| What the Sacrament of the Eucharist really means has
become a core issue that needs to be resolved between
the community and their parish priest, Fr Gerry Prindiville
at St Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Redfern.
The problem revolves around a difference in outlook.
The Redfern community has a spiritual outlook based
on a church inspired by the practice of Jesus and his
association with the lowly. Many who go to this Church
have been moved by the remarkable thirty-year ministry
of Fr Ted Kennedy who has deep empathy with Aboriginal
people. This is a church whose members are most concerned
over human rights, social justice and the plight of
the poor, oppressed and the marginalised.
Their newly appointed parish priest, Fr Gerry Prindiville,
however, comes from a different tradition. He is associated
with the Neocatecumenate movement which focuses on how
we can be saved from our sins. His homily has a single
message: redemption from sin; his outlook, doctrinal.
The Neocatecumenate is a revival of the Catecumenate
in the early Church. The original movement had been
formed by the synthesis of Word (kerygma), liturgy
and Morality. The word Catecumenate comes from catecheo
meaning ‘I will make resound’ or in the passive form,
‘to listen’. The Gospel, or announcement of salvation,
has apparently caused a moral change in those who listened.
The moral change is consolidated through the Sacraments.
Baptism is implemented in stages with the catechism
used as the movement’s main tool for evangelisation.
Their main target: people already baptized but lack
sufficient Christian training.
This is consistent with Fr Prindiville’s new project:
to begin Catechism classes for children at St Vincent’s
In the early church if one wished to become a Christian,
an itinerary in Christian training (the Catecumenate)
had to be followed. While the Catecumenate movement
disappeared in the following centuries from the time
of the early Church, it has recently been revived in
the ‘Neocatecumenate’ who work at the service of the
bishops. With the onslaught of secularization, Vatican
II and atheism, it was felt that work on Christian formation
had to resume.
This is why the meaning of the Eucharist has become
the battleground between the Redfern community and Archbishop
George Pell’s new appointee in Redfern.
Eucharist: Celebration of the Jews’ escape from Egypt
A little background. What is the origin of the Eucharist?
The word ‘Eucharist’ comes from the Greek word which
means ‘Thanksgiving’. The celebration of the Eucharist
is a reminder that when Jesus took bread, he gave thanks.
This Sacrament can be traced to the Last Supper when
a meal was shared between Jesus and his disciples before
he was crucified. This sharing of the meal occurred
during the Jewish Passover, a time when Jews ate a special
meal to celebrate their escape from Egypt - an event
seen as a great saving act of God. When Christians gather
today during the Eucharist, they express their gratitude
for his saving love
Eucharist: Jesus’ break with tradition
On the night before his Crucifixion, Jesus ate with
his disciples and broke the bread. But he also broke
tradition when he added the mysterious words, ‘This
is my body,’ and then took wine and said, ‘This is my
blood.’ When he gave the bread and wine to his disciples,
he said, ‘Do this in remembrance of me.’ When Christians
attend mass on Sundays, it is in memory of Jesus. The
Eucharist is at the core of their faith.
Eucharist as fellowship
The breaking of bread together was one of the key features
of the early church (See Acts 2:42). The words, ‘Holy
Communion’ stress the fellowship aspect of the service
or meal. Sharing the bread and wine fosters communion
between the people and God. The people are encouraged
to think of it as a corporate experience of sharing
one loaf at the Lord’s Table with their sisters and
brothers in Christ. (Descriptions of the Last Supper
are found in the New Testament in Matthew 26, Mark 14,
Luke 22, and John 13.)
Eucharist as service
But while the Last Supper is part of John’s Gospel,
it does not describe the breaking of the bread and sharing
of wine. Rather it describes how Jesus washed his disciples’
feet as an example of humble service.
The Redfern community are comfortable with the imagery
of the Eucharist as fellowship through breaking of the
bread and sharing of the wine in communion with all
in God. They are also attracted to the idea of the Eucharist
as service, especially to the downtrodden.
