Apr 15, 2004

Holy See Releases Redemptionis Sacramentum,

Online Edition

– Vol. X, No. 2 & 3: April – May 2004

The Discipline of the Eucharist

Holy See Releases

Redemptionis Sacramentum

, Norms for Celebration of Mass

Instruction on Liturgy, called for in Ecclesia de Eucharistia, is presented at the Vatican on Saint George’s Day

by Helen Hull Hitchcock

On Saint George’s Day, April 23, the Holy See released the long-awaited document on the discipline of the Liturgy, called for in Pope John Paul II’s encyclical

Ecclesia de Eucharistia

(The Church of the Eucharist), issued nearly a year ago.

The document, an Instruction titled

Redemptionis sacramentum

(The Sacrament of Redemption), and subtitled

On certain matters to be observed or to be avoided regarding the Most Holy Eucharist

, was presented by Cardinal Francis Arinze, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (CDW) and other officials from the CDW and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, at a Vatican press conference.

The disciplinary document, wrote the Holy Father in

Ecclesia de Eucharistia

, is necessary because "especially in the years following the post-Conciliar liturgical reform, as a result of a misguided sense of creativity and adaptation there have been a number of abuses which have been a source of suffering for many".

A certain reaction against "formalism" has led some, especially in certain regions, to consider the "forms" chosen by the Church’s great liturgical tradition and her Magisterium as non-binding and to introduce unauthorized innovations which are often completely inappropriate. 

I consider it my duty, therefore 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… Precisely to bring out more clearly this deeper meaning of liturgical norms, I have asked the competent offices of the Roman Curia to prepare a more specific document, including prescriptions of a juridical nature, on this very important subject". (EE 52)

Redemptionis sacramentum was approved on March 19, the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, and is dated March 25, the Solemnity of the Annunciation.

Many considered it appropriate that the Instruction was presented to the world on the Feast of Saint George, an early Christian martyr who died defending the Church. Saint George is the patron of Cardinal Jorge Medina Estévez, who was prefect of the CDW during the most intense debate over changes in the Liturgy, including revised translations proposed by the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL), which culminated with the landmark Instruction on translation, Liturgiam authenticam (Authentic Liturgy) in May 2001, as well as a thorough restructuring of ICEL.

Cardinal Medina also oversaw the publication of the third "typical edition" of the Roman Missal, originally introduced in 2000, and he guided the Holy See’s responses to many questions that arose about the new Missal’s Institutio Generalis (General Instruction) that provides regulations for the celebration of Mass. Cardinal Medina retired and was succeeded by Cardinal Arinze in October 2002.

A Continuation of the Encyclical

There have been other instructions on the Eucharist since the Council (Inaestimabile donum, issued in April 1980, for example). Pope John Paul II’s 1988 Vicesimus quintus annos — observing the 25th anniversary of the Council’s Constitution on the Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium — had called for a critical reappraisal of the liturgical reforms since the Council, and to make corrections where needed.

Yet, as the Holy Father observed in Ecclesia de Eucharistia, issued forty years after Sacrosanctum Concilium appeared, "shadows are not lacking":

In some places the practice of Eucharistic adoration has been almost completely abandoned. In various parts of the Church abuses have occurred, leading to confusion with regard to sound faith and Catholic doctrine concerning this wonderful sacrament. At times one encounters an extremely reductive understanding of the Eucharistic mystery. Stripped of its sacrificial meaning, it is celebrated as if it were simply a fraternal banquet. Furthermore, the necessity of the ministerial priesthood, grounded in apostolic succession, is at times obscured and the sacramental nature of the Eucharist is reduced to its mere effectiveness as a form of proclamation. This has led here and there to ecumenical initiatives, which, albeit well intentioned, indulge in Eucharistic practices contrary to the discipline by which the Church expresses her faith. How can we not express profound grief at all this? The Eucharist is too great a gift to tolerate ambiguity and depreciation.

