Commentary on the Instruction

Commentary on the Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum

Archbishop Angelo Amato, S.D.B.
Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith


From a doctrinal viewpoint, the Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum is a follow up to the Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia (cf. n. 2).1 In the Holy Father's Encyclical, as well as giving us a most exalted lesson on the Eucharist as the mystery of the faith that continuously nourishes and builds the Church in history, he does not fail to refer several times to the shadows and abuses that obscure sound faith and Catholic teaching on this sacrament (cf. Ecclesia de Eucharistia, n. 10; Redemptionis Sacramentum, n. 6).

Harmony between the 'lex orandi' and the 'lex credendi'

Arbitrary treatment of the liturgy not only distorts the celebration but gives rise to uncertainty in matters of doctrine and perplexity and scandal on the part of the People of God (cf. Redemptionis Sacramentum, n. 11). In fact, rather than being expressions of freedom, abuses on the contrary reveal a superficial knowledge or even ignorance of the great biblical and ecclesial tradition concerning the Eucharist.

The Instruction instead seeks to further true freedom, the freedom to do what is worthy and right in the celebration of this sacrament.

Since liturgical action is intrinsically interwoven with doctrine, the use of texts and rites that have not been approved leads inevitably to the weakening and subsequent loss of the necessary connection between the lex orandi and the lex credendi, according to the ancient precept in the Indiculus:"Legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi"("the rule for praying establishes the way of believing").2

Because of this intrinsic bond between the profession and the celebration of the faith, the faithful have the right to demand of pastors "that the Sacrifice of the Holy Mass be celebrated for them in an integral manner, according to the entire doctrine of the Church's Magisterium" (Redemptionis Sacramentum, n. 12).

Lastly, it might be useful to recall here that in 1996, the Congregation for the Oriental Churches published a similar Instruction, which, moreover, was very well received, on the application of the liturgical provisions of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches with the intention of protecting the inalienable value of the patrimony of the Oriental tradition and the urgent need for it to flourish anew.3

The authentic ecclesiality of the Eucharist

In the Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, the Holy Father stated:

"I consider it my duty... to appeal urgently that the liturgical norms for the celebration of the Eucharist be observed with great fidelity. These norms are a concrete expression of the authentically ecclesial nature of the Eucharist; this is their deepest meaning. Liturgy is never anyone's private property, be it of the celebrant or of the community in which the mysteries are celebrated....

"Our time, too, calls for a renewed awareness and appreciation of liturgical norms as a reflection of, and a witness to, the one universal Church made present in every celebration of the Eucharist. Priests who faithfully celebrate Mass according to the liturgical norms, and communities which conform to those norms, quietly but eloquently demonstrate their love for the Church....

"No one is permitted to undervalue the mystery entrusted to our hands: it is too great for anyone to feel free to treat it lightly and with disregard for its sacredness and its universality" (n. 52).

These assertions sum up in the best possible way the doctrinal significance of the instruction: the liturgical norms are a tangible expression of the ecclesiality of the Eucharist.

The oneness and indivisibility of the Eucharistic Body of the Lord imply the oneness of his Mystical Body, which is the one and indivisible Church:

"From the Eucharistic centre arises the necessary openness of every celebrating community, of every particular Church. By allowing itself to be drawn into the open arms of the Lord, it achieves insertion into his one and undivided body. For this reason too, the existence of the Petrine ministry, which is a foundation of the unity of the episcopate and of the universal Church, bears a profound correspondence to the Eucharistic character of the Church".4

The ecclesiality of the Eucharist is not something that exists solely as an ideal; it also demands a tangible expression in the life of every community that prays. It is precisely this "parallel" between the Petrine ministry and the Eucharistic character of the Church that demands the Holy Father's solicitude, both for doctrine and in practices, in the way in which this mystery is celebrated in the Church.

Just as a reciprocity exists between the authentic ecclesiality of the Eucharist and the liturgical norms, so there is a reciprocity between erroneous conceptions of the Eucharist and disobedience to the liturgical norms. To quote a single example; in some countries of the world there has been an abuse whereby the priest celebrating (or the priests concelebrating) distributes Holy Communion to the faithful before he himself has communicated. As a justification of this practice (which is forbidden in n. 97 of the Instruction) it was explained that when one invites guests to one's home, the guests should be served before the host! But is it really true that the Church is the home only of the priests and that the lay faithful are guests?

Reception of the Instruction as an ecclesial event

A practical consequence of the ecclesiality of the Eucharist is also the reaction to this Instruction. On the whole, it seems that there are three major obstacles to the proper acceptance of Documents and the causes of their poor assimilation: their number, their length and the difficulties posed by the mass means of communications.

With regard to their number, it corresponds to the many events and countless requests for enlightenment addressed to the Magisterium on the part of the People of God. Moreover, the number of Documents can also provide an opportunity and a means for the continuing formation of both clergy and lay faithful.

With regard to the length, for example, the Instruction is fairly long because the norms to reassert and the abuses to avoid are truly numerous. With regard to their communication, speaking at the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith last February, the Holy Father made some important points:

"Another theme that has been dealt with on various occasions is the reception of magisterial Documents by Catholic faithful who are often bewildered rather than informed by the immediate reactions and interpretations of the social communications media.

"In fact, the reception of a Document must be regarded, apart from the media, above all as an ecclesial event that involves acceptance of the Magisterium in the most cordial communion and sharing of the Church's doctrine. Indeed, it is a matter of authoritative words that shed light on a truth of faith or on certain aspects of Catholic doctrine that may be contested or distorted by certain currents of thought and actions. Moreover, it is precisely in its doctrinal effectiveness that we discover the profoundly pastoral character of the Document, whose acceptance thus becomes a favourable opportunity for formation, catechesis and evangelization".5

Therefore, acceptance of the Instruction must not end at the initial phase, but it must become an ecclesial event of communion and formation.

The Bishops, priests and lay faithful should not, therefore, accept the immediate opinions made at a first glance. They must be patient and take the time to read, assimilate and properly digest the content of the Instruction.

In short, the Instruction should give rise to healthy curiosity and generous acceptance in the Church, so that we may contemplate with renewed wonder this great mystery of our faith and foster the appropriate Eucharistic behaviour and attitudes.


1 John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 17 April 2003; Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum, 25 March 2004.

2Indiculus, chapter 8; Denz., n. 246 [ex. n. 139]. Cf. also Prosper of Aquitaine, De vocatione omnium gentium, 1, 12: PL 51, 664C.

3 Congregation for the Oriental Churches, Istruzione per l'applicazione delle prescrizione liturgiche del Codice del Canon's delle Chiese Orientali [Instruction for applying the liturgical prescriptions of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches],6 January 1996.

4 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter Communionis Notio to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of the Church Understood as Communion, 28 May 1992, n. 11.

5 John Paul II, Address to Participants in the Plenary Assembly of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 6 February 2004, n. 4; L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 18 February 2004, p. 3.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
23 June 2004, page 9

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