Liturgical Abuses

Summarized from  Redemptionis Sacramentum
Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, 25 March 2004


Rights of Catholics to Complain

Correcting Liturgical Abuses

Kinds of Liturgical Abuses

1. Graviora delicta

2. Grave Matters

3. Other Abuses


The Rights of Catholics to Complain about Abuses

Given that the Supreme Pontiff's authority through the Church is ordinary and immediate, Redemptionis Sacramentum reminds Catholics that they have the right to appeal to the Holy See in any ecclesiastical matter. Good order and charity suggests that complaints in so far as possible be first directed to the local Bishop or to the Religious Superior as appropriate, before being referred to the Holy See. This is consistent with how Our Lord asks us to give fraternal correction (cf. Mt. 18:15-17). Certainly, when such appeals have been shown to be fruitless, direct appeal to the Holy See is justified.

[184] 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.[290] 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.

[290] Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Constitution, Pastor bonus 52, CIC 1417 § 1

_________________________

Pastor Bonus Art. 52 — The Congregation [for the Doctrine of the Faith] examines offences against the faith and more serious ones both in behaviour or in the celebration of the sacraments which have been reported to it and, if need be, proceeds to the declaration or imposition of canonical sanctions in accordance with the norms of common or proper law.

Code of Canon Law 1417, 1.  In virtue of the primacy of the Roman Pontiff, anyone of the faithful is free to bring to or introduce before the Holy See a case either contentious or penal in any grade of judgment and at any stage of litigation.


Correct Liturgical Abuses

Redemptionis Sacramentum provides processes for handing liturgical abuse cases.

Diocese or Religious Order

The local Ordinary or the Religious Superior is obligated to act on "a plausible notice of delict or abuse," to investigate it himself or appoint a "worthy cleric" to do so, to correct and imposing sanctions when necessary and to refer to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith "without delay" all graviora delicta and crimes against the Faith (heresy). In addition the must inform the Congregation of the more serious other cases. I understand this to mean the ones which he himself has resolved.

[178.] Hence whenever a local Ordinary or the Ordinary of a religious Institute or of a Society of apostolic life receives at least a plausible notice of a delict or abuse concerning the Most Holy Eucharist, let him carefully investigate, either personally or by means of another worthy cleric, concerning the facts and the circumstances as well as the imputability.

[179.] Delicts against the faith as well as graviora delicta committed in the celebration of the Eucharist and the other Sacraments are to be referred without delay to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which “examines [them] and, if necessary, proceeds to the declaration or imposition of canonical sanctions according to the norm of common or proper law”.

[180.] Otherwise the Ordinary should proceed according the norms of the sacred canons, imposing canonical penalties if necessary, and bearing in mind in particular that which is laid down by canon 1326. If the matter is serious, let him inform the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.

Canon 1326
1. A judge can punish more severely than a law or a precept has stated:
     (1) a person who after condemnation or after a declaration of a penalty still commits an offense so as to be prudently presumed to be in continuing bad will in light of the circumstances;
     (2) a person who has been given some dignified position or who has abused authority or office in order to commit the offense;
     (3) an accused who although a penalty has been established against a culpable offense, foresaw what was to happen yet nonetheless did not take the precautions which any diligent person would have employed to avoid it.
2. If the penalty established is an automatic one (latae sententiae), another penalty or a penance can be added in those cases mentioned in part 1.

Holy See

The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments is the Roman dicastery responsible for the liturgy, unless it is a matter reserved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (doctrinal teaching, graviora delicta). Keeping in mind what was said earlier about trying as far as possible to resolve complaints at the diocesan or religious order level [RS 184], when a complaint is referred to the Congregation it will refer the matter back to the Ordinary or Superior for investigation, correction and report to the Congregation concerning what was done. The Congregation may freely exercise its faculty to instruct the Ordinary or Superior how to proceed, which they must obey.

[181.] Whenever the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments receives at least a plausible notice of a delict or an abuse concerning the Most Holy Eucharist, it informs the Ordinary so that he may investigate the matter. When the matter turns out to be serious, the Ordinary should send to the same Dicastery as quickly as possible a copy of the acts of the inquiry that has been undertaken, and where necessary, the penalty imposed.

