Dr. (Fr.) Subhash Anand's Open Letter on the Shape of the Church after CoViD19
11 June 2020 An open letter to
Cardinal Oswald Gracias, President, Catholic Bishops’ Conference India
From: Fr. Subash Anand
Dear brother Oswald,
Peace and joy of the Lord be with you. Hope you are keeping good health.
I write to share a very important concern: the shape of the Church after CoViD19.
For our laity, the sacraments and other rituals are placebos. Thank God, there are some exceptions.
Our priests and bishops do not make the liturgy an experience of prayer for our people. Their homilies do not help in faith-formation. You know that Pope Francis has complained about this in his Evangelii Gaudium. Thank God, there are some exceptions.
Yet, the bishops and priests want the churches to be reopened, earlier practices be resumed. These rituals give our priests and bishops a sense of doing something; they are a source of power and prestige; above all, they ensure the income they want. Thank God, there are some exceptions.
But, as you are aware, many theologians and even some bishops in the West are saying the Church just cannot continue as it was. Even in India there are theologians who are thinking along those lines. Recently, a friend of mine wrote to me: “There has been a colossal failure in the Indian Church in deepening the faith of the people and help them to worship in spirit and truth. Had this happened, our people would not feel so pathetic as they do now. They would know that their faith and their worship will continue even without the crutches of churches and sacraments.”
Online liturgy is un-theological and not helpful. It may give people some emotional satisfaction: The liturgy is not some drama or circus to be seen and heard; though at times the liturgy does look like a circus with some clowns about the place. the Eucharist is meant to be an actual meal.
Here it will help us to go back to the historical Jesus, the norma normans, the canon within the canon. New Testament research is moving towards a consensus; we just cannot ignore it.
The older blueprint supposition, by which Jesus had the church clearly in mind and had already planned its structure, sacraments, etc., has little or no textual support…In what are commonly accepted as historical memories from Jesus’ ministry, he is singularly silent on foundational or structural issues. This is understandable, if we see Jesus interested not in founding a separate religion but in renewing Israel, which already had worship, priests, sacrifices—Jesus did not need to plan such structures (R. E. BROWN, C. OSIEK & P. PERKINS, “Early Church”, in R. E BROWN, J. A. FITZMYER & R. E. MURPHY (eds.), The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, Bangalore: Theological Publications in India, 2005, pp. 1338-1353, here p. 1339b-1340a. The scholars mentioned here are all Roman Catholics; the commentary has nihil obstat and imprimi postest).
Jesus was a religion-less prophet; he did not found a new religion; he saw his mission as the spiritual renewal of Israel. Let me spell out the consequences.
1. Jesus did not found a Church with divine authority.
2. He instituted neither baptism, nor the Eucharist, much less the other sacraments.
3. His disciples formed a community of equals, with no hierarchy.
4. He did not expect his disciples to blindly accept dogmas.
5. Some ‘inspired’ books cannot be the basis of dogmas.
6. The disciples of Jesus should follow the requirements of morality; as for rites of passage, they will accept the local customs.
7. The disciples of Jesus do not have one geographical centre.
All these are later constructions. They were helpful in the past. They need not be always helpful.
It will also provide us some inspiration if we critically read the New Testament and honestly study the history of the early Church. The Lord’s Supper has gone through three stages. First, it was a fellowship meal (Acts): no special menu, no special president or formalities. It was celebrated in the house of a believer and the nearby Christians were invited. Following the Jewish tradition, the elder would say a blessing, break the bread, himself eat a piece, and then pass it on to the others. Then they would continue the meal. There were no words of consecration, much less transubstantiation. Second, a Sabbath meal (Didache). It was then that wine is introduced. The poor Jews had wine only on special occasions. The early disciples of Jesus were largely poor. The Didache, which according to some scholars was one of the sources of Matthew’s Gospel, contains a Eucharistic prayer which does not have the words of consecration; it does not make any references to the Last Supper, much less to the death of Jesus. There was no transubstantiation. Third, a Passover meal (1 Corinthians). Paul sees Jesus as the Passover Lamb, who died for us. His God is like the Nazi police: they killed Maximillian Kolbe because some prisoner had escaped. There are no indications that Paul or anybody in the New Testament believed in transubstantiation. We find no references to ministerial priests in the New Testament.
