Sep 15, 2004

Inventing New Ways to Resist the "New Era of Liturgical Reform"

Online Edition

– Vol. X, No. 6: September 2004

Deconstructing Discipline

Inventing New Ways to Resist the "New Era of Liturgical Reform"

by Susan Benofy

The revised General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) in 2000 heralded a "new era in liturgical reform". But some did not welcome this new era: they pelted the GIRM — and

Liturgiam Authenticam

(the 2001 instruction on translation) — with epithets like "Vatican interference" and "betrayal of the Council".

But when

Redemptionis Sacramentum

appeared in April – the disciplinary instruction called for in Pope John Paul II’s encyclical,

Ecclesia de Eucharistia

– the response was markedly different.

John Allen, the

National Catholic Reporter

‘s Rome correspondent, had an explanation for this change:

Among liturgical progressives, the analysis seems to be that continuing to fight the battle at the level of structures is pointless. Instead, the goals in coming months will be to protect existing practice as best they can, so that individual dioceses or parishes can preserve models of a renewed Liturgy, and to keep doing the scholarly reflection that will build the record for a time when the debate can be reopened. (Online column Dec 6, 2002, emphasis added.)

In other words, proceed as if Rome had not spoken. The reaction of the progressives to the new instruction was mostly silence, or comments that it contained nothing new. Yet there is a steadfast resistance to implementing RS, along with an attempt to justify the existing practices that it prohibits.

A case in point is an article, "Canonical Observations on Redemptionis Sacramentum", in the September 2004 issue of the liturgical journal Worship, arguing that RS does not (or cannot) require that liturgical practices must change, even if the Holy See has called such practices "grave abuses".

The author of the Worship article is John M. Huels, a canon lawyer who left the Servite order after his sexual abuse of a former student (a member of the US bishops’ Review Board) was revealed.

The article assesses the juridic nature of RS; its relationship to and effect on other liturgical norms, conferences of bishops, and dioceses; offers "a method for reconciling conflicts between RS and other laws in force". (p. 405)

Huels says that RS is "a text of law in the broad sense" that includes customs, and norms, as well as legislation; thus "its proper interpretation requires the skills of a canonist". (p. 404, 405) He states that "not all documents of the Roman Curia treating disciplinary matters of law are binding. Some are meant to serve as guidelines and offer helpful pastoral advice". (FN2, 405)

Redemptionis Sacramentum is an "instruction", whose purposes are defined in the Code of Canon Law, Canon 34 §1, which Huels cites:

Instructions clarify the prescripts of laws and elaborate on and determine the methods to be observed in fulfilling them. They are given for the use of those whose duty it is to see that laws are executed and oblige them in the execution of the laws. Those who possess executive power legitimately issue such instructions within the limits of their competence. (emphasis added.)

But rather than "execution of the laws", Huels challenges the authority of RS to change existing laws on the Liturgy. He makes numerous distinctions: between lex and ius, between universal and particular law, between legislative and executive power.

Yet, behind the hairsplitting and minutiae of "legalese" that decorates his article, Huels seems chiefly concerned with assuring liturgists that their local policies are not overturned by RS. Like the "progressives" that John Allen interviewed, he wants to "protect existing practice". He insists:

Like the decrees of the conference of bishops, diocesan laws and policies are also not affected by instructions, even if contrary to them…. Moreover, executive power can be freely delegated (canon 137), for example, to the head of the diocesan liturgy office. Thus legitimate diocesan laws and policies of executive power remain in force, even if contrary to a provision of RS. (p. 410, emphasis added)

Bottom line? In Huels’s opinion, "the head of a diocesan liturgy office" trumps the Holy See in "executive power". A bishop may establish policies and issue decrees "even if contrary to a provision" of the Holy See’s explicit instruction to the contrary. And a bishop may freely "delegate" his power to a member of his chancery staff. Liturgists are free to continue their own policies, even when they conflict with RS, according to Huels.

This may be a boost to a liturgist’s ego, but it causes considerable consternation for others. People who suffered liturgical abuse in their parishes for years placed great hope in RS — a promising sign that "help is on the way". Imagine their dismay when abusive liturgical practices are promoted or protected by a bishop.

A Bishop Speaks

Cardinal Roger Mahony, archbishop of Los Angeles, published a statement on the implementation of Redemptionis Sacramentum in the archdiocesan newspaper, The Tidings, September 10. The statement is dated September 4, the seventh anniversary of "Gather Faithfully Together" (GFT), the cardinal’s 1997 pastoral letter on the Liturgy, which revealed (and put into effect) his innovative vision for the celebration of the Eucharist. (GFT was published by Liturgy Training Publications of the Archdiocese of Chicago.)

Echoing Huels, Cardinal Mahony says that the diocesan policies he has established are unaffected by the Holy See’s instruction. He acknowledges that RS requires people "to be alert to possible abuses" in the celebration of Mass. But the cardinal is confident that there are none in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles: "I have determined that there is no need to make any significant changes in our liturgical practice at this time", he wrote.

Cardinal Mahony said that he and his auxiliary bishops have visited many parishes, and "have not become aware of any serious abuses". In fact, the cardinal proclaims, "[m]ost of the abuses mentioned in Redemptionis Sacramentum do not pertain to the celebration of the Eucharist in our Archdiocese because of our many efforts to provide intensive and extensive training in proper liturgical norms and practice".