[182.] In more difficult cases the Ordinary, for the sake of the good of the universal Church in the care for which he too has a part by virtue of his sacred Ordination, should not fail to handle the matter, having previously taken advice from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. For its part, this Congregation, on the strength of the faculties given to it by the Roman Pontiff, according to the nature of the case, will assist the Ordinary, granting him the necessary dispensations or giving him instructions or prescriptions, which he is to follow diligently.


Kinds of Liturgical Abuses

Redemptionis Sacramentum speaks of three classes of liturgical abuses. 1) graviora delicata (the most grave crimes), 2) grave matters and 3) other abuses (i.e. lesser matters). Please note that indented material are direct quotes from the document, along with footnotes and referenced documents, in some cases. Otherwise, the comentary is my own.

1. Graviora Delicta. The most grave kind of liturgical abuses are graviora delicta and are reserved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Each will be treated separated.

[172.] Graviora delicta against the sanctity of the Most August Sacrifice and Sacrament of the Eucharist are to be handled in accordance with the ‘Norms concerning graviora delicta reserved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’,[280] namely:

a) taking away or retaining the consecrated species for sacrilegious ends, or the throwing them away;[281]

b) the attempted celebration of the liturgical action of the Eucharistic Sacrifice or the simulation of the same;[282]

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;[283]

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.[284]

     [280] Cf. Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Letter (Motu Proprio), Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela: AAS 93 (2001) pp. 737-739; Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Ep. ad totius Catholicae Ecclesiae Episcopos aliosque Ordinarios et Hierarchas quorum interest: de delictis gravioribus eidem Congregationi pro Doctrina Fidei reservatis: AAS 93 (2001) p. 786.
     [281] Cf. Code of Canon Law, can. 1367; Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts, Responsio ad propositum dubium, 3 July 1999: AAS 91 (1999) p. 918; Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Ep. ad totius Catholicae Ecclesiae Episcopos aliosque Ordinarios et Hierarchas quorum interest: de delictis gravioribus eidem Congregationi pro Doctrina Fidei reservatis: AAS 93 (2001) p. 786.
     [282] Cf. Code of Canon Law, can. 1378 § 2 n. 1 et 1379; Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Ep. ad totius Catholicae Ecclesiae Episcopos aliosque Ordinarios et Hierarchas quorum interest: de delictis gravioribus eidem Congregationi pro Doctrina Fidei reservatis: AAS 93 (2001) p. 786.
     [283] Cf. Code of Canon Law, can. 908 et 1365; Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Ep. ad totius Catholicae Ecclesiae Episcopos aliosque Ordinarios et Hierarchas quorum interest: de delictis gravioribus eidem Congregationi pro Doctrina Fidei reservatis: AAS 93 (2001) p. 786.
     [284] Cf. Code of Canon Law, can. 927; Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Ep. ad totius Catholicae Ecclesiae Episcopos aliosque Ordinarios et Hierarchas quorum interest: de delictis gravioribus eidem Congregationi pro Doctrina Fidei reservatis: AAS 93 (2001) p. 786.

a. Taking away or retaining the consecrated species for sacrilegious ends, or the throwing them away.

This is the most serious crime mentioned, one that if done knowingly with full consent immediately earns an automatic excommunication reserved to the Holy See. This means that neither a priest nor a bishop can validly absolve a person from this excommunication. The Holy Father has committed the faculty to absolve this crime to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and it alone. In an earlier paragraph of Redemptionis Sacramentum this matter is treated at some length. It states,

[107.] 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”.[194] 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 example casting the sacred species into the sacrarium or in an unworthy place or on the ground, incurs the penalties laid down.[195]

     [194] Cf. Code of Canon Law, can. 1367.
     [195] Cf. Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts, Response to dubium, 3 July 1999: AAS 91 (1999) p. 918.
_____________________

Canon 1367  A person who throws away the consecrated species or who takes them or retains them for a sacrilegious purpose incurs an automatic (latae sententiae) excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See; if a cleric, he can be punished with another penalty including dismissal from the clerical state.

As the authentic interpretation of canon 1367 issued in 1999 and cited above first noted, pouring the Precious Blood down the sacrarium (the special sink in the sacristy that goes into the ground), or onto the ground, or similar actions with respect to the Sacred Host, incur an automatic excommunication.

b. The attempted celebration of the liturgical action of the Eucharistic Sacrifice or the simulation of the same.

