By CINDY WOODEN, CNS | Published April 29, 2004
The norms for celebrating Mass must be followed exactly to ensure reverence for the Eucharist and to preserve the unity of the Catholic Church, said a new Vatican document.
“In some places the perpetration of liturgical abuses has become almost habitual, a fact which obviously cannot be allowed and must cease,” said the document, “Redemptionis Sacramentum” (“The Sacrament of Redemption”), written by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments.
The instruction, approved by Pope John Paul II and released at an April 23 Vatican press conference, particularly cited as abuses the use of eucharistic prayers not approved by the church, changing approved prayer texts, and allowing lay people to carry out functions reserved to a priest or deacon.
The document said that while it was “laudable” to encourage boys and young men to be altar servers girls and women could be altar servers if the local bishop permitted the practice.
Cardinal Francis Arinze, prefect of the congregation, told reporters, “No one should be surprised that over the course of time the holy church, our mother, has developed words, actions and, therefore, directives regarding this supreme act of worship.
“The eucharistic norms were elaborated to express and safeguard the eucharistic mystery and, even more, to demonstrate that it is the church which celebrates this august sacrifice and sacrament,” he said.
Because the Mass and Eucharist are so important to the church, he said, practices that violate the church’s norms cannot be taken lightly.
The norms reaffirm church teaching that a Catholic, in a situation of serious sin, must go to confession before approaching the Eucharist.
Introducing the document, Archbishop Angelo Amato, secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which collaborated in writing the instruction, said that celebrating the Mass in an “arbitrary” manner not only “deforms the celebration, but provokes doctrinal insecurity, perplexity and scandal among the people of God.”
The document highlighted violations of existing church norms, but did not set new rules.
It recognized as legitimate the various practices that local bishops have been authorized to permit, including Communion in the hand and the distribution of Communion under the species of bread and wine.
At the same time, it insisted that lay people delegated to assist with the distribution of Communion be referred to as “extraordinary ministers of holy Communion,” rather than as eucharistic ministers to emphasize the fact that in the Catholic liturgy the priest is the minister of the Eucharist.
Extraordinary ministers are to assist only when the number of communicants would make it difficult for the priests present to distribute Communion to everyone.
If other priests are present at the Mass and able to help distribute Communion they must do so before extraordinary ministers are employed, it said.
The instruction explicitly bans the practice where priests, “although present at the celebration, abstain from distributing Communion and hand this function over to laypersons.”
Any member of the church, it said, “has the right to lodge a complaint regarding a liturgical abuse to the diocesan bishop … or to the Apostolic See.”
The document said, however, that a complaint should be submitted first to the local bishop and that it should be done “in truth and charity.”
Unlike an early draft of the document, which was leaked to the press last summer, the instruction did not ban liturgical dance; it did not mention dance at all.
The document said the Second Vatican Council fostered the participation of lay people in the Mass through “responses, psalmody, antiphons and canticles, as well as actions or movements and gestures, and called for sacred silence to be maintained at the proper times.”
Following the council’s direction, it said, in the choice of music, optional prayers, church decoration and the homily, “there is ample possibility for introducing into each celebration a certain variety.”
But only approved Scripture readings are allowed, only a priest or deacon may give the homily and only approved eucharistic prayers can be recited—and those only by priests.
Anyone at Mass who gives “free rein to his own inclinations, even if he is a priest, injures the substantial unity of the Roman rite, which ought to be vigorously preserved,” said the instruction.
“The reprobated practice by which priests, deacons or the faithful here and there alter or vary at will the texts of the sacred liturgy that they are charged to pronounce must cease,” it said.
The instruction emphasized that the Eucharist is the memorial of Christ’s sacrifice and is not simply a “fraternal meal.”
Standing, sitting and kneeling, singing, reciting prayers and praying in silence are all part of an active participation in the Mass, it said.
Reaffirming previous Vatican directives, the instruction said wheat is the only grain acceptable for making hosts and that honey or sugar are not to be added.
While priests who have been laicized may administer the sacrament of confession to someone in danger of death, they are not to celebrate Mass under any circumstances, nor should they serve publicly as lectors or altar servers “lest confusion arise among Christ’s faithful.”
According to the instruction, some very serious abuses arise from a misplaced desire to promote ecumenism; the document said Mass is not to be concelebrated with a non-Catholic minister.
“The Eucharist is the apex of a Catholic celebration,” Cardinal Arinze said. Shared Communion is the goal of Christian unity, not a means to foster full unity in faith and doctrine.
“The Eucharist is not our possession to be given to our friends,” he said, but rather it belongs to the church and is a sign of faith held in common.