Vatican Document Targets Abuses Against Eucharist

Reiterates and Explains Key Norms for Worthy Celebration and Reception

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VATICAN CITY, APRIL 23, 2004 (Zenit.org).- A new Vatican instruction on the Eucharist takes pains to emphasize that the Blessed Sacrament "is too great for anyone to permit himself to treat it according to his own whim."



The Vatican press office today presented the instruction "'Redemptionis Sacramentum': On Certain Matters to Be Observed or to Be Avoided Regarding the Most Holy Eucharist."

The 70-page document was written at the request of John Paul II by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, in collaboration with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The preamble explains that the instruction is not a "compendium of norms" on the Eucharist, but rather tries to take up "some elements of the liturgical normative previously enunciated and established, which continue to be valid, to reinforce the profound meaning of the liturgical norms" (No. 2).

In his encyclical "Eucharistia de Ecclesia," published last year, the Pope announced this document to offer "dispositions of a juridical nature," as "no one is permitted to undervalue the mystery entrusted to our hands" with the Eucharist (No. 52).

On several occasions, the document repeats the spirit of this expression: "The Mystery of the Eucharist is too great for anyone to permit himself to treat it according to his own whim, so that its sacredness and its universal ordering would be obscured" (No. 11, see No. 8).

When presenting the instruction today, Cardinal Francis Arinze, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, explained that the Church must give clear norms as otherwise each priest would celebrate Mass in his own way.

The cardinal added that the instruction is intended to avoid "abuses" that take place, which at times "threaten the validity of the sacrament."

"All abuses regarding the Holy Eucharist are not of the same weight," he said. "Some threaten to make the sacrament invalid. Some are manifestations of deficiency in Eucharistic faith. Others contribute to confusion among the people of God and to growing desacralization of Eucharistic celebrations. They are not banal."

In fact, the document does not give new norms, but "specifies" them, the cardinal said at the press conference. The novelty is "especially in the spirit," as it seeks to motivate these norms with an "attitude of faith and reverence for the Eucharist."

The first of the document's eight chapters focuses on "The Regulation of the Sacred Liturgy," and explains the role of the Apostolic See, the diocesan bishop, the episcopal conference, priests and deacons in the regulation of the liturgy.

No. 24 states: "It is the right of the Christian people themselves that their diocesan Bishop should take care to prevent the occurrence of abuses in ecclesiastical discipline, especially as regards the ministry of the Word, the celebration of the Sacraments and sacramentals, the worship of God and devotion to the saints."

The second chapter addresses "The Participation of the Lay Christian Faithful in the Eucharistic Celebration," and seeks to avoid the "clericalization" of the laity, an idea on which the Holy See has insisted for years.

"The community that gathers for the celebration of the Eucharist absolutely requires an ordained Priest, who presides over it so that it may truly be a Eucharistic convocation," No. 42 explains. "Accordingly, terms such as 'celebrating community' or 'celebrating assembly' … and similar terms should not be used injudiciously."

The instruction affirms in No. 47 that "It is altogether laudable to maintain the noble custom by which boys or youths, customarily termed servers, provide service of the altar after the manner of acolytes, and receive catechesis regarding their function in accordance with their power of comprehension. Nor should it be forgotten that a great number of sacred ministers over the course of the centuries have come from among boys such as these."

"Girls or women may also be admitted to this service of the altar, at the discretion of the diocesan Bishop and in observance of the established norms," it adds.

The third chapter illustrates "The Proper Celebration of the Mass," to remind the faithful of the fundamental norms necessary for the validity of the sacrament, as the "bread" that "must be unleavened, purely of wheat, and recently made," and the wine "fruit of the grape, pure and incorrupt, not mixed with other substances."

"The homily, which is given in the course of the celebration of Holy Mass and is a part of the Liturgy itself, should ordinarily be given by the Priest celebrant himself," No. 64 states. "He may entrust it to a concelebrating Priest or occasionally, according to circumstances, to a Deacon, but never to a layperson."

"It is strictly to be considered an abuse to introduce into the celebration of Holy Mass elements that are contrary to the prescriptions of the liturgical books and taken from the rites of other religions," No. 79 clarifies.

Chapter 4, on "Holy Communion," confirms "The Church's custom shows that it is necessary for each person to examine himself at depth and that anyone who is conscious of grave sin should not celebrate or receive the Body of the Lord without prior sacramental confession, except for grave reason when the possibility of confession is lacking; in this case he will remember that he is bound by the obligation of making an act of perfect contrition, which includes the intention to confess as soon as possible," No. 81 states.

The fifth chapter addresses "Certain Others Matters Concerning the Eucharist." No. 112 states: "Except in the case of celebrations of the Mass that are scheduled by the ecclesiastical authorities to take place in the language of the people, Priests are always and everywhere permitted to celebrate Mass in Latin."

Regarding the sacred vessels, No. 117 states in part: "Reprobated, therefore, is any practice of using for the celebration of Mass common vessels, or others lacking in quality, or devoid of all artistic merit or which are mere containers, as also other vessels made from glass, earthenware, clay, or other materials that break easily. This norm is to be applied even as regards metals and other materials that easily rust or deteriorate."

On priestly vestments, it says that "the vestment proper to the priest celebrant at Mass is the chasuble, worn over the alb and stole. Likewise the Priest, in putting on the chasuble according to the rubrics, is not to omit the stole."

No. 142 says: "A faculty is given in the Roman Missal for the Priest concelebrants at Mass other than the principal concelebrant (who should always put on a chasuble of the prescribed color), for a just reason such as a large number of concelebrants or a lack of vestments, to omit the chasuble, using the stole over the alb."

"The Reservation of the Most Holy Eucharist and Eucharistic Worship Outside Mass," is the title of the sixth chapter, which in No. 130 states: "It should also be borne in mind that removing or retaining the consecrated species for a sacrilegious purpose or casting them away are 'graviora delicta,' the absolution of which is reserved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith."

The seventh chapter, dedicated to the "Extraordinary Functions of the Lay Faithful," states in No. 153 that it is "never licit for laypersons to assume the role or the vesture of a Priest or a Deacon or other similar such vesture."

No. 151 recalls that "Only out of true necessity is there to be recourse to the assistance of extraordinary ministers in the celebration of the Liturgy."

No. 158 states: "the extraordinary minister of Holy Communion may administer Communion only when the Priest and Deacon are lacking, when the Priest is prevented by weakness or advanced age or some other genuine reason, or when the number of faithful coming to Communion is so great that the very celebration of Mass would be unduly prolonged."

Grave offenses ("graviora delicta") against the holiness of the sacrament are addressed in the eighth chapter entitled "Remedies." They are:

"a) taking away or retaining the consecrated species for sacrilegious ends, or throwing them away;

"b) the attempted celebration of the liturgical action of the Eucharistic Sacrifice or the simulation of the same;

"c) the forbidden concelebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice with ministers of Ecclesial Communities that do not have the apostolic succession nor acknowledge the sacramental dignity of priestly Ordination;

"d) the consecration for sacrilegious ends of one matter without the other in the celebration of the Eucharist or even of both outside the celebration of the Eucharist."

No. 184 says: "Any Catholic, whether Priest or Deacon or lay member of Christ's faithful, has the right to lodge a complaint regarding a liturgical abuse to the diocesan Bishop or the competent Ordinary equivalent to him in law, or to the Apostolic See on account of the primacy of the Roman Pontiff. It is fitting, however, insofar as possible, that the report or complaint be submitted first to the diocesan Bishop. This is naturally to be done in truth and charity."