"The Holy Eucharist is the greatest treasure that the Church has on earth: It is Christ himself," said the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments.
"Is it any wonder if the Church is careful to protect and guard the celebration of this august mystery?" he asked.
The dicastery he oversees published the recent instruction "Redemptionis Sacramentum" on matters to be observed or to be avoided regarding the Eucharist. In this interview, the cardinal clarifies the reasons for the publication of the much-anticipated document.
Q: From the document, it is evident that in recent decades the practice of the Eucharist has been neglected in liturgical forms and weakened in its profound meaning. What are the established aims in the instruction?
Cardinal Arinze: The aim of the instruction "Redemptionis Sacramentum" is to encourage the observation of norms concerning the celebration of the holy Eucharist and to encourage the worship of the holy Eucharist outside Mass, such as in visits to the Blessed Sacrament and in Eucharistic holy hours, Benediction, processions and congresses.
As a result of the directive given us by the Holy Father in Paragraph 52 of his encyclical letter "Ecclesia de Eucharistia," the instruction had to mention some abuses expressly and ask that they be avoided.
Q: You said on Vatican Radio that the celebration of the Eucharist is not an ecumenical act and even less so, an interreligious one. Could you explain better what you meant to say?
Cardinal Arinze: The Eucharistic celebration is not an ecumenical celebration because it is an internal celebration of the Catholic Church.
It is the highest celebration of the Church by Catholics who have full communion of faith and morals with the Pope and with the bishops in communion with him.
An ecumenical celebration is a good thing when duly approved by heads of the Christian religious communities involved. An example is a prayer or Bible service by Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans and Presbyterians. An ecumenical celebration is very different from a Mass.
It is clearer still that the Eucharistic celebration is not a service for Jews, Muslims, Hindus and followers of traditional religions. What we believe guides how we pray.
Q: In the United States, but also in Europe, a great debate erupted over the consistency of Catholic politicians. There are several cases in which politicians declare themselves Catholics and then vote on laws and make statements in clear contrast with Church teachings, as is obvious in the case of the support of laws that facilitate abortion, euthanasia, homosexual marriages, and the spread of anti-life contraceptive schemes. Access by these public personages to the Eucharist creates scandal among the faithful. Does the instruction address this problem? What are the indications furnished on this matter by the dicastery over which you preside?
Cardinal Arinze: Moral theology and canon law explain which Catholics may and which may not receive holy Communion.
The instruction "Redemptionis Sacramentum" mentions some of these details in paragraphs 81 and 82, but does not examine the question you pose in a direct way. It is for the bishops in each diocese and country to explain to their people this discipline and the doctrine that gives origin to it.
Q: More than on the errors, "Redemptionis Sacramentum" emphasizes the central importance of the Eucharist. How much does the Eucharist count in the life of the Church and of the Christian community?
Cardinal Arinze: The Eucharistic sacrifice is "the fount and apex of the whole Christian life." The Eucharist is at the center of the life of the Church. The holy Eucharist is the greatest treasure that the Church has on earth: It is Christ himself.
Is it any wonder if the Church is careful to protect and guard the celebration of this august mystery and to promote the worship of it?