by Rev. Nicholas L. Gregoris
Blessed Paul VI (who, by the way, was beatified by Pope Francis at the conclusion of the Extraordinary Synod last October) in formulating the "Credo of the People of God," noted that if theologians were able to propose an equivalent expression for the term "transubstantiation"-- without obviously changing the essential teaching of the Church concerning Our Lord's Real Presence in the Eucharist -- then the Magisterium might welcome such a change as legitimate.
To date, however, I am unaware of any theologian in the universal Church who has made such an innovative discovery, so that, at least, as far as this theologian is concerned (and so it seems is likewise evident in the Catechism of the Catholic Church) "transubstantiation" remains unchallenged as the operative theological term to express our Catholic belief that the offerings of bread and wine during the consecratory formula of the Eucharistic Prayer (Canon of the Mass) are really and substantially changed into the Body and Blood of Christ.
With this background in place, let us take our time machine forward almost 50 years to discuss the significance of theological language in the Extraordinary and Ordinary Synods of 2014 and 2015, respectively.
A recurring theme of both the Extraordinary Synod and the Ordinary Synod of the Bishops on the Family has been the need to consider the appropriateness of our pastoral "language" when dealing with certain individuals living in irregular situations.
So, for example, certain participants in the Extraordinary Synod suggested that the expression "living in sin" was inappropriate, no longer adequate for our times and that, therefore, it should be dropped for all practical purposes. At the same time, theologically speaking, one must ask if one can change such language in order to be more "pastorally sensitive" without, in effect, changing the doctrine expressed by that very language.
On Day 2 of the Synod, at least, as related in the customary press conference of the "Sala Stampa" at 1 P.M. (Rome time), a question was raised as to the suitability of the term "indissolubility" on account of the difficulty it supposedly poses to the comprehension of the average person and believer, perhaps more specifically to persons who are divorced and remarried, although this latter point was not clear to me.
Nevertheless, as a theologian, I have to ask: Does there really exist a more appropriate term? More to the point, I question the intentionality of such a proposal to change our venerable theological terminology. By discarding the term "indissolubility," without having an equivalent term in place, do we not run the risk of changing what is clearly Divine Revelation, the express teaching of Our Lord in the Gospels? And, furthermore, would not such a change be deemed reckless and amount to "de facto" material heresy?
Lastly, if the Church were to tolerate "material heresy" in relation to the "indissolubility" of the marital bond, would she not then be putting herself on the edge of a "domino effect," opening herself up to a "Trojan Horse," or to accepting a gift out of a "Pandora's Box," which she would hardly be prepared to receive without becoming something fundamentally different from what Our Lord intended her to be from the beginning, let alone what the institution of marriage was intended by Our Creator to be before Adam and Eve fell from grace in the Garden of Eden?