On the Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum
Cardinal Joachim Meisner
Archbishop of Cologne, Germany

Authentically Encountering Jesus in the Eucharist

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 Eucharist.

The rationale

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 worship.

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.

Fundamental norms

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).

Special norms

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. 81).

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 Blessings.


Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
7 July 2004, page 10

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