It is a violation of hierarchial order for any person to assume an office which is not theirs by ordination. To do so is to simulate the exercise of the power attached to that Order. Thus, to hear confessions, anoint the sick with the oil of the sick, concelebrate Mass etc. are among the most serious violations of Catholic discipline. Pertaining to the Eucharist are the following canons:

Canon 1378
2. The following incur an automatic (latae sententiae) penalty of interdict or if a cleric, an automatic (latae sententiae) suspension:
     (1) one who has not been promoted to the priestly order and who attempts to enact the liturgical action of the Eucharistic Sacrifice;

Canon 1379
Outside the cases mentioned in can. 1378, one who simulates the administration of a sacrament is to be punished with a just penalty.

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.

Similar to b. is the participating of Catholic clergy in non-Catholic rites or the participation of non-Catholic clergy in Catholic rites. This is called communicatio in sacris (communion in sacred things). It presumes an ecclesiastical communion between the Catholic Church and the other Church or ecclesial body which does not exist. It is therefore both inauthentic and gravely wrong.

Canon 908
It is forbidden for Catholic priests to concelebrate the Eucharist with priests or ministers of churches or ecclesial communities which are not in full communion with the Catholic Church.

Canon 1365
A person guilty of prohibited participation in sacred rites (communicatio in sacris) is to be punished with a just penalty.

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.

This delict would seem to involve more than simple consecration of Eucharistic matter outside the Mass or of one species without the other, since it speaks also of a sacrilegious end (such as for a Black Mass). However, the canon that is referenced clearly prohibits such consecrations under any circumstances.

Canon 927
It is sinful, even in extreme necessity, to consecrate one matter without the other or even both outside the celebration of the Eucharist.


2. Grave Matters. The next serious kind are called Grave matters, a term which in the canonical and moral theology tradition is reserved for those actions which are obliged, or reprobated, under penalty of grave sin (e.g. the Sunday and Holy Day obligation). In other words, they involve objectively grave matter, which if done with knowledge of their gravity and freely constitute mortal sin.  For a priest celebrating Mass this is extremely serious, since he has a grave obligation to celebrate the Sacrifice and receive Holy Communion in the state of grace (c. 916). If he, contemporaneously with his celebration, is committing abuses which are gravely sinful then he celebrates sacrilegiously, unless he immediately ceases the abuse and makes a perfect act of contrition.

[173.] Although the gravity of a matter is to be judged in accordance with the common teaching of the Church and the norms established by her, objectively to be considered among grave matters is anything that puts at risk the validity and dignity of the Most Holy Eucharist: namely, anything that contravenes what is set out above in nn. 48-52, 56, 76-77, 79, 91-92, 94, 96, 101-102, 104, 106, 109, 111, 115, 117, 126, 131-133, 138, 153 and 168. Moreover, attention should be given to the other prescriptions of the Code of Canon Law, and especially what is laid down by canons 1364, 1369, 1373, 1376, 1380, 1384, 1385, 1386, and 1398.

The following paragraphs, excerpted in most cases, give the specific abuses cited as grave matter in n. 173 above.

[48.] The Eucharistic bread must be "unleavened, purely of wheat, and recently made." ... It is a grave abuse to introduce other substances, such as fruit or sugar or honey, into the bread for confecting the Eucharist.

[49.] (although included in the citation of 48-52 of n.173 above, nothing in this paragraph regarding the appropriateness of the hosts used for communion being from the same Mass, or concerning using small hosts, appears to be of grave matter)

[50.] The wine that is used in the most sacred celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice must be natural, from the fruit of the grape, pure and incorrupt, not mixed with other substances. It is altogether forbidden to use wine of doubtful authenticity or provenance, for the Church requires certainty regarding the conditions necessary for the validity of the sacraments. Nor are other drinks of any kind to be admitted for any reason, as they do not constitute valid matter.

[51.] Only those Eucharistic Prayers are to be used which are found in the Roman Missal or are legitimately approved by the Apostolic See, and according to the manner and the terms set forth by it. “It is not to be tolerated that some Priests take upon themselves the right to compose their own Eucharistic Prayers” or to change the same texts approved by the Church, or to introduce others composed by private individuals. 

[52.] The proclamation of the Eucharistic Prayer, which by its very nature is the climax of the whole celebration, is proper to the Priest by virtue of his Ordination. It is therefore an abuse to proffer it in such a way that some parts of the Eucharistic Prayer are recited by a Deacon, a lay minister, or by an individual member of the faithful, or by all members of the faithful together.