"It is my hope that the present Encyclical Letter will effectively help to banish the dark clouds of unacceptable doctrine and practice, so that the Eucharist will continue to shine forth in all its radiant mystery". (EE 10)

Thus the Preamble of Redemptionis sacramentum states that it is not a compendium of all of the norms for the Eucharist that have been issued in the past, but that it intends "to establish certain norms by which those earlier ones are explained and complemented". (RS 2)

The Instruction also has the purpose of a call to duty: "to set forth for Bishops, as well as for Priests, Deacons and all the lay Christian faithful, how each should carry them out in accordance with his own responsibilities and the means at his disposal". (RS 2)

Observance of these norms is not optional:

"The observance of the norms published by the authority of the Church requires conformity of thought and of word, of external action and of the application of the heart. A merely external observation of norms would obviously be contrary to the nature of the Sacred Liturgy"… (RS 5)

Liturgical abuses are harmful and must cease:

— "Abuses ‘contribute to the obscuring of the Catholic faith and doctrine…’" (RS 6)

— "Not infrequently, abuses are rooted in a false understanding of liberty" (RS 7)

— "'[E]cumenical initiatives… indulge at times in Eucharistic practices contrary to the discipline by which the Church expresses her faith’." (RS 8)

— "[A]buses are often based on ignorance, in that they involve a rejection of those elements whose deeper meaning is not understood…" (RS 9)

The Instruction’s Preamble also stresses that the Church has received her Liturgy "from apostolic and unbroken tradition, which it is the Church’s task to transmit faithfully and carefully to future generations". (RS 9)

"The Church herself has no power over those things which were established by Christ Himself, and which constitute an unchangeable part of the Liturgy. Indeed, if the bond were to be broken which the Sacraments have with Christ Himself who instituted them… it would do [the faithful] great harm. For the Sacred Liturgy is quite intimately connected with principles of doctrine, so that the use of unapproved texts and rites necessarily leads either to the attenuation or to the disappearance of that necessary link between the lex orandi [law of prayer] and the lex credendi [law of belief]". (RS 10)

Thus, the Instruction states firmly, anyone who permits "himself to treat [the Liturgy] according to his own whim …[or]… by giving free reign to his own inclinations, even if he is a Priest, injures the substantial unit of the Roman Rite, which ought to be vigorously preserved.

"The result is uncertainty in matters of doctrine, perplexity and scandal on the part of the People of God, and, almost as a necessary consequence, vigorous opposition"… (RS 11)

Though the Instruction does not mention as examples of "vigorous opposition" the schismatic groups that have justified breaking with the Church chiefly over the state of the Liturgy after the Council, this seems inescapably to be implied.

The Instruction makes it very clear from its first paragraphs that Catholics actually have a right to faithful celebration of Holy Mass:

"[It] is the right of all Christ’s faithful that the Liturgy, and in particular the celebration of Holy Mass, should truly be as the Church wishes, according to her stipulations as prescribed in the liturgical books and in the other laws and norms. Likewise, the Catholic people have the right that the Sacrifice of the Holy Mass should be celebrated for them in an integral manner, according to the entire doctrine of the Church’s Magisterium. Finally, it is the Catholic community’s right that the celebration of the Most Holy Eucharist should be carried out for it in such a manner that it truly stands out as a sacrament of unity, to the exclusion of all blemishes and actions that might engender divisions and factions in the Church" (referring to EE 52). (RS 12)

"All of the norms and exhortations set forth in this Instruction are connected, albeit in various ways, with the mission of the Church, whose task it is to be vigilant concerning the correct and worthy celebration of so great a mystery". (RS 13)

The Preamble provides the fundamental orientation of the eight chapters of the Instruction, stressing, as it does, the necessity for spiritual conformity and unity in the Church, as well as the right of the faithful to authentic Liturgy — and the obligation of bishops to assure it.

Significantly, the right of the faithful to a proper celebration of Mass is a continuing theme — a leitmotiv, as it were — that pervades Redemptionis sacramentum. The Preamble’s ample citation of other Church documents — often quoting sections verbatim — is also maintained throughout the Instruction.

