QUEENSLAND BISHOPS - MICHAEL PUTNEY Townsville


WE HAVE PREVIOUSLY referred to Queensland as the “sick man” of the Church in Australia. This has been evidenced by the 2006 Advent Pastorals in Toowoomba and Brisbane.


It seems the Pastoral Letter is in these cases something of a subconscious cry for help - “See how far I am from thinking with the Church? - Help me!” The doctor has been and gone and we await his most direct prescriptions.

A recent Pastoral Letter for the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ has been issued by Bishop Michael Putney of Townsville. It is of an entirely different order to the letters mentioned above. It is no less disconcerting. In many ways more subtle, it would not be written much differently if one wished to undermine Faith and create doubt whilst always being able to point to covering clauses to show one really did no wrong.

Even in its second paragraph it hides the definitive Catholic teaching that Christ’s Presence in the Eucharist is par excellence and of an entirely superior order to His presence in the assembly, the priest and the Word. Instead the letter said, “He is present in us when we gather as a worshipping community. He is present in the consecrated bread and wine which we receive. He is present in the priest who presides.” Now all of this is literally true - but as we see not the whole truth, and the motive for the omission is our concern.

The next section of the letter - “The Eucharist and the Church” - entirely omits any reference to sacrificial worship, the emphasis being totally on the horizontal plane - we - God acting in us. The following paragraph does pick up this idea, but only after the strange impression left by this paragraph.

In a section beginning “Fifthly” there is a discussion of the meaning of our “Amen” immediately before receiving Holy Communion. Very oddly the one thing not mentioned is the true meaning of that “Amen”, which is that we are giving assent to the priest’s assertion that this is the Body of Christ really.

Heart of the Problems

This brings us to the heart of the problems with the Letter. The section of the Letter headed “The Presence of Christ” commences, “Finally, we believe that the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ in the eucharist. “ Well and good. The Letter goes on to set up a problem ... “how we are to understand the presence” ... “people are not sure”. The circumlocution which follows, with a nod to “St Thomas Aquinas” and “the Middle Ages”, “transubstantiation”, “substance”, winds up with, “There has been a change so that what we see now is the sign or symbol of something that we cannot see which it has become.”

Sign - yes - in its technical sense - as we know a Sacrament is a visible sign instituted by Christ to give grace.

Symbol - no - never. This is the very thing the Blessed Sacrament is not. A symbol by definition is not the reality of the thing it symbolises. Just as a drawing/statue of a dove is not the Holy Spirit.

But now the Letter proceeds to clarify the set-up problem. To what authority does it have recourse? Are the Councils of the Church quoted? The Popes? The Catechism or Compendium? The Saints? Too much to hope for Sacred Scripture? NO ... why are we distracted with these ... the Letter goes straight to ... the 1979 Anglican-Roman Catholic Dialogue! (Devoid of teaching authority of course.) The section quoted is about the meaning of “becoming” in the context of the bread and wine and the Body and Blood of Christ. Again it is accurate as far as it goes, but subtly it leaves the simple reader with the idea that Christ’s Presence in the Eucharist is “sacramental” rather than real, the one word studiously avoided throughout.

As for what “sacramental” might mean to the simple reader, the section Sacramental Presence begins, “The ‘bread’ that we see is now only a symbol of Christ who is thereby present sacramentally.”

No. No. No - as above. It seems everyone but Bishop Putney knows the difference between “symbol” and “reality”.

It finishes, “What we see has been changed not to our eyes but in reality so that it really functions now only as a sign making him present.”

Whatever the writer’s intention, this sentence would again nudge the simple reader to think, “Functions now only as a sign making him present???” What’s real about that? The writer goes on to say, “The other error would be to think that because Christ is present through the sign of bread, he has somehow taken on the size, colour, shape, location of bread. This is not our faith either.”

But if Christ has not “somehow taken on the size, colour, shape, location of bread”, how can he be really present? Why do we worship and adore the appearance of bread in its “location” in tabernacle, monstrance, ciborium, on our tongue - if Christ has not really taken on the size, colour, shape, location of bread?

The Letter finishes up with an acknowledgement that we do worship and adore the Blessed Sacrament “even after Mass has ended” and that this is praiseworthy.

The truth of the Real Presence would have been more accurately written about by many teenagers we know. Perhaps the writer - a great ecumenist - has spent too many years in ecumenababble to be able to recall basic Catholic teaching on the sacraments, and its precisely-honed language.

When Bishop Putney was first appointed, Archbishop Bathersby opined that “it would be good that we now have a theologian bishop in Queensland to stop the Southern bishops laughing at what’s done here”. His Grace was half right - they’re not laughing, they’re weeping along with the rest of us.

Let us ask Pope Paul VI to clear the air:

The Physical Reality of Christ’s Body and Blood in the Eucharist

To avoid misunderstanding this sacramental presence which surpasses the laws of nature and constitutes the greatest miracle of its kind we must listen with docility to the voice of the teaching and praying Church. This voice, which constantly echoes the voice of Christ, assures us that the way Christ is made present in this Sacrament is none other than by the change of the whole substance of the bread into His Body, and of the whole substance of the wine into His Blood, and that this unique and truly wonderful change the Catholic Church rightly calls transubstantiation. As a result of transubstantiation, the species of bread and wine undoubtedly take on a new meaning and a new finality, for they no longer remain ordinary bread and ordinary wine, but become the sign of something sacred, the sign of a spiritual food. However, the reason they take on this new significance and this new finality is simply because they contain a new “reality” which we may justly term ontological. Not that there lies under those species what was already there before, but something quite different; and that not only because of the faith of the Church, but in objective reality, since after the change of the substance or nature of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, nothing remains of the bread and wine but the appearances, under which Christ, whole and entire, in His physical “reality” is bodily present, although not in the same way that bodies are present in a given place.

¬— Pope Paul VI in Mysterium Fidei [emphasis added]

Pope Paul VI pray for us and for the people of Townsville Diocese.

But wait - there is more out of Townsville:

At St Mary’s Church, Bowen on 17-18 May Father Bill Brady MSC deleted the Creed from the Mass and substituted the following:

I believe in God,

who is love and who has given the earth to all people.

I believe in Jesus Christ,

who came to heal in and through all who work for justice.

I believe in the community of faith,

which is called to be at the service of all people.

I believe in God’s promise to finally destroy the power of sin in us all,

and to establish the kingdom of justice and peace for all humankind.

I believe in human rights,

in the solidarity of all people,

in the power of non-violence.

I do not believe in racism,

in the power that comes from wealth and privilege,

or in any established order that enslaves.

I believe that all women and men are equally human,

that order based on violence and injustice is not order.

I do not believe that war and hunger

are inevitable and peace unattainable.

I believe in the beauty of simplicity,

in love with open hands, in peace on earth.

I do not believe that suffering need be in vain,

that death is the end,

that the disfigurement of our world is what God intended.

I dare to believe,

always and in spite of everything,

in God’s power to transform and transfigure,

fulfilling the promise of a new heaven and a new earth

where justice and peace will flourish.

Parishioners were asked “to return the printed text so that” it could be used again!!!

Given the problems with the Pastoral Letter it is perhaps less than surprising that this abuse of the Liturgy should take place in Townsville Diocese.

TONY DIXON
Copyright This article was first published in the June 2008 issue of FOUNDATION.

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