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Friday, April 06, 2012

Austrian woman intends to celebrate "Easter Mass" and faces excommunication

Interview just published in the Austrian newspaper, Der Standard.

As if we were crucifying cats. 

Martha Heizer: "I have many friends who have now told me that they will bury me in any case." 

Martha Heizer: "We can still indeed pray. Whether the Holy Spirit does it or not is up to him" 

Frau Heizer (in orange) prays with the Cardinal at a penitential service for the victims of clerical sexual abuse

At Easter, the theologian Martha Heizer returns to committing a "delictum gravis" and will hold a Eucharistic celebration in the "domestic church" – under the threat of excommunication. The Tyrolean church theologian and critic Martha Heizer has drawn the ire of many religious leaders. She and four colleagues are accused of imitating Eucharistic celebrations without a priest. In the ecclesiastical world, this is a "delictum gravis", ie a "serious offense", which may lead to the excommunication. The local clergy has now launched investigations into the case. An opinion of the Bishop, Manfred Scheuer should be be presented "in the coming weeks" to the Vatican. Then, the CDF will decide on possible sanctions. 

 Why such tough action is taken against them, Heizer cannot understand. She wishes "to reflect on the future forms of sacraments." How and why Heizer formulated her ceremonies and who will bury her if she is excluded from the sacraments, she tells Katrin Burgstaller. 

derStandard.at: Will you at Easter have a private celebration of the Eucharist? 

Heizer: First: I dislike the formulation of private Eucharist . Because the Eucharist is never private. We celebrate Mass in our house church, I prefer that term. And yes, that's what we do. However, we will be in the parish on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday for the Resurrection. We will be going to the normal church service. Only, this is not so intense. In the small, intimate circle, the celebration has a very different quality. Here one's own life also has a place. 

derStandard.at: How can one imagine such a celebration of the Eucharist in the house church? 

Heizer: We are five and it is always different at each. We sit around a table. This is a normal celebration of the Eucharist, as also happens in the parish. We have no text except the Bible. We pray spontaneously and personally. We have good bread and good wine and ask that the Holy Spirit both - and us - converts. We eat and drink together, and we sing and pray much. 

derStandard.at: How long does it take? 

Heizer: One and a half or two hours. Anything that moves us is part of our Eucharistic celebration.

derStandard.at: Many theologians say that only an ordained priest can ask the Holy Spirit for the conversion of the Eucharistic elements. 

Heizer: We can only pray What the Holy Spirit does or not, is up to Him. We have every confidence that he does so in both in the small and in the great congregation. I think that we need not even be particularly religious to convert the Eucharistic elements. The Holy Spirit does this at His or Her discretion.

derStandard.at: It is often said that you "fake" Eucharistic celebrations. Do you put on a priest's robe?

Heizer: But what rubbish. In addition, we imitate anything. We meet every 14 days and pray together which is a simple Liturgy of the Word. And always someone in our group says: It's time we celebrate the Eucharist once again. In every Eucharist, there is someone who leads from one part to another. So from the Kyrie to the Gloria from Gloria to the reading of Scripture. This is the only function, there is no leadership.

derStandard.at: Your opponents say that you act in contradiction to the liturgical and canonical requirements whereby this cannot be a Eucharist in any sense. 

Heizer: Well, then they should not be concerned. I do not care whether that is recognized from the outside. For us it is a Eucharist, we are very happy and it does us good. 

 derStandard.at: The Vatican Congregation will decide your case. Your "illegal Masses" are as treated as delicts -severe offenses. 

 Heizer: We are accused of desecrating the Eucharist. It drives me mad that we in this wonderful celebration which builds us up and is the source and centre of our faith life should be deprived of holiness. It is as if we were crucifying cats.



Delicts include the desecration of the confessional and sexual abuse of people in confession.  When I think we are grouped with the abusers, I wonder how much all of this is upside down.   They say we seek to fit ourselves into a role we are not entitled to.  We say: the question is whether the clergy are not being presumptious when they take the distribution of the Sacrament on themselves.  In addition, we will soon no longer have enough clerics.    At that stage, we will  have had to have thought about how we should deal with the problem.

derStandard.at: The church is known for their rigid structures. Do you think there is any chance of change?