The Regulation of the Sacred Liturgy

The Instruction’s first chapter summarizes the Church’s teaching on the governing authority of the Sacred Liturgy — first the Church, "which rests specifically with the Apostolic See and, according to the norms of law, with the Bishop"; the pope, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The reason for this level of authority is that "Christ’s faithful have the right that ecclesiastical authority should fully and efficaciously regulate the Sacred Liturgy lest it should ever seem to be ‘anyone’s private property’". (RS 18)

In this section the Instruction outlines the authority and the obligations of bishops. He "sets forth liturgical norms in his Diocese, by which all are bound" (citing Canon 838). He must also correct liturgical abuses (RS 24), and says that "there has long been a need" for bishops to review the work of individuals or groups that advise them on liturgical matters, to "consider carefully" changes and improvements, and to make sure that the "experts" who advise them be known for "soundness in the Catholic faith" as well as for "knowledge of theological and cultural matters". (RS 25)

This section also cautions that a bishop’s diocesan norms must not limit the pastoral freedom for certain variations in celebrations in a particular group or circumstances, provided they are "in accordance with liturgical books". (RS 21)

The Holy Father had stressed a similar limitation applied to bishops in Ecclesia de Eucharistia, quoting his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Asia: "such cooperation [among bishops] is essential because the Sacred Liturgy expresses and celebrates the one faith professed by all and, being the heritage of the whole Church, cannot be determined by local Churches in isolation from the universal Church". (EE 51)

Though this point — that a bishop is not free to mandate liturgical practices in his own diocese that are innovations or that are substantial changes from the practice of other bishops in his Conference — would hardly seem to require special emphasis, it does address a problem of liturgical "balkanization" that has afflicted the Church in the United States for several years.

The Instruction briefly reviews the authority of bishops’ conferences, and, citing other documents, notes that "all liturgical norms" that a Conference proposes require the recognitio (approval) of the CDW in order to have any binding force. (RS 28)

The section on priests quotes a passage from Saint Ambrose, noting that priests "ought not to detract from the profound meaning of their own ministry by corrupting the liturgical celebration either through alteration or omission, or through arbitrary additions", and continues, "let them faithfully seek to prevent others as well from committing this type of distortion" [31]

Deacons, too, "do their part so that the Sacred Liturgy will be celebrated according to the norms of the duly approved liturgical books". (RS 35)

Authentic Participation of the Lay Faithful

The laity’s "active and conscious participation" in the Mass opens the Instruction’s third chapter, with citations from Sacrosanctum Concilium and other Church documents. The Mass as a Sacrifice is given strong emphasis, as in Ecclesia de Eucharistia:

The constant teaching of the Church on the nature of the Eucharist not only as a meal, but also and pre-eminently as a Sacrifice, is… understood to be one of the principal keys to the fill participation of all the faithful in so great a Sacrament. For when "stripped of its sacrificial meaning, the mystery is understood as if its meaning and importance were simply that of a fraternal banquet". (RS 38)

The Instruction lists several means by which the Council intended to make available "the riches of the liturgical tradition". and states that "the power of the liturgical celebrations does not consist in frequently altering the rites, but in probing more deeply the Word of God and the mystery being celebrated". (RS 39) It calls for teaching (catechesis) to remedy false notions that "active participation" means doing some activity during the Liturgy.

What is needed is to "instill anew in all of Christ’s faithful that sense of deep wonder before the greatness of the mystery of faith that is the Eucharist". (RS 40) Practices of piety, such as the Rosary and the Liturgy of the Hours, help nourish this "interior understanding of liturgical participation". (RS 41)

No "Clericalization" of the Laity

It is important that people understand that the Eucharistic Sacrifice is not to be considered a "concelebration" of the priest with the people who are present, and for celebration of the Eucharist, the community "absolutely requires an ordained priest".

Thus, the Instruction stresses, "There is a concerted will to avoid all ambiguity in this matter and to remedy the difficulties of recent years. Accordingly, terms such as ‘celebrating community’ or ‘celebrating assembly’ … and similar terms should not be used injudiciously". (RS 42)

On this point, in his ad limina address to the bishops of the Antilles in May 2002, the Holy Father emphasized the problem of "clericalization" of the laity:

The involvement of the laity becomes a form of clericalism when the sacramental or liturgical roles that belong to the priest are taken over by lay faithful or when the laity start to perform tasks of pastoral governance proper to the priest. In such situations, what the Council taught on the essentially secular character of the lay vocation is often disregarded (cf. Lumen Gentium, n. 31). It is the priest who, as an ordained minister and in the name of Christ, presides over the Christian community in the sphere of her liturgical and pastoral activity. The laity assist him in many ways in this work. The primary place for the exercise of the lay vocation is the economic, social, political and cultural world. It is in this world that lay people are invited to live their baptismal vocation not as passive consumers but as active members of the great work that expresses what is distinctively Christian. It belongs to the office of the priest to preside over the Christian community so that lay people can carry out their own ecclesial and missionary task. In a time of continuing secularization, it could seem strange that the Church emphasizes so forcefully the secular vocation of laypersons. It is precisely the Gospel witness of the faithful in the world that is the heart of the Church’s response to the malaise of secularization (cf. Ecclesia in America, n. 44).