Hence, the question of worthiness in receiving the
Eucharist was not a major issue with the Redfern community.
Not until Fr Prindiville came to St Vincent’s Church.
Inevitably, this question has generated differing interpretations
of the Scriptures.
The question of ‘worthiness’ in receiving the Eucharist
In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians
11:23-32), he made it clear that to eat the bread and
drink the wine ‘in an unworthy manner’ was a serious
matter. From then on, Christians were encouraged to
prepare themselves by prayer and sometimes by fasting
as a way of repentance.
Fr Ted Kennedy reflects on the question of worthiness
in his book Who is Worthy?: ‘It has become clear
that Paul’s frown on those who receive the body of the
Lord unworthily refers to the rich who set up their
own table ignoring the poor.’ (cf. Kennedy, Ted,
2000. Who is Worthy?. Annandale: Pluto Press,
pp. 79-80) (my underscoring)
He cites Irish theologian, Brendan Lovett who he says
presented a strong case for offering communion to all:
‘(The Corinthian communities) apparently wanted to celebrate
the Eucharist in a way that was not marked by death…Whatever
they may think, Paul tells them, in coming together
it is not the Lord’s supper that they eat. Paul knows
this because of the exclusion of the poor.' (my underscoring)
Brendan Lovett contends that the praxis of Jesus overthrows
the presumption even in the case of John the Baptist’s
exhortation of ‘First Repentance, then Communion’, in
the eating habits of Jesus. The Jews had no problem
with forgiveness of sin or, welcoming the repentant
sinner. There would have been no scandal if Jesus mingled
with people who were repentant. A repentant sinner is
not a sinner.
But Jesus ate with sinners.
Eucharist: stress on social rather than personal;
inclusive rather than exclusive
Fr Ted Kennedy and Brendan Lovett’s theology focuses
on the praxis of Jesus with emphasis on social rather
than personal; inclusiveness rather than exclusiveness.
The Eucharist and Aboriginal spirituality
Aboriginal spirituality also seems to be very much
attuned to the idea of inclusiveness and service. Reflecting
on the significance of Christ washing the feet of the
people (an aspect of the Eucharist that is emphasised
in John’s Gospel), Aboriginal poet, Kevin Gilbert writes:
I’ve heard more people laughing and singing, and seen
more people looking happy and well-fed than Aboriginal
People who used to be well-fed and happy when they were
with God 200 years ago before the Christians came; before
the Whitefella came. While we’ve been laughing and feeding,
a lot of Aboriginal kids, little fellas, have been out
there dying, because there’s no medication, no clean
Christ went out and washed the feet of the people.
Feed my sheep. Feed my lambs. I see Blackfella walking
around with a Bible in his hand; Whitefella’s Bible
from the land of Israel. He’s not out there washing
Blackfella babies’ and kids’ feet, he’s talking, singing
and strumming guitar, right? He’s given an air-conditioned
house and a big flash car, but he’s not out there where
the people are. That worries me. He’s not out there
where Aboriginal kids are dying. It worries me. Not
out there in the camp. Worries me. He’s singing happy
songs to Jesus.
But remember, before Jesus came along, there was the
Word. The Word is God. Before Jesus came along God was
here, in my country where the Word is. That Word never
changed, never deserted us. We didn’t have any clothes
to talk about shame. We didn’t need to talk about hell;
there was no hell because we worked with the Law, the
Word of the Law, the Word in the rocks and the trees.
That’s Aboriginal Spirituality. In a way, I say I’m
Christian, or I’m a believer in Christ - the fella who
wiped the feet. In the same way I’m the land, I’m Kangaroo
Man, that’s me. That’s real.
(cf. Kevin Gilbert, ‘God at the Campfire and that Christ
Fella’ in Anne Pattel-Gray (ed), 1996, Aboriginal Spirituality
Past Present Future. Victoria: HarperCollins. pp. 62-63)
On the other hand, the Neo-Catechumenate way focuses
on the mystery of the Eucharist.