Years ago, I was sharing some of my concerns with a professor of history. He fully agreed with me, but cautioned me: “Subhash, the Church will not move unless a mighty earthquake shakes it and it comes down crashing down.” I believe the pandemic has shown that people can be wonderful human beings without organized religions with all their demands. The goal of the preaching of Jesus was to make humans more humane. The goal of the pastoral practice of the Church is not to make people Catholics, not even Christians, but decent human beings: honest, hardworking, humble and humane. In January 2019, one African theologian said that in Africa they were many baptized people, but very few Christians. Here in Indian we have many baptized people, including religious, priests and bishops, but not many Christians. People do not find in the majority of priests and bishops the Christian values they most expect. This is based on a massive empirical study involving approximately 14000 people from all over the country: “It would not therefore be an exaggeration to say that the qualities the Catholic community values most in a priest are generally not observed in most priests [and bishops] today” (P. Parathaziiam, “Catholic Priests in India: Reflections on a Survey”, Vidyajyoti Journal of Theological Reflection, 52 (1988), pp.379-389, here p. 381). I am afraid, thing have only deteriorated after further 1988.
I am inclined to think that the vast majority of priests and bishops of India do not want any major changes. They are prepared for some cosmetic makeup. BUT WITHOUT PROFOUND CHANGES THE CHURCH WILL CONTINUE TO BE A SUCCESSFUL CONSUMER BUSINESS BUT NOT THE COMMUNITY OF JESUS. We need to return to the simplicity of the Christians described by Luke in Acts 2.42, 44-77. The first disciples of Jesus were mostly of Jewish background. Luke describes very beautifully their life after the experience of the Spirit:
"And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions…and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved." (Acts 2.42, 44-77).
There are some very significant elements in this narrative that ought to be part of our life today, and should guide us in celebrating the Lord’s Supper.
1. The disciples are held together by their faith in Jesus.
2. Their coming together was a symbol of a deep fellowship; they shared what they had; there was no needy person among them.
3. This generosity was sustained by prayer. 4. They believed that they were Jews; they continued to worship in the temple.
5. They were deeply joyful people.
6. Their life was a powerful witness.
7. They silently proclaimed Jesus; they were drawing others to him.
8. Their fellowship found a concrete expression in their ‘breaking of bread’.
This sharing of food was an expression of their mutual commitment, and a deepening of it. With all our catechesis, homilies, liturgies, umpteen rituals and innumerable devotions, by and large we have failed: we are so different from the first disciples. Indeed, we are a colossal failure.
I become more and more convinced that the more a religion gets organized the more it has to depend on dishonesty, injustice, half-truths, and full lies. Let me give you just one example. “Most horrifying was his [John Paul II] unwavering support of the paedophile and drug-abusing founder of the Legionaries of Christ, Marcial Maciel, and his stubborn refusal to look seriously at the credible evidence against this fraudulent priest” (R. Mickens, “Two saints for a diverse Church”, The Tablet, 13 July 2013, pp. 6-7, here p. 7a). Yet, Benedict XVI by passed the rules and got him beatified. Then most of the bishops were JP’s candidates. Benedict needed to get their support.
It is time that we return to the SIMPLICITY of the first disciples. You may say I am being very naïve. I am afraid, Jesus was more naïve than I am. Had he been a little less naïve, he would not have been crucified. It is time for us to WAKE UP; honestly study our sources and do some SOUL SEARCHING. We cannot cite ‘church teaching’, because it is human teaching, and therefore very much fallible, and so often behind the times. What does Jesus want TODAY?
St. Paul's School, Bhupalpura, Udaipur, 313001, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org