Commentary on the Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum
Fr James O'Kane
Parish Priest of Culfeightrin, Ireland

The priest and daily celebration of Holy Mass

Celebret! Redemptionis Sacramentum renews the invitation addressed to individual priests to celebrate daily Mass (cf. n. 110). It reasserts the priest's right to celebrate Mass in Latin when it is not a public celebration that is scheduled to take place in the vernacular (cf. n. 112).

A priest can present himself in any church anywhere in the world where he would like to celebrate Mass, even if he is without a celebret [commendatory letter], which he can easily obtain from his Bishop and which is valid for an entire year (cf. n. 111).

The writer wonders at his priest brothers who over the years have not been in favour of celebrating Mass every day. Sometimes, of course, this has merely been due to inconvenience, but there have also often been ideological reasons.

Daily celebration of  the Eucharist

Redemptionis Sacramentum requires Bishops to put a stop to such contrary practice (cf. n. 111). It is a pity, however, that the intervention of the Authorities is necessary.

And what is the main reason for such Ne celebret (prohibition) for priests who are travelling or who do not hold a fulltime parish office?

The answer is often the idea, albeit beautiful and absolutely valid, that the Eucharist must always be a celebration that is both communitarian and ecclesial. A full expression of this Eucharistic injunction would be Holy Mass celebrated by the Bishop attended by his clergy, in his cathedral, filled to overflowing with the lay faithful representing the population of the diocese; and, as an extension, High Mass on Sunday, celebrated by the parish priest in the parish church.

But who would dare to deprive a priest, forbidden by the political Authorities from exercising any kind of public ministry, of the full communitarian and ecclesial dimension of his Eucharistic celebration, celebrated furtively at a table with bread and wine and little else, before or after a day of manual work?

Why should this be?

The priest in persona Christi

The answer is that since the priest, even if he celebrates alone and in secret, is transformed ontologically by his priestly ordination; he is not making a private personal devotion but acts consciously in persona Christi.

And precisely as the Holy Father reminds us (cf. Ecclesia de Eucharistia, n. 29), "in persona" does not mean vaguely "in the name of" or "in the place of" [Christ], but means a specific sacramental identification with the eternal High Priest who is the author and principal subject of his one and eternal sacrifice.

Indeed, it is not only a question of the truth of a moment in the liturgy. It is a profound ontological truth that can alter and direct a priestly life which is also offered as a sacrifice. And can.... Yes, because the priest, who may not in fact be very much changed morally and spiritually, also carries out the Eucharistic ministry in persona Christi and ex opere operato, thereby offering to himself what he offers to others, that is, the grace of further conversion.

If it is to be truly effective, the renewal of the invitation to every priest to celebrate daily Mass (cf. Redemptionis Sacramentum, n. 110) an invitation of the Second Vatican Council that the Holy Father makes fully his own (cf. Ecclesia de Eucharistia, n. 31) will require of church rectors sincere and generous availability to ensure that every brother priest truly has an opportunity to celebrate the holy mysteries fittingly every day, loyally complying with the liturgical norms. We should also think of certain international pilgrimage centres where, it seems, concelebration is obligatory.

The place of doctrinal orthodoxy

When we read St Augustine's homilies, we sometimes feel involved in those vibrant Masses that he celebrated in the Church of Hippo.

In his passionate discourses, St John Chrysostom makes us relive the liturgical splendour of his own Constantinople.

But the rich Patristic tradition, spiritual and moral above all, would be of no use to us were it to ignore the doctrinal assertions of scholastic theology: even the priest who celebrates "sine populo" acts "in persona Christi" and, in the full presence of the universal Church, also in laudem et gloriam nominis Sui, ad utilitatem quoque nostram totiusque Ecclesiae Suae sanctae.

Disregard for the Eucharistic theology of the Scholastics also causes considerable damage to traditional devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, hence, to the Catholic piety of all the faithful.

There is one important Eucharistic word that we seldom hear today. It seems to scare people, or at least to create uneasiness. I mean: "transubstantiation".

If the Eucharistic bread were not, de facto, the Body of Christ in substance, to adore it would be truly problematic. If that were so, it would be better to keep a few Hosts discreetly, to be able subsequently to distribute them to the sick and others who are confined to their homes, as some of our separated brethren do.

The prayer before the tabernacle or the monstrance would then be no different qualitatively from that of prayer in front of any Christian symbol.

It is indeed helpful to meditate in front of a cross, a crucifix, a paschal candle or a bible. Meditation can be profitable even when there is nothing upon which to fix one's eyes.

But it is only in front of the consecrated Host that I can kneel in adoration, making my own St Thomas Aquinas' beautiful words: "Adoro Te devote latens Deitas".

Redemptionis Sacramentum, intended as a response to the Holy Father's concern for Eucharistic adoration (cf. Ecclesia de Eucharistia, n. 10), recalls the traditional practices of Eucharistic adoration which it would like to facilitate (cf. nn. 129-145).

The structure of each church building and the position of the tabernacle must be such as to invite the faithful to adoration (cf. n. 130).

Churches must be open for at least some hours each day (cf. n. 135); the difficulties encountered in certain urban environments are well known, but solutions could be sought. It seems to me, for example, that it might be possible, when necessary, to accommodate the faithful for adoration if a church were closed, outside, behind a secure glass screen.

Then the forms of community adoration of the Eucharist are to be renewed and fostered, especially where they are no longer practised (cf. n. 136). The Corpus Christi procession should be preserved and developed, but always after obtaining permission from the civil Authorities (cf. nn. 142-144).

Offering  practical solutions

I consider the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament in an Italian cathedral that I know well to be a symbol of today's situation. On feast days in this period, the cathedral attracts more tourists than faithful, which in our day is only normal.

The tranquillity of the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament, therefore, must be protected. The grille is practically closed, and a large bench has been set in front of it. A notice in several languages says that the chapel is reserved exclusively for prayer. The tourist feels left out. Tourists presume that the cathedral has hidden its most precious treasure in that very chapel; and they creep in as though entering a forbidden and mysterious place and photograph everything in sight.

The Catholic Church excludes no one. The Eucharistic celebration is open to one and all. The Catholic faithful, as long as they are free from all mortal sin and have fasted as required, are encouraged to receive Holy Communion every time that they participate in Holy Mass.
Each one is totally free to knock at the narrow door and let himself or herself be guided by the Pastors of the Church, who through authentic ecclesial discipline and teaching act in persona Christi and ex opere operato for the glory of God and for the salvation of the world.


Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
10 November 2004, page 8

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