The involvement of lay people is politicized when the laity become absorbed by the exercise of "authority" within the Church. This happens when the Church is no longer seen in terms of a "mystery" of grace that characterizes her, but in sociological or political terms, often on the basis of a misunderstanding of the notion of "People of God", a notion that has deep and rich biblical roots and was so opportunely put to use by the Second Vatican Council. When it is not service but power that shapes every form of government in the Church, whether exercised by the clergy or by the laity, opposing interests begin to make themselves felt. Clericalism for priests is the kind of governance that comes more from the use of power than from the spirit of service; it always gives rise to all sorts of antagonism between priests and people. Such clericalism is found in forms of lay leadership that do not reasonably respect the transcendental and sacramental nature of the Church and of her role in the world. Both these attitudes are harmful. On the contrary, what the Church needs is a deeper and more creative sense of complementarity between the vocation of the priest and the vocation of lay people. Without this, we cannot hope to be faithful to the teaching of the Council nor find a way out of the usual difficulties with the priest’s identity, the people’s confidence in him and the call to the priesthood". (Pope John Paul II’s to the Bishops of Antilles – ad limina address, May 7, 2002 §2)

The "noble custom" of boys as altar servers "after the manner of acolytes" is encouraged, which is not new; but what is new is that the Instruction suggests forming associations for these young men, to be approved or established by the CDW.

The Instruction affirms, here, that girls or women may be admitted to this service — at the discretion of the diocesan bishop "and in observance of the established norms".

One "established norm" the Instruction expressly footnotes is a 2001 letter of clarification from the CDW, stating that a bishop’s "authorization [of female altar servers] may not, in any way, exclude men or, in particular, boys from service at the altar, nor require that priests of the diocese would make use of female altar servers".

Cardinal Medina, then-prefect of the CDW, pointed out that "the non-ordained faithful do not have a right to service at the altar", and that if a bishop authorizes the practice of female servers, "it would remain important to explain clearly to the faithful the nature of this innovation, lest confusion might be introduced, thereby hampering the development of priestly vocations". The cardinal added that this official response is to be considered "normative" on the subject.

The Celebration of Mass

The third chapter of Redemptionis sacramentum focuses on particular aspects of the Eucharist — as do the following three chapters — frequently quoting or paraphrasing current norms, sometimes with explanatory notes.

It is easy to understand that this was a difficult section to compile. If too much detail was included, it might obscure the most important points; and, on the other hand, omission of a particular serious abuse might be interpreted as tacit tolerance of the abuse. Also, since much of this document is essentially a repetition of existing norms, there is the further complication that too much might be made of any apparent variations.

Chapter three reviews first the existing norms concerning the matter of the Eucharist, then the Eucharistic Prayer and the other parts of the Mass. Some highlights from these sections:


— Bread used for Mass must be made solely of wheat; and "it is a grave abuse to introduce other substances such as fruit or sugar or honey". (RS 48)

— Wine used for Mass must be grape wine only; "during the celebration itself, a small quantity of water is to be mixed with it", and other drinks "do not constitute valid matter". (RS 50)

Eucharistic Prayer:

— "It is not to be tolerated that some Priests take upon themselves the right to compose their own Eucharistic Prayers" or to change the approved texts or introduce new ones. (RS 51)

— It is an abuse to offer the Eucharistic Prayer with some parts recited by a deacon, lay minister, or others. "The Eucharistic Prayer is to be recited by the Priest alone in full". (RS 52)

— While the priest proclaims the Eucharistic Prayer "there should be no other prayers or singing, and the organ or other musical instruments should be silent". (RS 53)

— It is an abuse for the priest to break the host at the time of the consecration. "This abuse is contrary to the tradition of the Church. It is reprobated and is to be corrected with haste". (RS 55)

— The name of the pope and the diocesan bishop may not be omitted from the Eucharistic Prayer. (RS 56)

Other Parts of the Mass:

The Instruction emphatically forbids changing the words of Mass. Varying the texts of the Sacred Liturgy is a "reprobated practice" and "must cease". (RS 59)

Text-tinkering has become one of the most vexing problems in the English-speaking Churches, a problem that affects both spoken texts and perhaps even more, texts that are sung or chanted.

