Responsum ad Dubium
The Fathers of the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of
Legislative Texts, at their plenary session on 4 June 1999, decided to respond in the
following way to the dubium:
Q. Whether or not the word "abicere" in canons 1367 CIC and
1442 CCEO should be understood only as the act of throwing away.
R. Negative and "ad mentem".
The "mind" is that the word "abicere" should be considered to
include any voluntarily and gravely contemptuous action towards the Sacred Species.
The Supreme Pontiff John Paul II, at the audience granted on 3 July 1999 to the
undersigned President, was informed of the aforementioned decision, confirmed it and
ordered it to be published.
+ Julián Herranz
Titular Archbishop of Vertara
+ Bruno Bertagna
Titular Bishop of Drivastum
Safeguarding the Bread of life come down from heaven
Regarding the authentic interpretation of canons 1367 CIC and 1442 CCEO, the following
points should be kept in mind:
1 - In an expression as lapidary as it is rich and pregnant the Second Vatican Council
said: "In the most blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the
Church" (Decree Presbyterorum ordinis, n. 5). And the Code of Canon Law summarizes
the Council's abundant teaching on the subject and the Church's perennial doctrine,
asserting: "The most august sacrament is the blessedEucharist, -in which Christ the
Lord himself is contained, offered and received, and by which the Church continually lives
and grows" (can. 897); therefore "Christ's faithful are to hold the blessed
Eucharist in the highest honour ... ; they should receive the sacrament with great
devotion and frequently, and should reverence it with the greatest adoration" (can.
Therefore we can understand the care and efforts of the Church's Pastors to see that this
priceless Gift is deeply and devoutly loved, safeguarded and surrounded with that worship
which expresses in the best way humanly our faith in Christ's real presence -- body,
blood, soul and divinity -- under the Eucharistic Species, even after the Holy
Sacrifice has been celebrated.
2. Just as believers are asked to express this faith with actions, prayers and objects of
noble dignity, so it is also advisable that any kind of carelessness or negligence, the
sign of a diminished sense of the Eucharistic divine presence, be carefully avoided in the
behaviour of sacred ministers and the faithful. Indeed, in our age, marked by haste even
in one's personal relationship with God, catechesis should reacquaint the Christian people
with the whole of Eucharistic worship, which cannot be reduced to participation in Holy
Mass and to Communion with the proper dispositions, but also includes frequent adoration -
personal and communal - of the Blessed Sacrament, and the loving concern that the
tabernacle - in which the Eucharist is kept - be placed on an altar or in a part of the
church that is clearly visible, truly noble and duly adorned, so that it is a centre of
attraction for every heart in love with Christ.
3. In contrast to such profound veneration for the true Bread come down from heaven, not
only can deplorable disciplinary abuses occur, sometimes have occurred and still occur,
but even acts of contempt and profanation on the part of individuals who, under almost
diabolical inspiration, dare to oppose in this way whatever the Church and the faithful
hold, adore and love as most sacred.
In order to deter those who let themselves be misled by such sentiments; the Church not
only urges the faithful to avoid any form of disgraceful carelessness and negligence, but
also considers the most unfortunate case of deliberate acts of hatred or contempt for the
Blessed Sacrament. These actions certainly constitute by reason of their matter - a very
grave sin of sacrilege. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says in fact that
sacrilege "is a grave sin especially when committed against the Eucharist, for in
this sacrament the true Body of Christ is made substantially present for us" (n.
4. Moreover, in certain cases these sacrileges constitute true and real offences,
according to the canons of both Latin and Eastern Church law, to which a penalty is
attached. This is determined in can. 1367 of the Code of Canon Law, corresponding
to can. 1442 of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, with the variations
proper to that legislation.
Here is the text of can. 1367: "Qui species consecratas abicit aut in sacrilegum
finem abducit vel retinet in excommunicationem latae sententiae Sedi Apostolicae
reservatam incurrit; clericus praeterea alia poena, non exclusa dimissione e statu
clericali, puniri potest".
5. Given the various translations made of the Code of Canon Law, with the
different nuances resulting from the expressions of each language, a dubium was
submitted to the Pontifical Council as to whether the word "abicit"
should be understood only in its proper - but limited - sense of "to throw away"
the Eucharistic Species, or in the overly generic sense "to profane". Therefore,
while the two cases of offence consisting in taking away (abducit) or in keeping
(retinet) the Sacred Species - in both cases "for a sacrilegious
purpose" are clear, an authentic interpretation was requested of the first case,
expressed in the word abicit. After careful study, this Pontifical Council has
given the following authentic interpretation, confirmed by the Holy Father, who ordered it
to be promulgated (cf. CIC, can. 16, §2; CCE0, can. 1498, §2).
The verb abicit should not be understood only in the strict sense of throwing
away, nor in the generic sense of profaning, but with the broader meaning of to scorn,
disdain, demean. Therefore, a grave offence of sacrilege against the
Body and Blood of Christ is committed by anyone who takes away and/or keeps the Sacred
Species for a sacrilegious (obscene, superstitious, irreligious) purpose, and anyone who,
even without removing them from the tabernacle, monstrance or altar, makes them the object
of any external, voluntary and serious act of contempt. Anyone guilty of this offence
incurs, in the Latin Church, the penalty of excommunication latae sententiae
(i.e., automatically), the absolution of which is reserved to the Holy See; in the Eastern
Catholic Churches he incurs a major excommunication ferendae sententiae (i.e., to
6. It is helpful to remember, as was mentioned above, that the sin of sacrilege should not
be confused with the offence of sacrilege; in fact, not all sins committed in
this area are offences. Canonical doctrine teaches that an offence is an external
and imputable violation of an ecclesiastical law, to which a penal sanction is
ordinarily attached. Therefore, all the norms and attenuating or excusing circumstances -
a the Latin and Eastern Codes apply here. In particular, it should be noted that the
offence of sacrilege we are discussing also involves an external, but not
necessarily public, act.
7. Even when the Church is forced, as it were, to impose penalties, she is also moved by
the need to safeguard the moral integrity of the ecclesiastical community and to seek the
spiritual good and correction of the offenders, but in this case she does so, also and
primarily, in order to safeguard the greatest Good she has received from the divine mercy,
i.e., Christ the Lord himself who has become "the bread of eternal life" (cf. Jn
6:27) in the most blessed Eucharist.
+ Julián Herranz
Titular Archbishop of Vertara