Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Document lists 28 grave abuses against Eucharist

Published April 29, 2004

In an instruction warning against a wide range of abuses against the Eucharist, the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments singled out 28 “grave matters” which put “at risk the validity and dignity of the most holy Eucharist.”

The 65-page instruction, titled “Redemptionis Sacramentum” (“The Sacrament of Redemption”), was approved by Pope John Paul II and released in several languages at the Vatican April 23.

It seeks to promote reverent celebration of the Mass and devotion to the Eucharist in accord with the church’s liturgical norms.

In a short chapter near the end titled “Remedies,” the instruction distinguishes among:

– “Graviora delicta”—especially grave crimes against the Eucharist that are treated as crimes in church law with serious ecclesiastical penalties attached. Only the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith can try such cases.

– Abuses that, although they do not rise to the level of ecclesiastical crimes, are “objectively … grave matters” threatening the dignity or even the validity of the Eucharist.

– “Other abuses” described in the instruction which do not pose a direct threat to the dignity or validity of the Eucharist but nevertheless “are not to be considered of little account, but are to be carefully avoided and corrected.”

The abuses condemned as especially serious range from using forbidden materials for eucharistic bread or wine to laicized priests celebrating Mass, from changing the officially approved words of the eucharistic prayers to celebrating Mass in a non-Christian temple or shrine.

Oddly, among the 28 paragraphs singled out as references to serious abuses is one that simply offers the advice that it is “appropriate” to include some parts from the fraction of the large eucharistic bread in the distribution of Communion to the faithful and adds that ordinarily “small hosts requiring no fraction ought customarily to be used for the most part” for distributing Communion to the faithful.

Here are the other 27 actions or practices highlighted by the instruction as grave abuses:

– Using any grain other than wheat for the host, or “introducing other substances, such as fruit or sugar or honey” into the bread for the hosts—a “grave abuse.”

– Using anything other than wine made of fermented grapes, “pure and incorrupt, not mixed with other substances,” in the chalice. “Other drinks of any kind … do not constitute valid matter.”

– Using any eucharistic prayer not in the Roman Missal or not approved by the Holy See for use where the Mass is being celebrated; or making any changes in the text of that prayer.

– Recitation of any part of the eucharistic prayer by anyone other than the priest—deacon, lay minister, an individual in the congregation or the whole congregation. The eucharistic prayer “is to be recited by the priest alone in full.”

– Omitting the name of the pope or the local bishop in the eucharistic prayer—violating “a most ancient tradition” that is “a manifestation of ecclesial communion.”

– While church norms fittingly recommend celebration of other sacraments in the context of Mass, “it is not permissible to unite the sacrament of penance to the Mass in such a way that they become a single liturgical celebration.” This does not preclude priests from hearing confessions while Mass is going on, however.

– Celebration of Mass “is not to be inserted in any way into the setting of a common meal.” If “grave necessity” requires celebrating Mass at a table or in a dining hall or banquet room, “there is to be a clear interval of time” between the end of Mass and the meal, and other food is not to be brought in before the Mass is over.

– It is “strictly … an abuse” to introduce into the Mass “elements that are contrary to the prescriptions of the liturgical books and taken from the rites of other religions.”

– “It is not licit” to deny Communion to “any baptized Catholic who is not prevented by law” from receiving the sacrament.

– Communion is to be distributed on the tongue to anyone who desires it anywhere and in the hand to anyone who desires it in places where that has been approved as a practice. However, it should be consumed in the presence of the minister of Communion and it should not be given to someone in the hand “if there is a risk of profanation.”

– “It is not licit” for lay people to administer Communion to themselves or for them to hand Communion on from one to another instead of it being distributed by designated ministers. In particular, at weddings the “abuse” of the new spouses giving Communion to one another “is to be set aside.”

– “The practice is reprobated whereby either unconsecrated hosts or other edible or inedible things are distributed during the celebration of the Mass or beforehand after the manner of Communion.”

– In a diocesan bishop’s decision on the circumstances under which Communion can be distributed under both kinds, “it is completely to be excluded where even a small danger exists of the sacred species being profaned.”

– The practice of Communion under both kinds for the entire congregation should be avoided when there is such a large number that “it is difficult to gauge the amount of wine for the Eucharist and there is a danger that ‘more than a reasonable quantity’” will remain to be consumed after Communion.

– In the practice of intinction, or receiving Communion under both kinds by dipping a host into the wine, “the communicant must not be permitted to intinct the host himself in the chalice nor to receive the intincted host in the hand. … It is altogether forbidden to use nonconsecrated bread or other matter.”

– “The pouring of the blood of Christ after the consecration from one vessel to another is completely to be avoided, lest anything should happen that would be to the detriment of so great a mystery. Never to be used for containing the blood of the Lord are flagons, bowls or other vessels.” This instruction prohibits the widespread U.S. practice of placing one or more pitchers of wine on the altar before the consecration when Communion is to be distributed under both kinds, and then pouring that wine into chalices before Communion. A related instruction says there is no problem with placing multiple chalices filled with wine on the altar before the consecration, but for the sake of “sign value” the main chalice should be larger than the others.

– Mass can never be celebrated “in a temple or sacred place of any non-Christian religion.”

– Bishops must stop “any contrary practice” to church norms that require commendatory letters not more than a year old vouching for a visiting priest’s faculties to celebrate Mass or a prudential judgment by local authorities that he has such faculties.

– Celebrations of the Mass must never be suspended “on the pretext of promoting a ‘fast from the Eucharist’” as a way to heighten awareness of the importance of the Mass.

– Sacred vessels for the Lord’s body and blood “must be made in strict conformity with the norms of tradition and the liturgical books,” assuring that people of the region consider them “truly noble.” Since all risk of diminishing the doctrine of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist must be avoided, use of any more common vessels is “reprobated.”

– Celebration of Mass by priests wearing “only a stole over the monastic cowl or the common habit of religious or ordinary clothes, contrary to the prescriptions of the liturgical books” is strictly prohibited and a “reprobrated” abuse.

– Reservation of the Blessed Sacrament in any place “not subject in a secure way to the authority of the diocesan bishop or where there is a danger of profanation” is forbidden.

– “No one may carry the most holy Eucharist to his or her home or to any other place contrary to the norm of the law.” Removing or retaining the Eucharist for any sacrilegious purpose or casting them away is a church crime that only the church’s doctrinal congregation has authority to prosecute.

– Priests, deacons or extraordinary ministers of Communion are forbidden to engage in any “profane business” while carrying the Eucharist to the sick or homebound.

– Any time the Blessed Sacrament is exposed for adoration, it “must never be left unattended, even for the briefest space of time.

– “It is never licit for laypersons to assume the role or the vesture of a priest or deacon or other clothing similar to such vesture.”

– It is never licit for a laicized priest to “celebrate the sacraments under any pretext whatsoever save in the exceptional case set forth by law” of hearing the confession of someone in immediate danger of death.