This strongly-worded rule ("reprobated"), will, among other things, eliminate the recent innovation of adding "tropes" to the Agnus Dei, such as "Jesus, Lord of All" and other titles to replace "Lamb of God". (The liturgists’ rationale for this was to make the traditional thrice-repeated Agnus Dei into a new litany to accompany "bread-breaking" and "wine-pouring" rituals at Communion — both of which are ruled abuses in this Instruction.)

— It is illicit "to omit or to substitute the prescribed biblical readings on one’s own initiative" or to replace them with other non-biblical texts. (RS 62)

— The homily must be given only by ordained clergy, "never by a layperson" (RS 64), and this prohibition extends to "seminarians, students of theological disciplines, and those who have assumed the function of those known as ‘pastoral assistants’". (RS 66)

— "No Creed or Profession of Faith is to be introduced which is not found in duly approved liturgical books". (RS 69)

— "Breaking of the Eucharistic Bread [is] done only by the Priest celebrant, if necessary with the help of a Deacon or of a concelebrant… The abuse that has prevailed in some places, by which this rite is unnecessarily prolonged… with laypersons also helping in contradiction to the norms, should be corrected with all haste". (RS 73)

— "The celebration of Holy Mass is not to be inserted in any way into the setting of a common meal, nor joined with this kind of banquet". (RS 77)

— "[I]t is strictly to be considered an abuse to introduce into the celebration of Holy Mass elements that are contrary to the prescriptions of the liturgical books and taken from the rites of other religions". (RS 79)

This admonition would apparently prohibit practices such as ritual dances or ceremonies of non-Christian or neo-pagan religions, in accordance with the 1994 Instruction, Varietates Legitimae, on the subject of legitimate "inculturation".

Holy Communion

Chapter Four, Holy Communion, begins with the proper disposition of people for receiving Holy Communion and reviews the relevant norms.

— Pastors should "prudently and firmly" correct the abuse of people approaching the altar "as a group indiscriminately" (RS 83); and should take care to prevent a situation where, "out of ignorance, non-Catholics or even non-Christians come forward for Holy Communion".

— "Catholic ministers licitly administer the Sacraments only to the Catholic faithful, who likewise receive them licitly only from Catholic ministers" (except according to special provisions of Canon 844, concerning Eastern Orthodox churches). (RS 85)

These paragraphs may be intended primarily to address a controversy that has developed in Germany, where priests have "concelebrated" with non-Catholic clergy in "ecumenical" Communion services. But recent events suggest that Catholics in this country also need to be reminded that they may not receive Communion in other churches that do not accept the Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist.

— The faithful should be "led insistently" to form a habit of confession outside of Mass. (RS 86)

— "The First Communion of children must always be preceded by sacramental confession and absolution". (RS 87)

The Distribution of Holy Communion

In a section on the distribution of Holy Communion, several norms concern problems that have come to the fore in the United States. For example,

— "It is the Priest celebrant’s responsibility to minister Communion, perhaps assisted by other Priests or Deacons… Only when there is a necessity may extraordinary ministers assist the Priest celebrant in accordance with the norm of law". (RS 88)

— "The faithful should receive Communion kneeling or standing, as the Conference of Bishops will have determined", with its acts having received the recognitio of the Apostolic See. "However, if they receive Communion standing, it is recommended that they give due reverence before the reception of the Sacrament, as set forth in the same norms". (RS 90)

— "[S]acred ministers may not deny the sacraments to those who seek them in a reasonable manner, are rightly disposed, and are not prohibited by law from receiving them. Hence any baptized Catholic who is not prevented by law must be admitted to Holy Communion. Therefore, it is not licit to deny Holy Communion to any of Christ’s faithful solely on the grounds, for example, that the person wishes to receive the Eucharist kneeling or standing". (RS 91)

— "[E]ach of the faithful always has the right to receive Holy Communion on the tongue, at his choice". In areas where the Bishops’ Conference with the recognitio of the Apostolic See has given permission" they may receive it in the hand. "If there is a risk of profanation, then Holy Communion should not be given in the hand to the faithful". (RS 92)

Paten is Back

This is new: use of the paten in administering Communion to the faithful, which has all but disappeared in the US, is to be restored.

