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Vatican halts liturgical abuses: congregation for divine worship and the discipline of the sacrament.

INSTRUCTION Redemptions sacramentum on certain hatters to be observed or to be avoided regarding the Most Holy Eucharist

Editor's introduction

The Vatican presented the instruction Redemptionis sacramentum on April 23, 2004. 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 continues to be valid, to reinforce the profound meaning of the liturgical norms" (par. 2).

In his encyclical Eucharistia de Ecclesia (The Church of the Eucharist) 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). The CCCB ( points out that the Instruction is to be read in continuity with the 17 April 2003 Encyclical Letter of Pope John Paul II.

The Instruction is accompanied by a presentation from the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Francis Cardinal Arinze.

When presenting the Instruction, Cardinal Arinze 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."

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 cardinal also stated that 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." (Zenit, April 23, 2004)

In a short chapter near the end titled "Remedies," the Instruction distinguishes among:

* Graviora delicta--specially grave crimes against the Eucharist that are treated as crimes in church law with serious ecclesiastical penalties attached. Only he Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith can try such cases.

* Abuses that, although they do not rise to the level of ecclesiastical crimes, are "objectively ... grave matters" threatening the dignity or even the validity of the Eucharist.

* "Other abuses" described in the instruction which do not pose a direct threat to the dignity or validity of the Eucharist but nevertheless "are not to be considered of little account, but are to be carefully avoided and corrected."


1. Nature of the document

This is an instruction from a Roman Congregation, approved in ordinary form by the Supreme Pontiff. It resembles an act of administrative rather than legislative law. The subtitle clearly indicates its disciplinary nature: "On certain matters to be observed or to be avoided regarding the Most Holy Eucharist."

The Instruction does not seek to provide a catechesis or a theology of the Eucharist. The vocabulary used is distinctly disciplinary; for example, the term "norm(s)" appears 67 times in the English version of the text, whereas the term "formation" appears only three times. The first chapter, "The Regulation of the Sacred Liturgy," presents a summary of the major principles of liturgical law. The eighth and final chapter, "Remedies", deals with applicable procedures and sanctions in cases of liturgical abuses. The reader is directed to other documents (Sacrosanctum Concilium, Dies Domini and Ecclesia de Eucharistia) for a reflection on theological or catechetical aspects.

2. Objective

The objective is clearly indicated in paragraph 2: the Instruction treats "of certain matters pertaining to the discipline of the Sacrament of the Eucharist" but is not "a compendium of norms" regarding the sacrament. At the same time, it also establishes further norms "by which those earlier ones are explained and complemented." In this regard, the Instruction is intended to serve as a reminder of pre-existing norms and to clarify their implications.

It is evident that the Congregation seeks to counter and to correct a certain number of abuses, as well as to encourage full respect for liturgical norms.

The full text may be found on the Internet at: = 52462


The following are some of the more common practices highlighted by the Instruction as grave abuses:

* The use of Eucharistic Bread that is not unleavened or made purely of wheat (par. 48).

* The use of wine other than that which is natural and from the fruit of the grape, pure and incorrupt (par. 50).

* The use or composition of unauthorized Eucharistic Prayers (par. 51).

* Recitation of any part of the Eucharistic Prayer by anyone other than the priest--deacon, lay minister, an individual in the congregation, or the whole congregation. The Eucharistic Prayer "is to be recited by the priest alone in full."

* The use of other music during the Eucharistic Prayer, apart from the duly approved acclamations (par. 53).

* The breaking of the host at the time of the consecration (par. 55).

* The omission of the name of the Supreme Pontiff or of the diocesan bishop in the Eucharistic Prayer (par. 56).

* Altering or varying the texts of the liturgy (par. 59).

* Separating the Liturgy of the Word from the Liturgy of the Eucharist by celebrating them at different times or places (par. 60).

* Entrusting the homily to a layperson (par. 64), seminarians, theological students, or "pastoral assistants" (par. 66).

* The introduction of Creeds or Professions of Faith not in the duly approved liturgical books (par. 69).

* "To unite the sacrament of penance to the Mass in such a way that they become a single liturgical celebration." This does not preclude priests from hearing confessions while Mass is going on, however (Par. 76).

* The insertion of the celebration of Mass into the setting of a common meal (par. 77).

* The faithful taking by themselves the sacred host or the sacred chalice, or handing these from one to another, and the administration of Communion by one spouse to another at the Nuptial Mass (par. 94).

* The distribution of unconsecrated hosts or other edible or inedible things after the manner of Communion .... Blessing of bread after Mass should be accompanied by proper catechesis. No unconsecrated hosts may ever be used for this purpose (par. 96).

* The practice of the priest celebrant or a concelebrant waiting until after the Communion of the faithful before taking Communion himself is reprobated (par. 97).

* "The pouring of the blood of Christ after the consecration from one vessel to another is completely to be avoided, lest anything should happen that would be to the detriment of so great a mystery. Never to be used for containing the blood of the Lord are flagons, bowls, or other vessels" (par. 106).

Editor's Comment

This instruction prohibits the widespread Canadian and U.S. practice of placing one or more pitchers of wine on the altar before the consecration when Communion is to be distributed under both kinds, and then pouring that wine into chalices before Communion. A related instruction says there is no problem with placing multiple chalices filled with wine on the altar before the consecration, but for the sake of "sign value," the main chalice should be larger than the others.

* Mass can never be celebrated "in a temple or sacred place of any non-Christian religion" (par. 109).