Heizer: The change does not come from the top- 100 percent.  Those who have the power do not deliver.   And in this case, it is often about power.   The theological arguments do not play the main role.   In the Bible, Jesus said, "Take and eat" and not "take and eat, when an ordained priest is available."   The change comes from below.  If  reprisals come from the top, we just need to take this into account.

derStandard.at: You face a censure or excommunication. What will happen next to you?

Heizer:  Theysay that this little excommunication is an interdict (note- prohibition from ecclesiastical acts), that we have already brought on ourselves because we have held the Eucharist.  We reject strongly that we have made ourselves guilty.   This is beyond our - even theological – imagination.   But we were already excluded from all ecclesiastical office- my husband and I   held volunteer positions, but to leave these was for us no disaster.   Furthermore, they can exclude us from the sacraments.

derStandard.at: Is this already happening?

Heizer: It may be that our priests refuse us communion, which has not happened.   I am baptized, confirmed, married, from priestly ordination, I'm already ruled out,because I am a woman.   For me, three sacraments are left: the Eucharist, Extreme Unction and Penance.These sacraments, they will deny us, if it actually comes to excommunication.   On the other hand, there are instructions to deny no-one Communion.

derStandard.at: You could therefore also be denied a church funeral?

Heizer: Yes.  But I have many friends who have now told you that they will bury me in any case.  I think the good Lord will take me, regardless of what happens at my funeral.

derStandard.at: Have you heard anything again from the higher authorities?

Heizer: Yes.  We have  the five  individual interrogations over with, and since then have never heard back.   We would like the minutes that we did not receive them.  We have asked Bishop Scheuer for the minutes and the Diocesan Tribunal's statement to Rome, but we got no response.

derStandard.at: How would you deal with sanctions?   They don't  really recognise the criticism of the clergy.

Heizer: There is no basis for sanctions.   A penalty, we would not recognize, because we have committed no offense.  There has been no due process.

derStandard.at: Your critics accuse you of  using the Eucharist  in the  struggle for church reform.


Heizer: This is not a matter for We Are Church, but by our prayer circle.   You can also return the criticism.   It can be said  that the clergy prevent any reforms and fight against the people of the church who have wanted change for so long.

derStandard.at: The fact that you talk openly about your celebrations of the Eucharist is perceived as provocation.  Rather it would be better for many church leaders if you just did not talk about it.

Heizer: Yes, most do, and it  has been like this for decades    But let us just  not contribute to this hypocrisy.  If in fact, some feel provoked, I cannot help it.   Provocation is called for. We want to call for a  reflection on the forms of the sacraments, when there are no longer enough priests todistribute the sacrament.  So it's a question of how the church will represented in the future.  And whether and how the Eucharist can be celebrated.

derStandard.at: Recently there was a debate over a parish councilor who lives with a man in a registered partnership.    The question was whether he should take over this office.  He is allowed to – is this is a great revolution in the Church?

Heizer: I think that's normal.   We have so many gay priests, but who do not live in registered partnerships.  They just do it in secret.

derStandard.at: At Easter, you will then hold another celebration of the Eucharist in the house church .   Can other people join in, if they are sympathetic?

Heizer: It depends not on sympathy.  Anyone can come who wants to.We note only that we have a relatively high standard.   We pray freely, personal, spontaneous and loudly.   A lot of people are not used to that  and for many to intimate.

derStandard.at:    They are working as a whole very impassively.  Do you take the threat of trouble from Rome at all seriously?

Heizer: We take this very seriously and it is very important to us, but we are willing to give an account of ourselves.   Because we are convinced that we need in the future for the church to break new ground.

derStandard.at: Thank you.I wish you Happy Easter.

Heizer: I wish you well - and: a few tolerable liturgies.  (Katrin Burgstaller, derStandard.at, 03/04/2012)

Martha Heizer, born 1947, is co-founder and deputy chairman of the platform, "We Are Church". She was a lecturer in religion at the University of Innsbruck.

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