— "The Communion-plate [or paten] for the Communion of the faithful should be retained so as to avoid the danger of the sacred host or some fragment of it falling". (RS 93)

— The faithful may not "serve themselves", and the abuse of the spouses at a nuptial Mass giving one another Communion is to end. (RS 94)

— The existing norm permitting a lay person to receive Communion more than once on the same day is repeated: a person"may receive it again on the same day only within a Eucharistic Celebration in which he or she is participating, with due regard for the prescriptions of Can. 921 § 2." (Footnote refers to Canon 917). (RS 95)

No "Flagons" — More Chalices

Noteworthy, in a section on Communion Under Both Kinds, are new directives concerning administering the chalice:

The chalice should not be administered to the congregation "where there is such a large number of communicants that it is difficult to gauge the amount of wine for the Eucharist", and too much Precious Blood would remain at the end of the celebration, "or wherever there is not an adequate number of sacred ministers or extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion", or — and this is new — "where a notable part of the people" chooses not to approach the chalice. (102)

Concerning intinction (dipping the Host into the chalice), "The option of administering Communion by intinction always remains"… and "the communicant should receive the Sacrament from the Priest only on the tongue". (RS 103) One may never intinct the Host himself, and use of non-consecrated bread is "altogether forbidden". (RS 104)

— "If one chalice is not sufficient there is no reason why the Priest celebrant should not use several chalices…. It is praiseworthy, by reason of the sign value, to use a main chalice together with smaller chalices". (RS 105)

Pitchers, flagons, decanters or other such vessels for the Precious Blood are "never to be used":

— "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 that are not fully in accord with the established norms". (RS 106)

Later on in the Instruction, glass vessels are "reprobated", and only "truly noble" materials may be used, "so that honor will be given to the Lord by their use, and all risk of diminishing the doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharistic species in the eyes of the faithful. Reprobated, therefore [are] common vessels…as also other vessels made from glass, earthenware, clay, or other materials that break easily", also "metals that easily rust or deteriorate". (RS 117)

The Instruction’s firm prohibition of pouring the Precious Blood may encounter resistance from some liturgists and in dioceses where this has become standard practice — or even mandatory.

For example, the 1997 "Gather Faithfully Together", issued by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, describes the "plate of bread, the cup, the large flagon of wine" and comments, "Nothing distracts from the power of bread and wine in their simple vessels". (GFT 63)

Further, "As the presider raises a large piece of the consecrated bread to break it, the cantor begins the litany ‘Lamb of God/Cordero de Dios‘ that will carry us until the bread is all broken, the consecrated wine all poured into the communion cups, ‘God’s holy gifts for God’s holy people’ "(GFT 69). And it asks, "How does the very appearance of the sacred altar — the plate of bread that is bread to all the senses, the cup of wine and the flagon full of wine for the whole assembly — center us?"

Cardinal Roger Mahony is pictured at the altar with two large glass pitchers and a huge glass bowl of bread in the printed edition of "Gather Faithfully Together" (1997. Archdiocese of Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, ed. Gabe Huck).

The practices Cardinal Mahony’s Letter set forth were not optional: "By the First Sunday of Advent 1999: every Sunday Liturgy is celebrated with the Eucharistic Prayer and the Communion Rite as described in this document" (GFT 184).

The Instruction’s section on Communion ends with the somber reminder (RS 107) that throwing away the sacred species — such as by pouring down a sink or a sacrarium or on the ground — entails automatic excommunication that only the Holy See can absolve; and can cause a priest to be dismissed from the clerical state, as it is a sign of contempt for the Body and Blood of Christ.

Certain Other Matters Concerning the Eucharist

Chapter Five, as the title implies, covers concerns a variety of elements that do not easily fit into other categories: such as the place of celebration (never in a "sacred place of a non-Christian religion" (RS 109); that "priests are always free to celebrate in Latin" (RS 112); and instructions about sacred vessels and vestments.

Vessels, Vestments

Paragraphs in the section on vessels give directions for cleansing, as well as the material used (e.g., glass is not permitted). A section on Liturgical Vesture for Mass is largely a review of existing documents, chiefly the new General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM).

