Authentically Encountering Jesus in the
On 25 March 2004, the Congregation for Divine Worship and
the Discipline of the Sacraments issued the Instruction Redemptionis
Sacramentum: On certain matters to be observed or to be avoided
regarding the Most Holy Eucharist. The Document was published jointly with
the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; it treats the norms to be
followed and abuses to be avoided regarding the sacrament of the Holy
The Instruction is the result of an explicit desire of the
Pope, expressed in his recent Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia
when he referred to the need for a specific Document to lovingly recall
and strengthen fidelity to liturgical norms as a demonstration of love for
the Eucharist, "the source and summit of Christian life" (Lumen Gentium,
n. 11). The Instruction should be read and understood in the light of the
Encyclical to which it is intrinsically bound.
The Eucharist is the most precious gift that the Lord
bequeathed to his Church so that she might be faithfully preserved: "Do
this in memory of me", he said when he instituted the Eucharist, making
his wishes plain. The Church in all the ages has carried out this mandate
with great fidelity and precision. The new Instruction should be
understood in this context.
The Instruction introduces no new liturgical regulations,
nor does it propose a compendium of the ecclesial norms on the Holy
Eucharist. Instead, it aims at expressing some elements of the norms
previously promulgated and established in order to assure a deeper
appreciation of the norms that govern the liturgy; and certain regulations
are set forth afresh to clarify and complete those already in force (cf.
Redemptionis Sacramentum, n. 2).
Rites and norms of the liturgy
Form and content are an indispensable reality in human
life. Wherever form is lost, content is also fragmented. This is
particularly true for liturgical actions and rites of worship, especially
in the Eucharistic celebration.
In the form of worship celebrated by the Church down the
ages, the content has created the corresponding forms in the hands of the
Church which prays. Fidelity to the Lord and his people obliges the Church
also to observe them in our time. The forms and rites are neither
secondary nor superfluous, but have a substantial value for the Church's
The liturgy is never anyone's private property, and this
includes the priest and communities: it is the worship of the universal
Church (cf. Ecclesia de Eucharistia, n. 52). The People of God have
a right to an authentically celebrated Holy Mass. From this fact derives
the priest's solemn obligation to celebrate Holy Mass in accordance with
the liturgical norms.
With regard to the rites and acts of the liturgy, one does
not speak of "etiquette" but of external signs that indicate the inner
value of the celebration in which the sacrifice that Christ made on the
Cross is offered and the Lord's Resurrection proclaimed. For the priest
and the community, this means meditating on and fulfilling the external
forms, starting with their content.
To reach this goal, the Instruction stresses both the
obligation of sacred ministers and the right of all the faithful: the
obligation and the right to have an authentic liturgy as established and
prescribed by the Church; the obligation and the right to celebrate
integrally the holy sacrifice of the Mass, abiding by the doctrine of the
ecclesial Magisterium; and the obligation and the right to exclude all
abuses and acts in the celebration of the sacrament of unity that might
engender divisions and factions (cf. Redemptionis Sacramentum, n.
12). Hence, the Document is also a contribution to the preservation of the
rights of all the faithful in the Church.
The Instruction includes (in addition to the Preamble and
the Conclusion) eight chapters that accentuate various aspects of the
Eucharist. It specifies, for example, the fundamental norms concerning
those who hold ecclesiastic authority, their different competencies for
the regulation of the liturgy and their right to safeguard the integrity
of Holy Mass (chapter 1).
The Instruction also proposes remedies for the abuses
described: the need for all the faithful to receive a biblical and
liturgical training; the possibility to lodge complaints with the
competent bodies of the particular and universal Church, especially the
diocesan Bishop (chapter 8). The topics of the participation of the lay
Christian faithful in the Eucharistic celebration (chapter 2) and of their
extraordinary functions (chapter 7) have a fundamental role for the
theology of rights.
In accordance with the Encyclical Ecclesia de
Eucharistia, the Instruction stresses the essential need for a validly
ordained priest for an authentic Eucharistic celebration and describes the
features of lay participation. Holy Mass is intrinsically bound to the
service of the ordained priest who teaches, sanctifies and guides the
faithful in persona Christi capitis. Thus, he is a gift of God, a
gift which "radically transcends the power of the community" (Redemptionis
Sacramentum, n. 42).
At the same time, the hierarchical structure of the People
of God is manifest in the Eucharistic celebration when all the faithful
are called to take an active part in the Eucharistic sacrifice with their
singing, responses, gestures, silence and special liturgical functions
(lector, acolyte, extraordinary minister of Communion, sacristan,
organist, cantor, altar server). Contrary to what was claimed by a leak
about the Instruction prior to its publication, women and girls are
explicitly permitted to participate in liturgical service in accordance
with the liturgical norms (cf. ibid., n. 47).
