The following is a summary of a recent document on the Eucharist
issued by the S. Congregation for Divine Worship.
The present document of the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship,
dated 21 June 1973 and entitled De Sacra Communione et de Cultu
Mysterii Eucharistici extra Missam, contains norms and liturgical
texts for Holy Communion and for devotion to the Eucharistic Mystery
This matter was previously regulated by the Roman Ritual, the typical
editions of which were issued from 1614 until 1952.
The new document represents a revision of all the previous
Eucharistic rites, a revision which has been based on texts
published in the last ten years. The document derives from these texts a
synthesis concerning devotion to the Eucharist, and outlines a number of
rites in harmony with the liturgy as brought up to date according to the
norms and principles of the Second Vatican Council.
The above-mentioned sources include, as well as the teachings of
Vatican II on the Eucharist, the Encyclical Letter Mysterium Fidei of
Paul VI (1965) and the Instruction Eucharisticum Mysterium of
1967. These documents are mentioned and quoted at length in the Praenotanda,
which, according to the practice of the Sacred Congregation for
Divine Worship, constitute the basic introduction to every document.
This introduction is in four parts:
1. The Mass and devotion to the Eucharist. After recalling the
fact that the Eucharist is the centre and origin of the whole life of
the Church, this section emphasizes the aspect of permanent real
presence and links it with the Eucharistic sacrifice of the Mass,
which perpetuates in the Church the Pasch of the Lord.
The Eucharistic mystery must be considered in all its fullness. As
for devotion to the Sacrament, the Church adores the same Lord made
present by the transubstantiation of the bread and wine in the Mass, and
by so doing derives further grace from the Sacrifice.
2. Reservation of the Sacred Species. This global vision of
the Eucharistic mystery permits a reply to the question, what is the
purpose of reserving the Eucharistic Species? The custom of reserving
the Eucharistic Species arose from the need to be able to take Holy
Communion to the sick, and to give Holy Communion outside Mass to those
asking for it by reason of their not having been able to attend Mass.
All in fact must be able to live and nourish within themselves Christ's
life through this Sacrament;
Hence there arose the practice, for the faithful, of adoring Christ
present in the churches and to pray to him also outside the liturgy of
3. The manner of reserving the Eucharist. This part sets out a
number of practical points, stemming from what has been said before. The
Eucharist must be reserved in a fitting place and. one suitable for
fostering recollection, where the faithful may find silent and peaceful
surroundings. These requirements are generally met when there is a
chapel separated from the nave.
In a church there must be only one tabernacle, and the presence of
the Blessed Sacrament must be indicated by a clear sign such as a veil
or some other sign laid down by the Episcopal Conference. Beside the
tabernacle an oil or wax lamp must always be kept burning.
4. The last part deals with the usual possibilities permitted to the
Episcopal Conferences by the Holy See, namely of adapting the rites and
texts to local conditions.
The principles laid down in the Praenotanda are then applied
throughout the document to individual cases, by the presentation of a
number of practical rules and rites. This occupies three chapters.
I. Communion outside Mass
Since sacramental Communion is the climax of participation in the
Mass, the document emphasizes that there should be a legitimate
impediment preventing attendance at Mass itself. In fact one cannot
speak of Communion, or of devotion to the Eucharist, without relating
them to the Mass. Instruction given by pastors must follow the outline
of the rite itself and emphasize this unity between the liturgy of the
Mass and Communion.
There are also some practical details concerning the time and place
of Communion, the vestments to be worn by the minister, and the
precautions to be taken in order that the reverence due to the Blessed
Sacrament may be always ensured.
The length of the Eucharistic fast is one hour. However, for the sick
and the elderly and those looking after them, the period of fasting is
reduced to about a quarter of an hour.
The rite comprises: a penitential act, similar to that at the
beginning of Mass, a liturgy of the Word, the saying of the Lord's
Prayer, the sign of peace, and, after Communion, a prayer and the final
II. Communion of the sick and Viaticum given by an extraordinary
The Instruction Immensae Caritatis of 29 January 1973 allowed
the local Ordinary in certain circumstances to give permission for a
lay-person, man or woman, to be an extraordinary minister taking
Viaticum and Communion to the sick. Consequently some changes have been
made necessary in the rites which are laid down for priests and deacons
in the Ordo for the Anointing of the Sick.
The rite can be long or short according to circumstances. The
administration of Viaticum is preceded by a profession of faith and the
recitation of a litany.
III. Different forms of Eucharistic devotion
1. Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. This can be carried
out, according to circumstances, in a short form or in a longer one,
especially when it is a question of adoration in some religious
In the absence of a priest or deacon, a member of the community
itself, man or woman, can, with the permission of the Ordinary, expose
the Blessed Sacrament, but such a person is not permitted to give the
The adoration shall be accompanied by hymns, readings, brief
exhortations and a suitable period of silence.
2. Processions should mark an important occasion in the life
of the parish
or community, the members of which intend in this way to render
public and solemn worship to the Eucharist. Processions are to be held
with the harmonization of liturgical norms and local customs. They
should preferably be held after the celebration of Mass.
3. Congresses are a special manifestation of Eucharistic
devotion in the life of the Church. They may be international, national,
regional or diocesan. A local Church invites the other communities to
join in the profession of their faith by paying solemn homage to the
Eucharist, the mystery of unity and charity.
Care must be taken to avoid whatever is not directly related to the
The last chapter provides a wide range of texts: a
"lectionary" of fifty-one Biblical texts, hymns, chants and
traditional responses, together with numerous prayers taken from the
Roman Missal and ancient processional books.
The new rites contained in the present document may be used
immediately in Latin; as for the vernacular languages, they may be used
from the day laid down by the respective Episcopal Conferences, after
the latter have made the relative translations and obtained approval
thereof from the Holy See.
Clearly, this document does not contain notable innovations, but fits
into the present stage of the Church's theological reflection on and
liturgical practice concerning the Eucharist. After ten years of reform
and renewal, it is now a matter of living in depth what has been renewed
or acquired; all the riches contained in the teachings and in the
liturgical books hitherto published must now be turned to profitable
In particular the document on certain points meets the more widely
1. The rite of Communion outside Mass repeats the structure of the
Mass: a penitential act, a liturgy of the Word, the recitation of the
Our Father, Communion. The proclamation of the Word confers its richness
on this rite too; one passes from communion with the Word to communion
with the Word of God made Man.
2. As regards Communion of the sick, the text helps to throw into
greater relief the various pastoral possibilities laid down by the Ordo
for the Anointing of the Sick and further extended by the use of
extraordinary ministers of Communion.
3. Finally, on the level of silent and recollected private prayer
before the Blessed Sacrament, the document reminds pastors of the
pastoral duty of providing fitting places of worship and of teaching the
faithful how to pray in a way that responds to the need for intimacy
with Christ, a need which is felt today by many and especially among
Thus, far from active participation in community liturgical
celebrations being hindered, the faithful will now find it easy to
prepare themselves for such celebrations and to extend the effect of the
graces received therein into their daily lives. Private prayer,
listening to the Word of God, and personal dialogue will enable the
faithful to "draw water from the springs of salvation" (cf.
Isaiah 12, 3).