USCCB President Welcomes
New Instruction on The Eucharist
WASHINGTON (April 23, 2004) Belleville Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), welcomed the Instruction "Redemptionis Sacramentum" issued today by the Holy See's Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.
Subtitled On certain matters to be observed or to be avoided regarding the Most Holy Eucharist, the Instruction was made public at the Vatican by Francis Cardinal Arinze, prefect of the Congregation. An instruction is a document which provides guidance on how to properly implement the Church's law.
The Instruction is a follow-up to the encyclical Ecclesia De Eucharistia published by Pope John Paul II on Holy Thursday, April 17, 2003. In that encyclical, the Pope called upon the appropriate Roman Congregations to prepare and publish an instruction, "including prescriptions of a juridical nature" explaining the "deeper meaning of liturgical norms" in light of liturgical abuses in violation of those norms.
The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments prepared the Instruction in collaboration with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Developed after consultation among Bishops and experts throughout the world, the instruction was approved by Pope John Paul on March 19.
In his statement Bishop Gregory said: "In response to our Holy Father's mandate that bishops do all in their power to foster an appreciation of the inestimable treasure which is the Eucharistic mystery, the Congregation has provided us with a carefully developed tool to foster the authentic celebration of the Mass."
"Forty years ago the Council Fathers taught us that the celebration of the Most Holy Eucharist is the source and summit of the entire Christian life. There is no more important work than the care and attention that we give the sacred Liturgy. Fidelity to the Liturgy, as given to us by the Church, is fidelity to Christ," Bishop Gregory said.
In the encyclical, the Holy Father noted that the mystery of the Eucharist "is too great for anyone to permit himself to treat according to his own whim, so that its sacredness and its universal ordering would be obscured." The instruction expands on this by saying that "the one who acts thus by giving free rein to his own inclinations, even if he is a priest, injures the substantial unity of the Roman Rite, which is to be vigorously preserved, and becomes responsible for actions that are in no way consistent with the hunger and thirst for the living God that is experienced by people today."
The preamble to the instruction begins by recalling how Christ has given authority over the liturgy to his Church, that the truth concerning him found in the liturgy might be preserved. Thus great care should be taken so that the liturgy is celebrated according to the norms of the liturgical books, the instruction says.
The document addresses a wide range of abuses, or violations of liturgical law with respect to the celebration of Mass and the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Sections are devoted to such questions as who regulates the sacred liturgy, how the participation of the lay faithful can be encouraged, the way Mass is properly celebrated, and the distribution of Holy Communion.
The instruction makes no change in already existing liturgical law. The document does re-emphasize, however, the mandate of the Second Vatican Council that the full, conscious, and active participation of the laity is the goal to be considered before all else in the reform of the sacred liturgy.
The instruction notes that lay persons "rightly and laudably" serve in a variety of ministries at Mass, such as acolyte, lector, sacristan, and cantor. Like all ministries, these should be the subject of careful preparation and catechesis.
It recalls that Diocesan Bishops may permit young people of both genders to serve at the altar, and says associations of altar servers should be fostered at the parish and diocesan levels.
The document describes as abuses the use of unauthorized Eucharistic Prayers or the division of the Eucharistic Prayer among deacons or lay persons, the insertion of unauthorized acclamations, and the breaking of the host at the words of institution.
The proclamation of the Gospel and the homily are reserved to the ordained, according to the instruction, while a lay person is prohibited from preaching at any time during Mass, even in the cases of a seminarian or pastoral assistant. Instructions or testimonies by a lay person may be given, however, after the Prayer after Communion for a serious reason. Such matters are regulated by the diocesan bishop.
The instruction reiterates the Roman Missal in saying that the sign of peace is given before Holy Communion in a sober manner by each person present and to those standing around them.
The instruction recalls that the Roman Missal directs Conferences of Bishops to determine the proper posture for receiving Holy Communion. The Bishops of the United States have determined that the norm for receiving Holy Communion is standing, but no one who is properly disposed and not prohibited by the law may be denied Holy Communion because of the posture they have assumed.
The Diocesan Bishop, as moderator of the liturgical life of the diocese, is responsible for the implementation of the liturgical reform, according to the instruction. He is often assisted in this task by liturgical experts on a Liturgical Commission or in an Office of Worship.
The instruction emphasizes the title "Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion" instead of "Eucharistic Minister" because the full title of this ministry more accurately reflects its purpose, which is to distribute Holy Communion in the absence of an ordinary minister of Holy Communion. The instruction notes that Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion never perform their ministry in the presence of a sufficient number of ordinary ministers of Holy Communion.
The instruction recalls that First Communion is always preceded by First Penance except in cases of necessity. The celebration of First Communion is recommended between the second and sixth Sundays of Easter, on the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, or at another time, but not on Holy Thursday.
Redemptionis Sacramentum will be available from USCCB Publishing.
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