Always and everywhere, liturgical action must lead to a
"sense... of deep wonder before the greatness of the mystery of faith" (ibid.,
nn. 40, 44). As a liturgical ideal, the Instruction refers to "the action
of clerics and laypersons" (ibid., n. 45; cf. Sacrosanctum
Concilium, n. 28): ministers and faithful do "exclusively and fully
that which pertains to them" (Redemptionis Sacramentum, n. 44; cf.
Sacrosanctum Concilium, n, 28).
Certain aspects of the Eucharistic Sacrament are treated,
together with the corresponding precepts and concrete abuses, in four
chapters (chapters 3-6). To shed light on the internal structure of the
Eucharist is always the goal.
The third chapter (Redemptionis Sacramentum, nn.
48-79) starts by emphasizing the essential elements for the proper
celebration of Holy Mass, which is a single act of worship through the
intrinsic unity between the liturgy of the Word and the celebration of the
Eucharist. Questions relating to the matter of the Eucharist (the bread
and the wine) are addressed.
In addition, the Instruction speaks of the exclusive use
of the Eucharistic Prayers, legitimately approved by the Holy See and
which, with the exception of the acclamations, can only be recited by the
priest (cf. ibid., nn. 51ff.). The elements belonging to the
liturgy of the Word are confirmed: the unalterable dignity of the biblical
readings (ibid., nn. 61ff.), which may not be replaced by any other
text, and the dignity of the Gospel and homily at the Eucharistic
celebration, which the priest and deacons alone may pronounce (cf.
ibid., n. 63).
The fourth chapter (Redemptionis Sacramentum, nn.
80-107), confirms the norms for the reception of Holy Communion as they
are set out in the Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia. With regard
to Communion for non-Catholic Christians, the Instruction is content to
recall the assertions of can. 844 CIC/1983 and the elucidations found in
Ecclesia de Eucharistia (cf. Redemptionis Sacramentum, n.
85). Moreover, the Instruction indicates the need for the proper
disposition of those who receive Holy Communion. This means in particular
that in the case of grave sin, recourse must first be made to sacramental
Confession for a fruitful reception of the sacrament (cf. ibid., n.
The fifth chapter (Redemptionis Sacramentum, nn.
108-128) concerns issues inherent in the external manifestation of the
Eucharist, for example, on the place where the Eucharist is celebrated
(cf. ibid., nn. 108ff.), on sacred vessels (cf. nn. 117ff.) and on
liturgical vesture (cf. nn. 121ff.). Here the Instruction recalls the
corresponding precepts. The "red thread" is foundational: the importance
of doing everything in accordance with the knowledge of the faith and the
knowledge that every Eucharistic celebration, even in small groups, must
always be understood as a celebration of the universal Church, hence, free
from private whim (cf. Redemptionis Sacramentum, n. 114). We do not
"do" liturgy but take part in the liturgy of the Church, which is at the
same time an image of the liturgy of Heaven.
Finally, the sixth chapter (Redemptionis Sacramentum,
nn. 129-145) is concerned with the reservation of the Holy Eucharist in
the tabernacle (cf. ibid., nn. 129ff.) and its worship outside Holy
Mass in adoration (cf. nn. 134ff.), in processions and in Eucharistic
Congresses (cf. nn. 142ff.).
A challenge and an encouragement
Redemptionis Sacramentum.... Those who follow the
liturgical precepts faithfully, who celebrate the holy liturgy, especially
the Eucharist, in unity with the universal Church and who take part in the
Eucharistic celebration with the same fidelity, demonstrate their love for
Christ. At the same time, they witness to the Church's love and
responsibility with regard to the right of all the faithful to
authentically encounter the Redeemer in the Sacrament.
It is the Church's duty to safeguard this encounter and
thus the truth of the liturgical celebration. By means of her juridical
and liturgical precepts, the Church protects the liturgy from being
separated from the exalted nature of the encounter between God and
humankind, to prevent it from sliding into a purely human action.
As a fruit of the Encyclical on the Eucharist, the
Instruction is an important challenge for every sacred minister. It
demands a serious examination of conscience on the truth and fidelity of
his action as a minister of the liturgy which is never private property
but remains for ever the treasure of the Church; it can never be subjected
to human caprice. The Document likewise concerns all those who are
committed to liturgical education.
Furthermore, the Instruction is also a favourable
encouragement to all the faithful to be confident that the Church, for the
salvation of souls, knows how to protect from abuses their rights with
regard to the Eucharistic sacrament. We must consequently hope that the
Document will meet with a reception and implementation sustained by God's