Origin of the Instruction
It is well to remember the origin of this Instruction
[Redemptionis Sacramentum, published in full in this newspaper
on Wednesday, 28 April 2004].
On Holy Thursday, 17 April 2003, at the solemn celebration
of the Mass of the Lord's Supper in St Peter's Basilica, the Holy Father
signed his 14th Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia and
presented it to the Church.
In this beautiful Document, Pope John Paul II states among
other things that the Holy Eucharist "stands at the centre of the Church's
life" (n. 3), "it unites heaven and earth. It embraces and permeates all
creation" (n. 8). "The Eucharist... is the most precious possession which
the Church can have in her journey through history" (n. 9).
At the same time, the Pope points out that after the
Second Vatican Council, both positive and negative forms developed in the
celebration of worship (cf. n. 10), and that a number of abuses were a
source of suffering for many. He therefore considered it his duty to
"appeal urgently that the liturgical norms for the celebration of the
Eucharist be observed with great fidelity" (n. 52).
He adds: "Precisely to bring out more clearly this deeper
meaning of liturgical norms, I have asked the competent offices of the
Roman Curia to prepare a more specific Document, including prescriptions
of a juridical nature, on this very important subject. No one is permitted
to undervalue the mystery entrusted to our hands: it is too great for
anyone to feel free to treat it lightly and with disregard for its
sacredness and its universality" (n. 52).
So this is the origin of this Instruction which the
Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments is
offering to the Latin Church, in close collaboration with the Congregation
for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Sense of liturgical norms
One might wonder about the meaning of the liturgical
norms. Are not the creativity, spontaneity, freedom of God's children and
good common sense enough? Why does worship of God have to be regulated by
directions and norms? Is it not enough simply to teach people about the
beauty and exalted character of the liturgy?
Liturgical norms are necessary because in the liturgy
"full public worship is performed by the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ,
that is, by the Head and his members. From this it follows that every
liturgical celebration, because it is an action of Christ the Priest and
of his body, which is the Church, is a sacred action surpassing all
others" (Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 7).
The liturgy culminates in the celebration of the
Eucharist. No one should be surprised if, in the course of time, our Holy
Mother Church developed words, actions and thus instructions with regard
to this supreme act of worship. Eucharistic norms were worked out to
manifest and to safeguard the Eucharistic mystery, and in addition, to
express that it is the Church which celebrates this august sacrifice and
As John Paul II says, liturgical norms "are a concrete
expression of the authentically ecclesial nature of the Eucharist; this is
their deepest meaning. Liturgy is never anyone's private property, be it
of the celebrant or of the community in which the mysteries are
celebrated" (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, n. 52).
Consequently, "Priests who faithfully celebrate Mass
according to the liturgical norms, and communities which conform to those
norms, quietly but eloquently demonstrate their love for the Church" (ibid.).
External conformity is clearly not enough. Participation
in the Eucharist demands faith, hope and charity, which are also expressed
through acts of solidarity with those in need.
This dimension is emphasized in the Instruction: "A
merely external observation of norms would obviously be contrary to the
nature of the Sacred Liturgy, in which Christ himself wishes to gather his
Church, so that together with himself she will be 'one body and one
spirit'. For this reason, external action must be illuminated by faith and
charity, which unite us with Christ and with one another and engender love
for the poor and the abandoned" (Redemptionis Sacramentum, n. 5).
Is it important to note abuses?
In connection with the above there is a temptation that
must be resisted: the temptation to think that it is a waste of time to be
overly concerned about liturgical abuses. It has been written that abuses
have always existed and will always exist; we should focus our attention
instead on formation and positive liturgical celebrations.
This partially-true objection can lead us into error.
Abuses of the Holy Eucharist are not all equally serious. Some threaten to
make the sacrament invalid. Others reveal a lack of Eucharistic faith.
Still others contribute to sowing confusion among the People of God and to
draining Eucharistic celebrations of their sacredness. Abuses are not to
be taken lightly.
Of course, all members of the Church are in need of
liturgical formation. According to the Second Vatican Council, "it is
absolutely essential, first of all, that steps be taken to ensure the
liturgical training of the clergy" (Sacrosanctum Concilium,
But it is also true that: "In various parts of the Church
abuses have occurred, leading to confusion with regard to sound faith and
Catholic doctrine concerning this wonderful sacrament" (Ecclesia de
Eucharistia, n. 10). "Not infrequently, abuses are rooted in a
false understanding of liberty" (Instruction, n. 7). "For arbitrary
actions are not conducive to true renewal" (Instruction, n. 11),
for which the Second Vatican Council hoped. "This abuse has nothing to do
with the authentic spirit of the Council and should be prudently and
firmly corrected by Pastors (Apostolic Letter of John Paul II for the 40th
Anniversary of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Spiritus et
Sponsa, n. 15).
