The Papal Nuncio to Australia, Archbishop Francesco Canalini, devoted the latter part of his Mass homily at the annual gathering of the 120 leaders of Australian religious congregations in Brisbane in mid-June to reminding them of Pope John Paul II's concerns about liturgical abuses.
The homily came to our attention via a trenchant report on the Online Catholics website which referred to "substantial" anger at the Papal Nuncio's moderate and restrained words from several unnamed religious who were present.
This negative response highlights the challenge facing Australia's bishops, given that religious men and women play prominent roles in many liturgy bodies.
The relevant section of Archbishop Canalini's homily is reproduced below.
The Supreme Pontiff, with his Encyclical Letter Ecclesia de Eucharistia and, most recently, with the Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum, has intended to call the attention of the universal Church on the matter that "stands at the centre of the Church's life" (n. 3) and needs to be faithfully cared for as "the most precious possession which the Church can have in her journey through history" (n. 9).
We know and we are reminded that in the liturgy full public worship is performed by the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, and because it is an action of Christ the Priest and of his body, which is the Church, it is a sacred action surpassing all others.
Therefore it is not a surprise that the Roman Pontiff affirms that no one is permitted to undervalue the mystery entrusted to our hands: it is too great for anyone to feel free to treat it lightly and with disregard for its sacredness and its universality.
In this positive light, the correction of liturgical abuses becomes an imperative, especially abuses concerning the Holy Eucharist. Some threaten to make the sacrament invalid. Others reveal a lack of Eucharistic faith. Still others contribute to sowing confusion among the people of God and to draining Eucharistic celebrations of their sacredness.
Liturgical abuses are therefore not to be taken lightly, considering also that not infrequently they are rooted in a false understanding of liberty.
The Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum lists a number of liturgical abuses, some of which can be found also in Australia, though in the great majority of cases Eucharistic celebrations are properly conducted.
The tendency exists for example, at times even unconscious, to emphasise too much the aspect of familiar convivial encounter in the Eucharistic celebration that its sacrificial value is sidelined or never mentioned.
The celebration of Holy Mass with vessels more and more similar to those used in normal meals, including ordinary glasses in which the Blood of Christ is poured for distribution of communion to the faithful, can convey the same idea of secular conviviality.
I mention also the (routine) use of "extraordinary ministers" of Holy Communion in cases not of real need, as is the rule. These ministers sometimes distribute Holy Communion even when priests are available and remain seated. This practice as a way of manifesting an active role of lay people in the Eucharistic celebration can unfortunately direct attention more and more to the merely human and "social" dimension.
These elements can induce, together with other "experiments", an attitude of minimising little by little devotion towards the Eucharist in favour of a spontaneous "community meeting" of the faithful, whose active involvement could appear the critical factor.
Being in Brisbane, I would like to quote from the Pastoral Letter which Archbishop Bathersby wrote in the year 2000. He stated: "The Mass is not merely group prayer, or shared reflection, or a community-building exercise, important as all these aspects are. The Mass is a pastoral mystery. It is the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ."
Pope John Paul II encourages us also to revitalise the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament outside the Holy Mass, reaffirming in this way our faith in the real presence of the Lord in the consecrated host.
At the same time, the healthy popular custom of short visits to the Blessed Sacrament during the day deserves to be encouraged by pastors and their associates.
I conclude with the encouraging words of the Holy Father for a vital witness: "When we take part in the Eucharistic Sacrifice we understand more profoundly the universality of redemption and, consequently, the urgency of the Church's mission with its program which has as its centre Christ himself, who is to be known, loved and imitated, so that in him we may live the life of the Trinity and with him transform history until its fulfilment in the heavenly Jerusalem" (Message for World Mission Sunday 2004).