I died without the sacraments of Reconciliation and Anointing. Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me. Depart from me.'"
And I put this addition to Matthew 15:9, "In vain did you worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts, -- and depriving my people of the Bread of Life."
Do the suffering Catholic faithful have to wait and wait until some future Pope backs into the eventual solution? Why not find the courage now and choose to change the rule? As John Paul II told the U.S. regarding Cuba, "To change, to change." It is so difficult for leaders to change the status quo. But there is little to lose. The situation is very different now than in the 12th century. Making celibacy optional will increase the witness value of celibacy of those who feel called and freely choose it. Making celibacy optional will support the Church's teaching of the dignity of the Sacrament of Marriage in a world that denies its holiness. Making celibacy optional will also help the dialogue with the Eastern Orthodox Church. And this new source of vocations will save today's priests from burnout and an early death.
Sorry if my words sound too strong. But you are dealing with the core issue, the issue of life and death importance, -- the availability of the Sunday Eucharist. Please don't miss the chance to hear the cry of your people and, I believe, the will of the Spirit. And then act accordingly. Now is the hour.