|'Faith and doctrine alone determine discipline'
The Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum, which aims essentially at
promoting the Church's Eucharistic discipline, was the result of an
examination and observation of the existing situation that is fairly
widespread in the Church and implies clear and profound convictions of
faith and doctrine. As always and in all times, the fundamental rule
applies: faith and doctrine alone determine discipline, hence, what must
be the Church's action and the behaviour of her children.
Abuses concerning the Eucharist and the whole of the Church's Liturgy
are a consequence of confusion about doctrine if not, at times, even
faith. Their correction must begin with a new presentation of the truth,
the whole truth about the Eucharist and the true nature of the Liturgy:
What is the Eucharist? What is the Liturgy? What does the Church believe,
profess and teach concerning the Eucharist and the entire Liturgy?
We therefore face an immense task of formation, explanation, catechesis
and communication of the truth in order to achieve rectitude of heart and
In the dimension of faith and doctrine, John Paul II's Encyclical
Ecclesia de Eucharistia is especially valuable; the teaching found in
it is all the greater since it does not only expound clearly what the
Church believes about the Eucharist and thus what the Church professes,
celebrates, proclaims and teaches, but it also says that this faith and
this teaching can only be the faith and teaching of all time, such as, for
and as the Encyclical explicitly states
promulgated by the Council of Trent.
This has enormous importance in our time, precisely because it is
reaffirmed, at least indirectly, that there can only be continuity and
homogenous development in the faith and doctrine of the Church; there can
never be any substantial alterations, never radical or revolutionary
This should be noted in the face of all the attempts that have not been
and whose results continue to be felt
give credence at virtually any cost to a discontinuity in the Magisterium
before and after the Second Vatican Council and, explicitly with regard to
our topic, between a "Tridentine" vision of the Eucharist which is claimed
to be "static", and the vision of the Second Vatican Council which on the
contrary is supposed to be dynamic.
This way of thinking, espoused by a certain pastoral and liturgical
theology, claims that the Liturgy prior to the Second Vatican Council was
even more static, whereas after it came a trend towards a "creative"
Liturgy, a continuous and not repetitive development; a Liturgy which, to
obtain the active participation of the faithful, would require room for
movement and a constant commitment to adaptation and "inculturation" in
order to satisfy the "sensibilities" of the participants.
In various milieus, the 40th anniversary of the promulgation of
Sacrosanctum Concilium has also become an opportunity for presenting
anew the need to provide for a living, active and dynamic Liturgy in the
face of the attempts by "those nostalgic for the past" to hinder all
development and progress.
As has been said, the Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia recalls
clearly that faith, ideas and convictions determine action and regulate
discipline. It therefore pays the greatest attention to ensuring that the
"regula fidei" determines the "lex orandi" and "lex agendi".
However, since it is also true that how we pray, celebrate and act
influences the way we think, inexorably nourishes our intellectual
approach to reality and ends by being mirrored in faith and doctrine, it
was necessary in addition to identify the lack of discipline and abuses in
so serious a matter as the Liturgy, and especially the Eucharist, and to
ensure that such lack of discipline and abuses be corrected, since they
derive from an incorrect formation in faith and doctrine and lead to
erroneous stances in their regard.
That the Church believes what she prays and that the "lex orandi"
determines the "lex credendi" has always been the case in the history of
the Church and in her sacrosanct life. We cannot but cite the text of the
"Capital Pseudo Caelestina (Indiculus): "Obsecrationum quoque
sacerdotalium sacramenta respiciamus, quae ab Apostolis tradita in toto
mundo atque in omni Ecclesia catholica uniformiter celebrantur, ut
legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi. Cum enim sanctarum plebium
praesules mandata sibimet legatione fungantur, apud divinam clementiam
humani generis agunt causam, et tota secum Ecclesia congemiscente,
postulant et precantur" (ch. 8).
It is significant that the Instruction of the Congregation, whose task
is to be vigilant and to regulate Divine Worship and the Discipline of the
Sacraments, should have been drafted, and rightly so, in a close
relationship with the Congregation competent for matters of faith and
doctrine. It can be said that the promotion of worship is the promotion of
faith, and vice versa.
In addition to this observation, another should be made: the
Instruction is undoubtedly a Document of great pastoral value, for the
simple reason that what it contributes to the good of the faithful and to
the good of the whole Church necessarily takes the form of a pastoral
action geared to communicating the Mystery of Christ, the Mystery of the
In short, since the sole aim of the Instruction is to enable the
faithful to participate to the full in the grace of salvation
recalls what must be observed and what must be avoided in the celebration
of the divine mysteries, the Liturgy and the Eucharist
is a reliable Document with reliable pastoral aims. As such, it should be
seen, presented, accepted and put into practice.