* Celebration of Mass by priests wearing "only a stole over the monastic cowl or the common habit of religious or ordinary clothes, contrary to the prescriptions of the liturgical books" is strictly prohibited and a "reprobrated" abuse (par. 126).


* The First Communion of children must always be preceded by sacramental confession and absolution. Moreover, First Communion should always be administered by a priest and never outside the celebration of Mass (par. 87).

* In distributing Holy Communion, it is to be remembered that "sacred ministers may not deny the sacraments to those who seek them in a reasonable manner, are rightly disposed, and are not prohibited by law from receiving them." Hence any baptized Catholic who is not prevented by law must be admitted to Holy Communion. Therefore, it is not licit to deny Holy Communion to any of Christ's faithful solely on the grounds, for example, that the person wishes to receive the Eucharist kneeling or standing (par. 91).

Editor's Comment

This is of direct concern to a number of people in Canada who have been refused Communion, sometimes in an arrogant way, for wanting to receive the Eucharist kneeling.

* Each of the faithful always has the right to receive Holy Communion on the tongue, at his choice. Communicants may receive the Sacrament in the hand, in areas where the Bishops' Conference with the recognitio of the Apostolic See has given permission. However, special care should be taken to ensure that the host is consumed by the communicant in the presence of the minister (par. 92).

* The Communion plate for the Communion of the faithful should be retained, so as to avoid the danger of the sacred host or some fragment of it falling (par. 93).

* The chalice should not be ministered to lay members of Christ's faithful where there is such a large number of communicants that it is difficult to gauge the amount of wine for the Eucharist and there is a danger that "more than a reasonable quantity of the Blood of Christ remains to be consumed at the end of the celebration" (Par. 102).

* In the practice of intinction (receiving Communion under both species by dipping a host into the Precious Blood, "the communicants are not permitted to intinct the host themselves nor to receive the intincted host in the hand. It is altogether forbidden to use nonconsecrated bread or other matter" (par. 104).

* In accordance with what is laid down by the canons, "one who throws away the consecrated species or takes them away or keeps them for a sacrilegious purpose, incurs a latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See; a cleric, moreover, may be punished by another penalty, not excluding dismissal from the clerical state." To be regarded as pertaining to this case is any action that is voluntarily and gravely disrespectful of the sacred species. Anyone, therefore, who acts contrary to these norms, for casting the sacred species into the sacrarium or in an unworthy place or on the ground, incurs the penalties laid down (par. 107).

* Bishops must stop "any contrary practice" to church norms that require commendatory letters (Celebret) not more than a year old vouching for a visiting priest's faculties to celebrate Mass, or a prudential judgment by local authorities that he has such faculties (par. 111).

* Celebrations of the Mass must never be suspended "on the pretext of promoting a 'fast from the Eucharist'" as a way to heighten awareness of the importance of the Mass (par. 114).

* Sacred vessels for the Lord's body and blood "must be made in strict conformity with the norms of tradition and the liturgical books," assuring that people of the region consider them "truly noble." Since all risk of diminishing the doctrine of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist must be avoided, use of any more common vessels is "reprobated" (par. 117).

* "The vestment proper to the priest celebrant at Mass, and in other sacred actions directly connected with Mass unless otherwise indicated, 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. All Ordinaries should be vigilant in order that all usage to the contrary be eradicated (par. 123).

* Any time the Blessed Sacrament is exposed for adoration, it "must never be left unattended, even for the briefest space of time" (par. 138).

* "It is never licit for laypersons to assume the role or the vesture of a priest or deacon or other clothing similar to such vesture" (par. 153).

* As has already been recalled, "the only minister who can confect the Sacrament of the Eucharist in persona Christi is a validly ordained priest." Hence the name "minister of the Eucharist" belongs properly to the priest alone. Moreover, the ordinary ministers of Holy Communion are the bishop, the priest and the deacon (par. 154).

* This function (Editor: a lay person distributing communion) is to be understood strictly according to the name by which it is known; that is to say, that of extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, and not "special minister of Holy Communion," nor "extraordinary minister of the Eucharist," nor "special minister of the Eucharist" (par. 156).

* If there is usually present a sufficient number of sacred ministers for the distribution of Holy Communion, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion may not be appointed. Indeed, in such circumstances, those who may have already been appointed to this ministry should not exercise it. The practice of those priests is reprobated who, even though present at the celebration, abstain from distributing Communion and hand this function over to laypersons (par. 157).

* It is never licit for a laicized priest to "celebrate the sacraments under any pretext whatsoever save in the exceptional case set forth by law" of hearing the confession of someone in immediate danger of death (par. 168).


* Bishops. They are reminded that by virtue of their mission as moderators, promoters, and guardians of the whole liturgical life of their diocese (par. 19), they must investigate an abuse of the sacrament of the Eucharist whenever they receive plausible notice (par. 178);

* Priests. Those at whom the Instruction directs specific disapproval in lamenting "a misguided sense of creativity and adaptation" in the liturgy, especially following the post-Conciliar liturgical reform, as such abuses "have been a source of suffering for many" (par. 30);

* Deacons. They are also to do their part to celebrate the liturgy according to the norms of the duly approved liturgical books (par. 35);

* Lay faithful. They are reminded of their right "to a liturgical celebration that is an expression of the Church's life in accordance with her tradition and discipline" (par. 11); and,

Secondly, they have a right to bring a complaint regarding liturgical abuse to the attention of the local bishop or Apostolic See (par. 184), but at the same time the document suggests starting with the diocesan bishop.
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Publication:Catholic Insight
Geographic Code:4EXVA
Date:Jun 1, 2004
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