But practices contrary to RS occur frequently in the archdiocese. For example, Cardinal Mahony’s statement says:

Some have inquired about the continued use of specially designed carafes in which the wine is presented at the Preparation of the Gifts, placed upon the altar, consecrated during the Eucharistic Prayer, and then distributed into smaller chalices for Holy Communion.

RS §106 expressly forbids "the pouring of the Blood of Christ after the consecration from one vessel to another lest anything should happen that would be to the detriment of so great a mystery, or using flagons, bowls, or other vessels that are not fully in accord with the established norms".

Cardinal Mahony considers the use of carafes and pouring the Precious Blood a "most positive" experience:

Because our practice has become an Archdiocesan custom of over seven years, with both the Catholic faithful and the ministers accustomed to this practice, I am willing to grant exceptions to no. 106 of Redemptionis Sacramentum for legitimate reasons, such as the following: where the altar table is too small to accommodate many chalices, thus creating a greater danger for spillage; and where the number of chalices is so large that they would visibly detract from the important sign of One Bread and One Cup, as well as increase the danger of tipping over the chalices.

In all cases, the carafes must be artistically designed for the specific purpose of holding the Precious Blood….

Some liturgists have been saying for years that the "one cup" symbolism is conveyed only by using one chalice and a single flagon that is poured out after the consecration. The Holy See, however, has judged otherwise. RS says:

If one chalice is not sufficient for Communion to be distributed under both kinds to the Priest concelebrants or Christ’s faithful, 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 of larger dimensions, together with smaller chalices. (§105, emphasis added)

Dilemma over Discipline

In dioceses where RS is not followed, the faithful will be faced with a dilemma. RS is not merely concerned with stating norms, but it aims:

… 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)

It is not only bishops who are to carry out this instruction; priests, deacons and the faithful also have a responsibility — including a responsibility to report abuses.

… let everyone do all that is in their power to ensure that the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist will be protected from any and every irreverence or distortion and that all abuses be thoroughly corrected. This is a most serious duty incumbent upon each and every one, and all are bound to carry it out without any favoritism. (RS §183)

If the faithful are obliged by a juridical document of the Church to avoid and report abuses, how can they be simultaneously obliged to carry out or participate in liturgical abuses by a contrary diocesan policy?

Cardinal Arinze Defends Authority

According to the September 2004 BCL Newsletter published by the US Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy, several bishops claimed that the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (CDW) did not have the authority to modify the US Norms for the Distribution and Reception of Holy Communion Under Both Kinds in the Dioceses of the United States of America. These Norms, approved in 2001, had permitted flagons and pouring; but were corrected to conform to RS this year. The CDW was not free to require changes after it gave recognitio, they argued.

In reply to a letter from Chicago Cardinal Francis George, chairman of the Bishops’ Committee on Liturgy, CDW prefect Cardinal Francis Arinze defended the modification. He wrote,

"while a provision of the complementary legislation, once granted recognitio, may not simply be revised …," it must be borne in mind that: (1) "an Instruction may develop the manner in which a law is to be put into effect (cf. can. 34 §1)…" and (2) "the effect of Redemptionis Sacramentum, nos. 105-106 was to render inoperative certain elements contained in nos. 36-37 of the Norms …" Therefore, "the Congregation has attempted to supply a formulation according to which the existing legislation could be implemented in the light of the new Instruction, Redemptionis Sacramentum, maintaining insofar as possible the evident intentions of the Bishops in a way which would conform to the general norm of the law." [BCL Newsletter, September 2004, p. 38.]

If the USCCB Norms were rendered "inoperative" by RS and had to be modified to conform to the law, surely diocesan policies that permit the very same practices must also be changed.

The CDW’s actions are entirely in keeping with Canon 34: "[Instructions] are given for the use of those whose duty it is to see that laws are executed and oblige them in the execution of the laws".

If diocesan policies conflict with the Instruction, they must be changed. And RS states that abuses cannot simply be designated "customs" and left in place:

… it is not possible to be silent about the abuses, even quite grave ones, against the nature of the Liturgy and the Sacraments as well as the tradition and the authority of the Church, which in our day not infrequently plague liturgical celebrations in one ecclesial environment or another. In some places the perpetration of liturgical abuses has become almost habitual, a fact which obviously cannot be allowed and must cease. (RS §4, Emphasis added.)

What will it take to restore integrity to our celebrations of Mass? Liturgical abuses have been a source of much discord and division within the Church for many years. The problems cannot be fixed by the "skill of a canonist" — especially when this skill is used to "protect existing practices" or to deconstruct the Holy See’s disciplinary authority over the Liturgy.

Only the united efforts of shepherds who take seriously their obligation to see that laws are executed and to root out abuses can restore the sacred Liturgy to what the Council envisioned: "a foretaste of that heavenly Liturgy celebrated in the holy city of Jerusalem".


Susan Benofy is AB’s research editor. (Helen Hull Hitchcock contributed to this story.)



Susan Benofy

Susan Benofy received her doctorate in physics from Saint Louis University. She was formerly Research Editor of Adoremus Bulletin.