— "The abuse is reprobated whereby the sacred ministers celebrate Holy Mass or other rites without sacred vestments or with only a stole" over their ordinary clothes or religious habit. (RS 126)

— Priests are to "take part as concelebrants" at Masses they attend. "It is not fitting, except in rare and exceptional cases… for them to participate at Mass, as regards to externals, in the manner of the lay faithful". (RS 128)

Reservation of the Most Holy Eucharist and Eucharistic Worship Outside Mass

In Chapter Six, strong encouragement is given to worship of the Eucharist as a way of acknowledging the Real Presence of Christ. The chapter begins with reasons for reservation of the Blessed Sacrament and the place where it is to be reserved, quoting existing documents.

The Instruction says that no one may carry the Eucharist home, and notes that "removing or retaining the consecrated species for a sacrilegious purpose" or throwing them away are graviora delicta, such grave abuses that only the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith may grant absolution from them. (RS 132)

Two sections concern varieties of Eucharistic worship: adoration and exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and Eucharistic congresses. Both are brief and both draw heavily on Ecclesia de Eucharistia and "Holy Communion and Worship of the Eucharist Outside Mass".

Pastors are to foster this worship, especially of the Blessed Sacrament exposed (RS 134); and the faithful are to be given access for prayer for at least some hours in churches where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved, citing Canon 937. (RS 135)

Bishops should recognize Perpetual Adoration associations and support their activities when they can. (If these groups are international, the CDW officially approves them.) (RS 141)

Extraordinary Functions of Lay Faithful

Chapter Seven, like Chapter Two, focuses on the laity and their relation to the Eucharist. Whereas the earlier chapter considered the ordinary participation of laity in the Mass, this chapter is concerned with extraordinary roles that they may assume only "when the Church’s needs require it… if sacred ministers are lacking". (RS 147)

"Pastoral assistants"

— "Let care be taken.. lest the delineation of this function be assimilated too closely to the form of pastoral ministry that belongs to clerics" so that they "do not take upon themselves what is proper to the ministry of the sacred ministers". (RS 150)

— The pastoral assistant should encourage vocations to the Priesthood and Diaconate, and see to the careful training of laity who may perform various liturgical functions "in accordance with the norm of the law". (RS 150)

— "Only out of true necessity is there to be recourse to the assistance of extraordinary ministers in the celebration of the Liturgy", and this is not intended for "fuller participation of the laity", but is "supplementary and provisional".(RS 151)

— These functions "must not be an occasion for disfiguring the very ministry of Priests", and pastoral assistants must never be confused with priests or deacons. (RS 152)

— "Furthermore, it is never licit for laypersons to assume the role or the vesture of a Priest or a Deacon or other clothing similar to such vesture". (RS 153) (Presumably this rule does not intend to prohibit albs worn by altar servers.)

This brief section on "pastoral assistants" suggests that the Instruction is responding to those who insist that the "clergy shortage" demands supplying lay pastoral assistants to fill the role of a priest or deacon.

"The Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion"

Again, the Instruction stresses that a clear distinction must be made: the name "minister of the Eucharist" belongs only to the Priest who confects the Sacrament of the Eucharist, and to the ordained. They are the ordinary ministers of Holy Communion. Formally instituted acolytes are "extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion"; and certain lay people who may perform this function are referred to by the same title – not as "special minister", nor "extraordinary minister of the Eucharist", nor "special minister of the Eucharist". (RS 154-156)

These extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion should not be appointed if there are enough ordinary ministers (i.e., ordained) for the distribution of Holy Communion; and even if appointed, should not serve in this capacity if there are ordinary ministers present. (RS 157)

— "The practice of those Priests is reprobated who, even though present at the celebration, abstain from distributing Communion and hand this function over to laypersons". (RS 157)

The extraordinary minister of Holy Communion may distribute Communion only when there is no priest or deacon, or when the priest is incapacitated for a good reason, or when the number of communicants is "so great that the very celebration of Mass would be unduly prolonged", but a brief prolongation is not a "sufficient reason". (RS 158)

An extraordinary minister of Holy Communion may never "delegate anyone else to administer the Eucharist". (RS 159)

The diocesan bishop should review the practice, and "correct it or define it more precisely". (RS 160)


The Instruction summarizes current norms, emphasizing that no one other than the priest or deacon may preach the homily at Mass. Permission for anyone other than ordained clergy to preach may be given only by the "local Ordinary". (RS 161)

