Redemptionis Sacramentum revisited

Redemptionis Sacramentum revisited

Fr Martin Durham

It is just over two years since the promulgation, with the approval of Pope John Paul II, of the Vatican instruction on the Eucharist, Redemptionis Sacramentum (25 March 2004).

This instruction listed over 100 liturgical abuses that had been reported, and called for their correction. Cardinal Arinze, the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, declared, "The do-it yourself Mass is ended." Unfortunately, the end is not yet in sight.

Australia is no exception. The same old abuses have continued and perhaps there has even been an increase. The position of the clergy who have not heeded the message of the instruction may well be summed up as follows: some may not have heard of it; others may know of it but have never read it; and still others may have read it but taken no notice of it.

Reasons given for ignoring the document include, "The instruction is only a Vatican opinion," "It does not apply here", or even, "It has been superseded." By what or whom is not specified.

Common abuses

The abuses itemised in the instruction come under three main headings - serious, more serious, other.

There is no possibility of giving a full list in this article, but included below are some of the more common.

Among the serious abuses are:

* Omitting to pour a small quantity of water into the wine (par 50).

* The congregation joining in the recitation of any part of the Eucharistic Prayer including the doxology before the "Our Father."

* The faithful handing the sacred chalice from one to another at Holy Communion (94).

* Communicants dipping the sacred host into the chalice themselves (104).

* Using common vessels (including carafes) for chalices, such as glass, earthenware or similar materials that can break easily (106, 117).

* Celebrants not wearing the prescribed vestments for Mass, e.g., omitting the chasuble (123, 126).

* When the matter is serious, the Bishop is to inform the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (180).

The more serious abuses include:

* Disposing of left-over Precious Blood of Christ in an unworthy manner, e.g., down the sink, and disposing of consecrated hosts unworthily (172).

* Substituting non-consecrated breads for consecrated hosts (172).

These two and similar abuses result in automatic excommunication. Absolution for them is reserved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Regarding other abuses, the document states: "These are not to be considered as being of little account, but are to be carefully avoided and corrected" (174).

* Omitting or substituting the prescribed Scriptural readings (62).

* Having the Gospel read or the homily given at the Mass by one who is not an ordained minister (63, 64, 66).

* The celebrant using a non-approved creed (69).

* Leaving the purification of the sacred vessels after communion to unauthorised persons (119).

* Using colours (e.g., stoles) that are innovations (127).

* Using extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion when there is no true necessity or when there is a sufficient number of ordained ministers present (151, 157).

Here are some key quotes:

* "It is the right of Christ's faithful that the Liturgy, especially the Holy Mass, should truly be as the Church prescribes" (12).

* "Regulation of the Sacred Liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church ... not even a priest may add, remove or change anything in the Liturgy on his own authority" (Vatican II, "Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy", 22).

* The individual bishop's authority over the Liturgy is limited (14, 21, 177, and Canon 838).

* Even Bishops' Conferences are subject to limitations (28).

* "Any Catholic ... has the right to lodge a complaint regarding a liturgical abuse to the diocesan Bishop ... or to the Apostolic See ... It is fitting, in so far as possible, that the complaint be submitted first to the diocesan bishop ... in truth and charity" (184).

* Each member of the clergy, whether bishop, priest or deacon "should always remember that he is a servant of the Sacred Liturgy" and not vice versa (186).

* "It is hoped that ... all distortion and abuse in the Mass will be set aside through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Woman of the Eucharist" (185).

Papal primacy

Of course, what is really involved in all of this is the authority of the Pope.

Dissent received an enormous boost when some hundreds of American theologians dissented from Pope Paul VI's encyclical Humanae Vitae (1968). This set the stage for ongoing dissent about other matters of Catholic discipline and doctrine. Such theologians regard themselves as at least equal, if not superior, to the Magisterium of the Church as established by Our Lord, because of their perceived status as "experts."

The trouble with their claim is that there is no evidence for it either in Scripture or Tradition. On the contrary, it is clear from these that Our Lord gave His teaching authority to His Apostles, but to Peter alone did he give the primacy (ultimate authority). That means that Benedict XVI alone, as the successor of St Peter, has the primacy among the bishops, and is the ultimate authority, under Christ, for the whole Church.

The genuine Catholic response, therefore, to Redemptionis Sacramentum is obedience, a word that does not go down well with dissenters who recognise no authority but their own. We have a lot to pray about.

"The things we pray for, Lord, give us the strength to work for" (Attributed to St Thomas More).

Fr Martin Durham is a retired Queensland priest.

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