Holy Communion and Devotion to the Eucharistic Mystery Outside Mass

Author: LOR


L'Osservatore Romano

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 outside Mass.

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 ontexts 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 Eucharisticsacrifice 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 the Mass.

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 blessing.

II. Communion of the sick and Viaticum given by an extraordinary minister

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 communities.

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 blessing.

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 Eucharist.

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 use.

In particular the document on certain points meets the more widely expressed desires:

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 young people.

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).  

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
1 November 1973, page 4

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