Among the confusions of our day is the belief that everything in the
nature of a law, a norm or a precise instruction for action must be
opposed to the soul and to pastoral aims, as though it were proposing a
vague sentiment rather than precise knowledge and precise rules of life.
Since the root of disciplinary shortcomings and abuses (as well as of
the negative or lukewarm reactions to the Instruction) is to be sought in
erroneous intellectual and doctrinal stances regarding what the Church
believes, professes and teaches on the Eucharist and on the true nature of
the Liturgy, it is appropriate to recall some essential points on both
On the Eucharist
The teaching of the Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia,
absolutely in tune with the Council of Trent and with the faith and
Tradition of the Church down the centuries, allows for no doubts on the
following fundamental truths:
1. The Eucharistic Celebration has the true nature of a sacrifice:
indeed, it is the sacramental representation of the true Sacrifice of the
Cross. The Eucharist makes Christ's sacrificial offering to the Father
sacramentally present in space and time.
2. As a true sacrament, the sacrificial sacramental celebration
requires ministerial action, that is, the priestly ministry, which in fact
is actuated only within the apostolic succession. It is impossible to have
a Eucharistic Sacrifice without the ministerial priesthood, which did not
originate in an action of the community or assembly but in the sacrament
of Orders, that is, in a divine act that creates a new supernatural
capacity, passed down through apostolic succession.
3. The true presence in the Eucharist, real and in substance, of the
Body and Blood of the Lord, of Christ in his entirety, is what determines
the true content, hence, the true meaning and redemptive value of the
Eucharistic Celebration as a whole.
Consequently, we cannot but point out that the notion of a "memorial"
of the Redemption, with reference to the Eucharistic Celebration, would no
longer be meaningful were the Eucharist not the presence, true, real and
in substance, of the Body and Blood of Our Lord, nor could we continue to
speak of a true sacrifice as a sacramental representation of the Sacrifice
4. The full significance and redemptive value of the Eucharist depend
on its true content, which is always received and transmitted by the
Church of Christ through the ministerial priesthood and the Apostolic
Succession. That is the reason why the Eucharist and the ministerial
priesthood are given to the Church: they are always a gift that exceeds
the Church in her being and makes her grow in her true reality.
5. The adoration due to the Eucharist, in and outside the celebration
of it, is also a recognition of the truth of the Body and Blood of Our
Lord. It does not derive from the pious personal attitudes of some of the
faithful that took shape at certain moments in the Church's life, almost
as a private devotion. It is always the Church in her entirety which
adores in the Eucharist Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, and this
adoration is essential if we are to draw from the Eucharist all the fruits
of the Redemption brought about by Christ through his passion, death and
There is no reasonableness or truth in maintaining, as also is done,
that Eucharistic adoration outside Mass ends by distracting from the true
nature of the Liturgical Celebration of the Eucharist and by damaging
fruitful participation in it because it also actually distances people
from the Lord's command: Take this and eat... take this and drink....
6. The "res tantum" of the sacrament of the Body and Blood of the Lord,
which is communion of divine life with the One who is Salvation and Life,
and with all the persons who form his Mystical Body, is only achieved by
those who receive the sacrament with the proper interior dispositions of
faith and freedom from sin: receiving it without discernment does not
build true communion but contradicts the profound meaning of the whole of
the Eucharistic Celebration, of the whole sacrament of Redemption.
The conditions for receiving the Eucharist, already mentioned lucidly
by St Justin in his Apologia, involve precisely the "credere vera esse
quae docemus", after receiving the "lavacrum of regeneration" and
living "ut Christus tradidit". Believing does not only concern what the
Eucharist is, but everything that the Church believes and teaches; and
living "ut Christus tradidit" requires the obedience of the will to all
the commandments, and first and foremost to the new commandment: "Love one
another as I have loved you".
If there were room in a brief article, it would be highly instructive
to show how most of the abuses that are to be regretted and must be
corrected have derived from forgetfulness or from the rejection, at least
partial, of the content of the doctrinal points listed above.
The true nature of the Liturgy
The action of Christ and of the Church
What is the Liturgy, its true nature, its substantial and profound
The Second Vatican Council, which naturally followed in the wake of
previous Documents of the Magisterium and of the Tradition of the Church,
"The Liturgy then is rightly seen as an exercise of the priestly office
of Jesus Christ. It involves the presentation of man's sanctification
under the guise of signs perceptible by the senses and its accomplishment
in ways appropriate to each of these signs. In it 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. No other action of the
Church can equal its efficacy by the same title and to the same degree" (Sacrosanctum
Concilium, n. 7).