[56.] (in the Eucharistic Prayer) The mention of the name of the Supreme Pontiff and the diocesan Bishop in the Eucharistic Prayer is not to be omitted

[76.] ... it is not permissible to unite the Sacrament of Penance to the Mass in such a way that they become a single liturgical celebration.

[77.] The celebration of Holy Mass is not to be inserted in any way into the setting of a common meal, nor joined with this kind of banquet (and) not to be celebrated without grave necessity on a dinner table nor in a dining room or banquet hall, nor in a room where food is present, nor in a place where the participants during the celebration itself are seated at tables.

[79.] Finally, 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.

[91.] 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.

[92.] Although each of the faithful always has the right to receive Holy Communion on the tongue, at his choice, if any communicant should wish to receive the Sacrament in the hand, in areas where the Bishops’ Conference with the recognitio of the Apostolic See has given permission, the sacred host is to be administered to him or her. However, special care should be taken to ensure that the host is consumed by the communicant in the presence of the minister, so that no one goes away carrying the Eucharistic species in his hand. If there is a risk of profanation, then Holy Communion should not be given in the hand to the faithful.

[94.] It is not licit for the faithful “to take . . . by themselves . . . and, still less, to hand . . . from one to another” the sacred host or the sacred chalice. Moreover, in this regard, the abuse is to be set aside whereby spouses administer Holy Communion to each other at a Nuptial Mass.

[96.] The practice is reprobated whereby either unconsecrated hosts or other edible or inedible things are distributed during the celebration of Holy Mass or beforehand after the manner of Communion, contrary to the prescriptions of the liturgical books. ... Where there exists in certain places by concession a particular custom of blessing bread after Mass for distribution, proper catechesis should very carefully be given concerning this action. In fact, no other similar practices should be introduced, nor should unconsecrated hosts ever be used for this purpose.

[101.] In order for Holy Communion under both kinds to be administered to the lay members of Christ’s faithful, due consideration should be given to the circumstances, as judged first of all by the diocesan Bishop. It is to be completely excluded where even a small danger exists of the sacred species being profaned.

[102.] 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 remain to be consumed at the end of the celebration”. The same is true wherever access to the chalice would be difficult to arrange, or where such a large amount of wine would be required that its certain provenance and quality could only be known with difficulty, or wherever there is not an adequate number of sacred ministers or extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion with proper formation, or where a notable part of the people continues to prefer not to approach the chalice for various reasons, so that the sign of unity would in some sense be negated.

[104.] The communicant must not be permitted to intinct the host himself in the chalice, nor to receive the intincted host in the hand. As for the host to be used for the intinction, it should be made of valid matter, also consecrated; it is altogether forbidden to use non-consecrated bread or other matter.

[106.] However, 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 that are not fully in accord with the established norms.

[109.] It is never lawful for a Priest to celebrate in a temple or sacred place of any non-Christian religion.

[111.] A Priest is to be permitted to celebrate or concelebrate the Eucharist “even if he is not known to the rector of the church, provided he presents commendatory letters” (i.e., a celebret) not more than a year old from the Holy See or his Ordinary or Superior “or unless it can be prudently judged that he is not impeded from celebrating”. Let the Bishops take measures to put a stop to any contrary practice.

[115.] The abuse is reprobated by which the celebration of Holy Mass for the people is suspended in an arbitrary manner contrary to the norms of the Roman Missal and the healthy tradition of the Roman Rite, on the pretext of promoting a “fast from the Eucharist”.

[117.] Sacred vessels for containing the Body and Blood of the Lord must be made in strict conformity with the norms of tradition and of the liturgical books. The Bishops’ Conferences have the faculty to decide whether it is appropriate, once their decisions have been given the recognitio by the Apostolic See, for sacred vessels to be made of other solid materials as well. It is strictly required, however, that such materials be truly noble in the common estimation within a given region, so that honour will be given to the Lord by their use, and all risk of diminishing the doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharistic species in the eyes of the faithful will be avoided. 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.

[126.] The abuse is reprobated whereby the sacred ministers celebrate Holy Mass or other rites without sacred vestments or with only a stole over the monastic cowl or the common habit of religious or ordinary clothes, contrary to the prescriptions of the liturgical books, even when there is only one minister participating. In order that such abuses be corrected as quickly as possible, Ordinaries should take care that in all churches and oratories subject to their jurisdiction there is present an adequate supply of liturgical vestments made in accordance with the norms.

