|A MATTER OF HELPING, NOT HINDERING, THE FAITH
From a doctrinal viewpoint, the Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum
is a follow up to the Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia (cf. n.
2).1 In the Holy Father's Encyclical, as well as giving us a
most exalted lesson on the Eucharist as the mystery of the faith that
continuously nourishes and builds the Church in history, he does not fail
to refer several times to the shadows and abuses that obscure sound faith
and Catholic teaching on this sacrament (cf. Ecclesia de Eucharistia,
n. 10; Redemptionis Sacramentum, n. 6).
Harmony between the 'lex orandi' and the 'lex credendi'
Arbitrary treatment of the liturgy not only distorts the celebration
but gives rise to uncertainty in matters of doctrine and perplexity and
scandal on the part of the People of God (cf. Redemptionis Sacramentum,
n. 11). In fact, rather than being expressions of freedom, abuses on the
contrary reveal a superficial knowledge or even ignorance of the great
biblical and ecclesial tradition concerning the Eucharist.
The Instruction instead seeks to further true freedom, the freedom to
do what is worthy and right in the celebration of this sacrament.
Since liturgical action is intrinsically interwoven with doctrine, the
use of texts and rites that have not been approved leads inevitably to the
weakening and subsequent loss of the necessary connection between the
lex orandi and the lex credendi, according to the ancient
precept in the Indiculus: "Legem credendi lex statuat
supplicandi" ("the rule for praying establishes the way of
Because of this intrinsic bond between the profession and the
celebration of the faith, the faithful have the right to demand of pastors
"that the Sacrifice of the Holy Mass be celebrated for them in an integral
manner, according to the entire doctrine of the Church's Magisterium" (Redemptionis
Sacramentum, n. 12).
Lastly, it might be useful to recall here that in 1996, the
Congregation for the Oriental Churches published a similar Instruction,
which, moreover, was very well received, on the application of the
liturgical provisions of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches
with the intention of protecting the inalienable value of the patrimony of
the Oriental tradition and the urgent need for it to flourish anew.3
The authentic ecclesiality of the Eucharist
In the Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, the Holy Father
"I consider it my duty... to appeal urgently that the liturgical norms
for the celebration of the Eucharist be observed with great fidelity.
These 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....
"Our time, too, calls for a renewed awareness and appreciation of
liturgical norms as a reflection of, and a witness to, the one universal
Church made present in every celebration of the Eucharist. 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....
"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).
These assertions sum up in the best possible way the doctrinal
significance of the instruction: the liturgical norms are a tangible
expression of the ecclesiality of the Eucharist.
The oneness and indivisibility of the Eucharistic Body of the Lord
imply the oneness of his Mystical Body, which is the one and indivisible
"From the Eucharistic centre arises the necessary openness of every
celebrating community, of every particular Church. By allowing itself to
be drawn into the open arms of the Lord, it achieves insertion into his
one and undivided body. For this reason too, the existence of the Petrine
ministry, which is a foundation of the unity of the episcopate and of the
universal Church, bears a profound correspondence to the Eucharistic
character of the Church".4
The ecclesiality of the Eucharist is not something that exists solely
as an ideal; it also demands a tangible expression in the life of every
community that prays. It is precisely this "parallel" between the Petrine
ministry and the Eucharistic character of the Church that demands the Holy
Father's solicitude, both for doctrine and in practices, in the way in
which this mystery is celebrated in the Church.
Just as a reciprocity exists between the authentic ecclesiality of the
Eucharist and the liturgical norms, so there is a reciprocity between
erroneous conceptions of the Eucharist and disobedience to the liturgical
norms. To quote a single example; in some countries of the world there has
been an abuse whereby the priest celebrating (or the priests
concelebrating) distributes Holy Communion to the faithful before he
himself has communicated. As a justification of this practice (which is
forbidden in n. 97 of the Instruction) it was explained that when one
invites guests to one's home, the guests should be served before the host!
But is it really true that the Church is the home only of the priests and
that the lay faithful are guests?
Reception of the Instruction as an ecclesial event
A practical consequence of the ecclesiality of the Eucharist is also
the reaction to this Instruction. On the whole, it seems that there are
three major obstacles to the proper acceptance of Documents and the causes
of their poor assimilation: their number, their length and the
difficulties posed by the mass means of communications.
With regard to their number, it corresponds to the many events and
countless requests for enlightenment addressed to the Magisterium on the
part of the People of God. Moreover, the number of Documents can also
provide an opportunity and a means for the continuing formation of both
clergy and lay faithful.
With regard to the length, for example, the Instruction is fairly long
because the norms to reassert and the abuses to avoid are truly numerous.
With regard to their communication, speaking at the Plenary Assembly of
the Pontifical Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith last February,
the Holy Father made some important points:
"Another theme that has been dealt with on various occasions is the
reception of magisterial Documents by Catholic faithful who are often
bewildered rather than informed by the immediate reactions and
interpretations of the social communications media.
"In fact, the reception of a Document must be regarded, apart from the
media, above all as an ecclesial event that involves acceptance of
the Magisterium in the most cordial communion and sharing of the Church's
doctrine. Indeed, it is a matter of authoritative words that shed light on
a truth of faith or on certain aspects of Catholic doctrine that may be
contested or distorted by certain currents of thought and actions.
Moreover, it is precisely in its doctrinal effectiveness that we discover
the profoundly pastoral character of the Document, whose acceptance thus
becomes a favourable opportunity for formation, catechesis and
Therefore, acceptance of the Instruction must not end at the initial
phase, but it must become an ecclesial event of communion and formation.
The Bishops, priests and lay faithful should not, therefore, accept the
immediate opinions made at a first glance. They must be patient and take
the time to read, assimilate and properly digest the content of the
In short, the Instruction should give rise to healthy curiosity and
generous acceptance in the Church, so that we may contemplate with renewed
wonder this great mystery of our faith and foster the appropriate
Eucharistic behaviour and attitudes.
1 John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Ecclesia de Eucharistia,
17 April 2003; Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the
Sacraments, instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum, 25 March 2004.
2 Indiculus, chapter 8; Denz., n. 246 [ex. n. 139].
Cf. also Prosper of Aquitaine, De vocatione omnium gentium, 1, 12:
PL 51, 664C.
3 Congregation for the Oriental Churches, Istruzione per
l'applicazione delle prescrizione liturgiche del Codice del Canon's delle
Chiese Orientali [Instruction for applying the liturgical
prescriptions of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches],
6 January 1996.
4 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter
Communionis Notio to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some
Aspects of the Church Understood as Communion, 28 May 1992, n. 11.
5 John Paul II, Address to Participants in the Plenary
Assembly of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 6 February
2004, n. 4; L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 18 February 2004,