"Particular Celebrations carried out in the Absence of a Priest"

Celebrations, such as "word and Communion" services "are to be considered altogether extraordinary", Redemptionis sacramentum states, and stresses that "It is necessary to avoid any sort of confusion between this type of gathering and the celebration of the Eucharist", thus the diocesan bishops "should prudently discern whether Holy Communion ought to be distributed in these gatherings". In order to avoid any suggestion that a layperson is "presiding" at the celebration, it would be better to have the parts distributed among several people. (RS 164-165)

The diocesan Bishop "must not easily grant permission for such celebrations to be held on weekdays". (RS 166)

"It is unthinkable on the Lord’s Day to substitute for Holy Mass either ecumenical celebrations of the word or services of common prayer". (RS 167)

"Those who have left the Clerical State"

A man who has left the priesthood and is dispensed from celibacy may not celebrate the sacraments nor assume any role in the Liturgy:

"A cleric who loses the clerical state in accordance with the law… is prohibited from exercising the power of order" (Canon 292), so it is not licit for him to celebrate the sacraments, "nor is it licit for Christ’s faithful to have recourse to him for the celebration…

"Moreover, these men should neither give the homily, nor ever undertake any office or duty in the celebration of the sacred Liturgy, lest confusion arise among Christ’s faithful and the truth be obscured". (RS 168)


The seriousness of liturgical abuses begins the final very important chapter on possible remedies and means of dealing with them. The Instruction quotes Saint Thomas Aquinas, "the vice of falsehood is perpetrated by anyone who offers worship to God on behalf of the Church in a manner contrary to that which is established by the Church with divine authority, and to which the Church is accustomed" (Summa Theologica).

The Instruction first mentions a "pressing need for the biblical and liturgical formation of the people of God, both pastors and faithful", quoting Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Letter, Vicesimus quintus annos. But formation alone may not be enough. When abuses persist, the "spiritual patrimony and rights of the Church" should be safeguarded "employing all legitimate means". (RS 169-170)

Abuses are categorized according to severity or gravity:

Graviora delicta (RS 172) are the most severe, and are reserved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. They include:

1. sacrilegious taking of the consecrated species, or throwing them away;

2. attempted (or simulated) celebration of the Mass;

3. "the forbidden concelebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice with ministers of Ecclesial Communities that do not have the apostolic succession nor acknowledge the sacramental dignity of priestly Ordination";

4. "the consecration for sacrilegious ends of one matter without the other in the celebration of the Eucharist or even of both outside the celebration of the Eucharist".

"Grave Matters"

There is no definition of "grave matters" (res graves), other than to say that they are "anything that puts at risk the validity and dignity of the Most Holy Eucharist" and must be corrected. This single paragraph (RS 173) simply enumerates, with no detail, all the articles of the Instruction that fall under this category. Summarily, they are these (paragraph references in parentheses):

1. matter of the Eucharist (48-50)

2. form of the hosts (49)

3. unauthorized Eucharistic Prayers (51)

4. persons other than the priest proclaiming the Eucharistic Prayer (52)

5. deliberately omitting the name of the pope or bishop from the Eucharistic Prayer (56)

6. joining in one continuous celebration the Sacrament of Penance with the Mass (76)

7. celebrating Mass in conjunction with meals (77)

8. incorporating rites from other religions into the celebration of Mass (79)

9. denial of Holy Communion to a baptized Catholic without serious reason (91)

10. denying a person’s option for Communion in the mouth or in the hand, or improperly administering Communion with a risk of profanation (92)

11. laity giving themselves Communion or administering it to others improperly (94)


Helen Hull Hitchcock

Helen Hull Hitchcock (1939-2014) was editor of the <em>Adoremus Bulletin</em>, which she co-founded. She was also the founding director of Women for Faith & Family and editor of its quarterly journal, Voices. She published many articles and essays in a wide range of Catholic journals, and authored and edited <em>The Politics of Prayer: Feminist Language and the Worship of God</em> (Ignatius Press 1992), a collection of essays on issues involved in translation. She contributed essays to several books, including <em>Spiritual Journeys</em>, a book of “conversion stories” (Daughters of St. Paul). Helen lectured in the US and abroad, and appeared frequently on radio and television, representing Catholic teaching on issues affecting Catholic women, families, and Catholic faith and worship.