Consequently, the Liturgy is the exercise in space and time of the
priesthood of Christ, the Word of God Incarnate, the Mediator of the one
new and eternal Covenant; it is the realization, in space and in time
through the appropriate signs, of the human and divine action of Christ
the Mediator, so that the work of the Redemption may be ever up to date,
to the glory of the Most Holy Trinity.
The Liturgy is a work of Christ, hence, at the same time, a work of the
whole Church, because Christ is the Head and Lord of his Mystical Body,
which is the Church. It is sacred action par excellence, supernatural
action; in its substantial reality, it is not an activity that fits into
the natural order. It is situated at the level of grace, at the level of
the special, absolutely free and gratuitous intervention of God and at the
level of mystery.
Liturgical actions may seem identical in many ways to other actions
performed in profane life, whereas they acquire new meaning, new value and
a new reality and produce new effects. They are tangible signs which,
accepted as an instrument of the incarnate Word of God, have the power to
produce what they express.
Therefore, it is possible to deduce straightaway that the Liturgy is by
its nature sacramental in the global sense, not in the sense that the
whole Liturgy is, strictly speaking, a sacrament, but in the sense that
all liturgical actions as such receive their efficacy from the Magnum
Sacramentum, which is the humanity of the Word of God Incarnate.
Moreover, it is obvious that all sacraments are liturgical actions par
excellence, particularly the sacramental celebration of the Divine
Sacrifice of Christ, who offers himself to the Father in a supreme act of
obedience, thanksgiving, expiation and propitiation.
Again, the Second Vatican Council solemnly affirms: "The whole
liturgical life of the Church is grafted on the Sacrifice of Christ and on
the sacraments" (n. 6). It is in Christ's Sacrifice, sacramentally
represented, and in the sacraments that the work of salvation is brought
about in space and time, which the Church proclaims with the preaching of
the Word of God and with her whole self.
Another consequence derives from the fact that the Liturgy is the
exercise of the priesthood of Christ, through tangible signs in the
continuous reality of the Church, in continuity of time and space: the
Liturgy, by its very nature, is ministerial.
This means that there can be no true and proper liturgical action
without a minister and without a close and indissoluble bond with the
ministerial nature of the entire Church. It is through the ministerial
office that what is fulfilled in the Liturgy becomes an exercise of the
priesthood of Christ. True liturgical action has need of those who are
able to act as ministers of Christ, "in persona Christi et Ecclesiae".
We now know that the "capacitas agendi in persona Christi et Ecclesiae"
is not brought about without Holy Orders, without sacramental Ordination
and without following the path of true apostolic succession. The minister
of the Sacred Liturgy, therefore, acts by virtue of his sacred ministerial
powers that come to him from ontological and sacramental conformation to
Christ the Priest-Mediator-Incarnate Word, and from hierarchical
Receiving in order to cooperate with divine grace
The first and essential approach of those who participate in liturgical
action is to listen, to open themselves, to receive and not to do; to
receive God's grace: what he wants to work in us, the transformation of
mind and heart, the redemption, uplifting and sanctification of our being,
so that in Christ we may become capable of adoring God as he deserves, of
offering him worship that is pleasing to him, of acknowledging his
absolute dominion and his infinite love, of recognizing our sins, our real
misery and unworthiness, and our radical need for his mercy and
Human beings are incapable of doing all this unless they are given the
capacity to do so by God. They are incapable of it because of the
limitations of human nature, and because they are injured, sick and
afflicted by sin. All their efforts are in vain if they make them on their
own; they cannot achieve a goal that is out of their reach.
It is obvious that receiving does not imply passivity or a lack of
involvement in what occurs; but what counts is the inner participation.
Participating means cooperating (because one has been enabled to do so) by
the grace of God.
There are many ways of inducing us to cooperate, many signs and words
with appropriate actions and symbols; but there is no doubt that however
important external activity may be, even were it to increase every Sunday
and every day, it is not enough to qualify as true participation in
Those who have the opportunity to compare these thoughts with the
content of the Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum will easily
realize that confusion about the actual concept of the Liturgy is at the
root of many types of liturgical behaviour and many ways of celebrating
the Divine Liturgy that transmit a human action and pedagogy rather than
the action of God which makes the human being who is called to eternal
life new, just and holy.
The encounter of the human with the divine which occurs precisely
through the Liturgy must show clearly that the Church is so constituted
that "in her the human is directed toward and subordinated to the divine,
the visible to the invisible, action to contemplation, and this present
world to that city yet to come, the object of our quest" (Sacrosanctum
Concilium, n. 2).