On this subject, Fr Gerry Prindiville wrote to his
parishioners: ‘Regular communicants should be members
of the Catholic Church, in the state of grace and believe
in the Real Presence of Christ in the consecrated species.
Only the priest, deacon or designated Eucharist minister
should distribute Holy Communion. All parishioners are
urged to show respect for the Eucharist at all times.’
(The Saving Word (mass bulletin), 21 September
2003). The Redfern community are incensed by the presumption
that they do not show respect for the Eucharist at all
Over the centuries, differences emerged in understanding
what the Eucharist means or precisely what is the meaning
of the phrase, ‘This is my Body.’ In what is referred
to as Transubstantiation, the Catholic Church
teaches (See Council of Trent, 1545-1563) that the Lord
Jesus Christ is really and truly substantially present
in the Holy Eucharist.
To explain this, Aristotle’s distinction between substance
and accident is employed. Substance refers to essence;
accident to its outward appearance. Hence, the accidents
of the bread and wine remain (they look and taste like
bread and wine) but the substance changes (to that of
the body and blood of Jesus Christ).
Other views: Martin Luther (16th Century reformers)
held to Con-substantiation, that is, the substance
of both bread and the body of Christ are present together.
Other theologians (20th century) such as Edward Schillebeeckx,
speak of Trans-signification, the idea that the
consecration of the bread and wine is primarily about
a change in meaning.
Other aspects of the mystery of the Eucharist can be
gleaned from the sacramental language that John uses
in recording a discourse following the feeding of the
5000 in which Jesus says: ‘I am the bread of life…This
is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers
ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will
live forever (John 6: 48-51). Or, in Paul who links
the Lord’s Supper with the return of Christ in glory.
‘for whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup,
you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes (1 Corinthians
11:26). In Matthew 26:29, Jesus tells his disciples
that he will not drink wine with them again until ‘I
drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.’ This
theme is picked up in the liturgy with the affirmation:
‘Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come
No doubt the concept of the Eucharist or ‘Thanksgiving’
is replete with mystery. For me, the Eucharist has a
real presence and consider this part of the mass as
vital. I will refuse to engage in a debate with anyone,
however, on what ‘real’ means for me. But I also believe
in inclusiveness, the praxis of fellowship and service.
I believe in an integral theology. Not a theology that
excludes (sinners and ‘Judases’) and divides the community
between those who are ‘with us or against us’. I believe
the Redfern community has always regarded the Eucharist
with respect. We have always considered St Vincent’s
Church as a sacred place and the Eucharist and the entire
liturgy a sacred moment. ‘Sacredness’, however, includes
how we live our lives outside the church such as how
we relate with the poor and those treated unjustly by
Considering the richness of meaning that can be derived
from the mystery of the Eucharist, the source of the
dispute, it seems to me comes from how narrowly or broadly
is one’s embrace of the meaning of the ‘Eucharist’.
The Eucharist is a mystery. There are many nuances
and shades of grey in life. How much more with something
we see as ‘mystery’. For Fr Prindiville, it is simple.
It is black and white. It’s about ‘the real presence’.
Implied in that is knowing whether one is ‘worthy’,
in ‘a state of grace’, or truly ‘Catholic’ from the
institutional church hierarchy’s definition. This seems
to me a top-down questioning as to who belongs or who
doesn’t on the basis of gnosis (special knowledge) of
mystery. This stance may easily be interpreted by others
as a form of ‘Inquisition’.
Back to the central issue of Who is Worthy?.
The title of Fr Ted Kennedy’s book is prophetic indeed.
From the perspective of the Redfern community, one might
ask: ‘who is worthy’ (to receive the Sacrament of the
Eucharist), sinners or ‘saints’ (e.g. followers of the
neo-catechumenate way)? No doubt on this question, the
community and their parish priest, Fr Gerry Prindiville
at St Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Redfern need
to find common ground.
But beyond this ideological or ecclesial question is
one for Archbishop George Pell: why appoint a priest
who has a totally different culture and perspective
from the Redfern community?
by Deborah Ruiz Wall