"I gave my opinion, and it was rather strong. So this week, I received [a letter] from His Eminence Cardinal Mahony, and... he said, 'I must insist that you issue a formal public retraction of your statement, and that you assure your viewers that the Cardinal Archbishop of Los Angeles does indeed fully believe in the Real Presence, and fosters devotion to this great mystery of our faith.'
Cardinal Mahony said "For you to state publicly on television that I do not believe in the Real Presence is astounding and reprehensible and calls for an immediate public clarification and apology from you.... I have just published a comprehensive pastoral letter on the celebration of Sunday Eucharist, and reprint at the very outset of the letter the formal statement of the Council of Trent on the full and authentic meaning of the Real Presence, a mystery of our Faith which I believe totally and without compromise....
"I do want to apologize to the Cardinal for my remark, which I'm sure seemed excessive... When I spoke those words last week I was expressing my heartfelt concern over the contents of this pastoral... I could hardly believe that I could make such a mistake if such a clear statement were right at the outset... I am confused at what the letter says....
"What came through to me was the principal focus in this letter on assembly, the concentration on assembly by the people in the Church rather than the Eucharist. So, I felt the letter was unclear to what the Church teaches about the Real Presence, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus..."
Mother Angelica noted that the only time she found the term "transubstantiation" was "in a very small footnote." She commented, "I don't know about you, but I don't read footnotes, unfortunately. I read the big print. So, I missed the footnote. Well, I kind of wish that footnote in the body of the letter was clear, and if I overlooked it in the whole letter, I imagine a lot of other people overlooked it.
"The pastoral letter has a whole different language... The word 'presence' is used in the text of the letter but it never says 'Real Presence'... it's a presence of the community, the assembly, the general presence of God in the liturgy, and the presence of the bishop. It doesn't talk about the presence of Jesus, Body, Blood, Soul, or the transubstantiation."
Mother Angelica said she found the pastoral letter's reference to Christ as "present in the simple gifts of bread and wine, and in the mystery that is His Church," particularly confusing:
"That the presence of Jesus is in the bread and wine, says to me, it's still bread and wine. It has to be changed into the Body and Blood of Christ. It can't be 'in'--that means it's still bread and wine, but He's inside. But He's inside of me... God is inside of everything... I'm a member of the masses; I'm a simple woman, and I don't understand this. Does that mean Christ is present before the Consecration in the bread and wine..? Or does it mean that He is present after the Consecration? Well, if He is present after the Consecration, in what way? Does He just kind of hop into the bread and wine, but it's still bread and wine? Or does it become His Body and Blood? The use of 'in the bread and wine' strongly suggested to me that the Body of Christ exists together with the bread and wine... Here's the bread and wine and here's Jesus... the Church rejects that misunderstanding... If there's still bread and wine, why would I adore Him? Why would I kneel and prostrate myself to bread and wine?
"Such an important letter opened a beautiful chance to explain to the people the Real Presence. The letter says 'What does it mean when the body of Christ comes forward to receive the Body of Christ?' Well, I don't know! And it was never answered in the letter... Am I the Body of Christ? No. And it looks like 'the body of Christ receives the Body of Christ.' [sigh] You know, I got a doctorate in theology, it' one of these they give you, I didn't earn it, but I still didn't know what it meant.
"Last week, I said if somebody taught me that, I would not obey. Well, the canons tell me I can't say that, that's a no-no, to tell anybody they should not obey their bishop or cardinal. For that, I apologize... It is very confusing to people when leaders seem to ignore the real problems in the Church that need to be addressed, seem to tolerate and encourage liturgical fuzziness and practices that don't, to me, show or manifest the holiness of the Sacrifice of the Mass.
"For example, the letter encourages parishioners to gather together around the altar, because 'what occurs there involves not only the bread and wine, but those standing round. Because we too, are consecrated, changed and shared.' I don't know what that means... So what does it really mean? There's no explanation... where can this innovation be found in the Church's teachings?..
"[U]nder the subtitle of 'Ministries' in this pastoral letter, it says, 'In our Catholic tradition the one who is called by the Church to the order of priest is to be in the local parish community as the presence of the Bishop'... 'The Bishop remains always for us in direct relationship to every parish in the diocese.' Very true. And sometimes we forget that. We shouldn't. 'He is also our bond with the Catholic Church through the world.' And that's true. 'But the bishop,' he says, 'since the early centuries of the Church, has laid hands on other worthy members' (I wasn't too sure who the other worthy members are--could they be women?) 'and sent them to be his presence in the community.' Do we say that our brothers have been ordained to be the presence of the bishop in this community? Maybe I've lived too long. I was taught as a kid that the Alter Christus was another Christ--otherwise, how could he forgive sins, or how could he say over this bread and wine, 'This is [my body]. He doesn't say 'his' body, he doesn't say 'the body, he says 'my body.'
"[Mahony] says, 'On Sunday the one who presides, the ordained priest, comes not only as other ministers do, from the assembly, and comes as one who orders this assembly, who relates this assembly to the bishop and the larger Church.' What does it mean? 'True to our Catholic soul, we understand our Church bonds to be more flesh and blood than theory and theology. Here in this human being is our bond with the bishop and with other communities throughout the world.' That one really confused me. I love our bishop here [in Birmingham, Alabama]. He's a wonderful bishop. He's been understanding, and you've got to be holy to be understanding of me. And I think he suffers much because of me. To him I apologize also. The Mass is the Holy Sacrifice of Jesus, and that sacrifice, the Father gives me and you the opportunity to be there. I love my bishop [but] I don't think I go to Mass every week to be bonded with my bishop.
"These are very difficult and confusing times, and personally I ask our Church leaders to give everybody that pastoral care, because I really cannot live my life as a Catholic if I don't know the truth. You and I must know the truth.
"[I]n this pastoral... the emphasis is definitely on the people. We are a people, you have a Church that has within it the presence of Jesus... We received at Baptism the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We didn't join a club, we didn't join a lounge. We became sons and daughters of the most high God.
"[The pastoral] says 'During the Eucharistic Prayer, the people see the way the Holy Spirit is invoked to transform these gifts and themselves'... are we saying that the people are the Eucharist, or the assembly is the Eucharist?
"His Eminence asked for a public clarification, and I wanted to say to him, I don't mean to cause you any problem. I don't mean to divide the Church and to cause anything. I'm just confused, because I don't understand.
"I have to send a copy of this to the nuncio because the cardinal sent him a copy, along with Archbishop Pilla, along with my own Bishop [Foley], God bless him. I hope he doesn't have a heart attack when he reads it. But I think he understands me. I'm not here to correct anybody... I'm not here to teach in the place of anybody, either. I know my place, and I try to keep it. But it is my duty, because the Lord has asked me, to enlighten the people.... just to say 'here, this is what the Church teaches...'
"I think all of us need to pray that we're not confused, that we know for sure what Jesus taught us, and that we're able through His grace to follow all of it. That we don't pick and choose, just take the whole thing... I think you and I need to pray for the Church all over the world, and that we all know our place. We're the people of God. We're the Church. But you and I are not Eucharist, you and I are poor sinners.
"And so I hope I satisfied the cardinal's request. I wish him well. I will pray for him, and I hope he will pray for me...
"We cannot afford not to know the truth about everything. So, Your Eminence, if I have mistaken your letter, I'm very sorry, but I still find it confusing... Let us pray for each other, and give the Lord the glory by all believing what the Church teaches..."