The word ‘political’ is perhaps the easiest to understand in the title, so let’s leave it aside. For those who are uninitiated in liturgical jargon, the ‘Eucharistic prayer’ occurs in the celebration of mass, after the prayer ‘Holy, holy, holy...’ till just before the recitation of the ‘Our Father’. Each one of these prayers includes the holiest moment of the mass, the consecration.
What can be political in all this? I will not delve, today at least, into the profound political significance of the Eucharist. I will reflect on just one ‘political’ sentence from the fifth Eucharistic prayer.
“May your Church be a living witness of truth and freedom, peace and justice so that all of humanity will rise to a new hope.”
This prayer expresses both a cri de coeur as well as a desired model for the Church. The four values we pray for are core values which the Church aspires to live out. The Church is not an auto-referential organisation concerned only, or mainly, about its organisational needs. It is enjoined by her Lord to be the salt of the earth and the beacon of light for humanity.
Consequently, the Church is also expected to project these four values as a model for all society. In fact, the prayer clearly states that the target is all of humanity and not just Catholics.
The prayer has a tinge of a mea culpa. The Church does not arrogantly state that it is living these values. It prays for the strength to live out these values. Those of us who deeply love the Church are expected to examine our conscience to see where we, as a Church, are in default.
Are we, the Church, truthful when we hide the monstrosity of child sexual abuse?
Are we, the Church, free when we trade prophetic denunciation, or at least mute it, for government grants? The synod of bishops meeting at the Vatican in October has warned that: “In particular, care must be taken to ensure that the use of public or private funds by Church bodies does not limit freedom to speak up for the demands of the Gospel.”
Are we – the Church – a paragon of justice when human rights, including the workers’ fundamental right to be represented by a trade union, are not fully respected within Church structures? Once more, the synod of bishops: “The Church must be honest in examining how it meets the demands of justice among those who work in its affiliated institutions so as to ensure it acts with consistency and integrity.”
The Church is conscious that examples of the above stain its past and present. The Church is a work in progress striving to inculcate truth, justice, freedom and peace in its structures. When our sins of commission or omission hinder the Church from doing so, it asks for forgiveness.
The Church is a work in progress striving to inculcate truth, justice, freedom and peace in its structures- Fr Joe Borg
But the Church is also conscious of its mission to try to instil these values in society. That duty is paramount today. We live in a society where democracy is in decline. Several of the institutions that are there to protect our rights are captured by the State. Corruption has been institutionalised and mass alienation has become the mission of the public service broadcaster. The gap between the rich and the poor is increasing. A new class of sub-proletarian slaves from third countries has been imported to serve us. Our environment has been raped.
The bishops have repeatedly warned about this moral and social decadence.
The Bishop of Gozo, Mgr Anton Teuma, recently denounced the practice of many in his diocese who have been given a job with the government but who just go in for work an hour or two, if they punch in at all. Almost concurrently, a high official of a local organisation said that industries in Gozo have had to change their working hours in order to accommodate the needs of those who can only come to work an hour or two after they ‘start’ their government job.
Bishop Joseph Galea Curmi, during an October 22 homily, reminded us that it is our duty to work for justice, the respect of the rule of law and the right to life.
In the wake of the disability pension scandal, he emphasised that we are in duty bound to work against corruption, against the theft of public money and the commission of fraud to bestow favours.
In the context of such prophetic denunciation by our bishops, the silence and hibernation – freely chosen or, worse, imposed – of the Peace and Justice Commission and the Environment Commission is not just deplorable; it is downright scandalous. Annually they utter less words than a Cistercian bound by a strict rule of silence utters in one month!
Catholic activists in different political parties or in civil society should not be deterred by this silence. The synod (October 2023), in its final document, reminded Christians of their duty to commit themselves to active participation in building up the common good; and to do so through civil society organisations, trade unions and political parties.
The synod adds that the Church is deeply grateful for the work of these activists and that, correspondingly, the community has a duty to support them as “their action is part of the Church’s mission to proclaim the Gospel”.
This work, as the Eucharistic prayer says, aims to engender a new hope for humanity. This is not a lazy kind of hope but the type of hope that G.K. Chesterton once described:
“Hope means hoping when things are hopeless, or it is no virtue at all… As long as matters are really hopeful, hope is mere flattery or platitude; it is only when everything is hopeless that hope begins to be a strength.”
This is the hope that keeps us going on.