The Instruction points out to those who arbitrarily
manipulate the liturgical texts that "the Sacred Liturgy is quite
intimately connected with principles of doctrine, so that the use of
unapproved texts and rites necessarily leads either to the attenuation or
to the disappearance of that necessary link between the lex orandi
and the lex credendi" (Instruction, n. 10).
Instruction: General overview
The Instruction has a preamble, eight chapters and
The first chapter on the regulation of the sacred liturgy
speaks of the role of the Apostolic See, of the diocesan Bishop, of the
Bishops' Conference, of priests and of deacons.
I draw attention to the role of the diocesan Bishop. He is
the great priest of his flock. He directs, encourages, promotes and
organizes. He supervises sacred music and art. He sets up the necessary
commissions for the liturgy and sacred music and art (cf. Instruction,
nn. 22, 25). He seeks to remedy abuses: in this case, it is to him or
to his collaborators rather than to the Apostolic See that complaints
should be submitted first (cf. Instruction, nn. 176-182, 184).
Priests, like deacons, have solemnly promised to exercise
their ministry with fidelity; thus, they are expected to live their lives
in conformity with their sacred responsibility.
The second chapter focuses on the participation of the
Christian lay faithful in the Eucharistic celebration. Baptism is the
basis of their common priesthood (cf. Instruction, nn. 36, 37). The
ordained priest is always indispensable to a Christian community and there
must be no confusion between the role of the priests and that of the lay
faithful (cf. Instruction, nn. 42, 45).
Lay people have a specific role of their own. According to
the Instruction, this does not mean that they must all do something
at every moment. Rather, it is a matter of allowing themselves to be fully
involved in this great privilege, a gift of God, which is the call to take
part in the liturgy with the mind, heart and entire life, and through it
to receive God's grace.
It is important to understand this properly and not to
suppose that the Instruction is prejudiced against lay people.
Chapters 3, 4 and 5 endeavour to respond to certain
questions that are sometimes asked. They address certain recognized abuses
in the celebration of Mass, the discernment of who can and cannot receive
Communion, the necessary care with regard to receiving Communion under
both species, questions concerning vestments and sacred vessels, the
required disposition for the reception of Holy Communion and other such
Chapter 6 deals with devotion to the Holy Eucharist
outside Mass. In addition, it speaks of the respect that is due to the
tabernacle and practices such as visits to the Blessed Sacrament, chapels
of perpetual adoration, processions, Eucharistic congresses and the like
(cf. Instruction, nn. 130, 135-136, 140, 142-145).
Chapter 7 deals with extraordinary functions entrusted to
lay people, for example, to extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, to
those in charge of or who lead the prayer in the absence of a priest (cf.
Instruction, nn. 147-168). These roles are to be considered
separately from what is said in Chapter 2 of the Instruction,
which treats the ordinary participation of lay people in the liturgy
and in particular, in the Eucharist. Here it is a matter of what lay
people are called to do when there is an insufficient number of priests or
In recent years, the Holy See has paid considerable
attention to this matter, and this Instruction moves along the same
lines, adding further considerations for particular circumstances.
The last chapter deals with canonical remedies for abuses
against the Holy Eucharist. In the long term, the main remedy can be found
in adequate formation and instruction and in a solid faith. But when there
are abuses, it is the Church's duty to deal with them with clarity and
Considering the article of faith, according to which Holy
Mass is a sacramental representation of the Sacrifice of the Cross (cf.
Council of Trent: DS 1710), and that "in the Most Blessed Sacrament
of the Eucharist 'the Body and Blood, together with the soul and divinity,
of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really
and substantially contained'" (cf. Council of Trent: DS 1651; cf.
CCC, n. 1374), it is evident that the liturgical norms regarding
the Holy Eucharist deserve our attention. We are not dealing with
meticulous instructions compiled by "legalistic minds".
"In the Most Blessed Eucharist is contained the whole
spiritual good of the Church, namely, Christ himself our Pasch and the
living bread" (Presbyterorum Ordinis,