By CAROL GLATZ, CNS | Published October 13, 2005
The church needs vibrant, inspiring preachers and new ways to communicate faith traditions in its response to current challenges, said Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta.
While the Oct. 2-23 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist grapples with concerns such as how to attract more priestly vocations or how to reach out to young people or lapsed Catholics, “we cannot change the faith of the church to accommodate one group or another,” he told Catholic News Service Oct. 10 in Rome. “But what we can do is communicate the faith of the church in such a way so that it is heard by people in a variety of backgrounds.”
Archbishop Gregory said the church across the world has to speak to a variety of audiences, including Catholics who regularly attend Mass, young Catholics who have not yet been “properly evangelized and catechized,” people who “have yet to be evangelized,” and Catholics who have become “disenfranchised for whatever reason” from the church.
All these people “belong to the heart and soul of the church,” he said, and bishops, priests and Religious have a responsibility to “develop strategies that address the different life situations” of all of them.
He said the way the Gospel message is communicated may adapt to fit the times and different audiences, but the truths inherent in church teaching may not.
Church leaders must concentrate on “allowing the teaching and the truth of the Gospel to be translated into a way of communication” with people who come from a myriad of backgrounds.
The church also needs vibrant, inspiring preachers, he said in his Oct. 11 speech to synod members.
“In the United States of America, some of our Catholic people will go to Sunday Mass and then return home to listen to the radio or view the televised religious programming of other Christian denominations simply because they are still hungry for inspiring preaching,” he said, according to information released by the Vatican.
“Still others go so far as to attend religious services at these other churches after they’ve attended Sunday Mass,” he said.
The archbishop told synod participants that he has “repeatedly heard of people who regularly will travel excessive distances to participate in a Mass that has a celebrant with proven capability to offer a serious, moving and compelling homily.”
He offered a quote from the late German Cardinal Augustin Bea, who said a priest who was skilled in offering the sacrifice in the Mass, but not in breaking open the word of God for people, was only exercising half his priestly ministry.
How the priest says the words of the eucharistic prayer is important, he said, because Catholics “are starving for truly prayerful expressions of the eucharistic actions.”
Prayers throughout the Mass and liturgy must be offered in ways that “inspire and edify the faithful,” said Archbishop Gregory.
“We bishops, in our role as the primary preachers in our local churches, must lead in our own good example rather than merely asking our priests and deacons to be better prepared homilists for our people,” he said in his speech.
Archbishop Gregory, who was participating for the second time in a Synod of Bishops, told CNS that Pope Benedict XVI’s introduction of an hour of open discussion at the end of the day has been “a very helpful opportunity” for the synod participants “to say what is on (their) mind and heart in a less-structured way.”
There had been “a certain predictability” in formal synod discussions, which tend to follow the working document released before the start of a synod, he said.
The open discussion was going “very, very well,” he said, adding he thought the pope had really “set the stage for that type of exchange” of free, “open conversation.”
He said Pope Benedict has been “a rapt listener” during the presentations, takes notes and “is engaged.”
“When there are humorous things said, he chuckles, and yet he listens carefully to what is being said,” said the archbishop.
“I think the stage is set for a good synod whatever the end product (or final document) may be,” he said. This synod has been taking place in “a very warm and collegial atmosphere,” which is “always a good thing,” he added.