[131.] Apart from the prescriptions of canon 934 § 1, it is forbidden to reserve the Blessed Sacrament in a place that is not subject in a secure way to the authority of the diocesan Bishop, or where there is a danger of profanation. Where such is the case, the diocesan Bishop should immediately revoke any permission for reservation of the Euchari­st that may already have been granted.

[132.] No one may carry the Most Holy Eucharist to his or her home, or to any other place contrary to the norm of law.

[133.] A Priest or Deacon, or an extraordinary minister who takes the Most Holy Eucharist when an ordained minister is absent or impeded in order to administer it as Communion for a sick person, should go insofar as possible directly from the place where the Sacrament is reserved to the sick person’s home, leaving aside any profane business so that any danger of profanation may be avoided and the greatest reverence for the Body of Christ may be ensured. Furthermore the Rite for the administration of Communion to the sick, as prescribed in the Roman Ritual, is always to be used.

[138.] Still, the Most Holy Sacrament, when exposed, must never be left unattended even for the briefest space of time. It should therefore be arranged that at least some of the faithful always be present at fixed times, even if they take alternating turns.

[153.] Furthermore, it is never licit for laypersons to assume the role or the vesture of a Priest or a Deacon or other clothing similar to such vesture.

[168.] “A cleric who loses the clerical state in accordance with the law . . . is prohibited from exercising the power of order”. It is therefore not licit for him to celebrate the sacraments under any pretext whatsoever save in the exceptional case set forth by law,  nor is it licit for Christ’s faithful to have recourse to him for the celebration, since there is no reason which would permit this according to canon 1335. Moreover, these men should neither give the homily nor ever undertake any office or duty in the celebration of the sacred Liturgy, lest confusion arise among Christ’s faithful and the truth be obscured.

The following canons are mentioned in the document as speaking about grave matters:

Canon 1364
1. With due regard for can. 194, part 1, n. 2, an apostate from the faith, a heretic or a schismatic incurs automatic (latae sententiae) excommunication and if a cleric, he can also be punished by the penalties mentioned in can. 1336, part 1, nn. 1, 2, and 3.
2. If long lasting contumacy or the seriousness of scandal warrants it, other penalties can be added including dismissal from the clerical state.

Canon 1369 A person who uses a public show or speech, published writings, or other media of social communication to blaspheme, seriously damage good morals, express wrongs against religion or against the Church or stir up hatred or contempt against religion or the Church is to be punished with a just penalty.

Canon 1373 One who publicly either stirs up hostilities or hatred among subjects against the Apostolic See or against an ordinary on account of some act of ecclesiastical power or ministry or incites subjects to disobey them is to be punished by an interdict of by other just penalties.

Canon 1376 One who profanes a movable or immovable sacred thing is to be punished with a just penalty.

Canon 1380 One who celebrates or receives a sacrament through simony is to be punished with an interdict or a suspension.

Canon 1384 Outside the cases mentioned in cann. 1378-1383, one who illegitimately carries out a priestly function or another sacred ministry can be punished with a just penalty.

Canon 1385 One who illegitimately makes a profit from a Mass offering is to be punished with a censure or another just penalty.

Canon 1386 One who gives or promises something so that someone who exercises a function in the Church would illegitimately do or omit something is to be punished with a just penalty; likewise, the person who accepts such gifts or promises.

Canon 1398 A person who procures a completed abortion incurs an automatic (latae sententiae) excommunication.


3. Other Abuses. Finally there are other abuses, which being of less seriousness are yet contrary to the norms of the Church and must be corrected.

[174.] Furthermore, those actions that are brought about which are contrary to the other matters treated elsewhere in this Instruction or in the norms established by law are not to be considered of little account, but are to be numbered among the other abuses to be carefully avoided and corrected.

[175.] The things set forth in this Instruction obviously do not encompass all the violations against the Church and its discipline that are defined in the canons, in the liturgical laws and in other norms of the Church for the sake of the teaching of the Magisterium or sound tradition. Where something wrong has been committed, it is to be corrected according to the norm of law.

As is clear from these paragraphs, no violation of  the liturgical law is to be considered of "little account." Rather, all violations are to be corrected.


Answered by Colin B. Donovan, STL

Apologetics - Doctrine - Canon Law - Eastern Churches - General - History - Liturgy - Moral
NFP - Philosophy - Pro-Life - Scripture - Spiritual