I heard that the Church recently released a new document dealing with liturgical abuses. What can you tell me about it?
The document is entitled Redemptionis Sacramentum (Latin, “The Sacrament of Redemption”). It was prepared by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments at the request of Pope John Paul II, and it offers practical rules (norms) concerning how Mass is to be celebrated and how the Eucharist is to be treated. It focuses on liturgical abuses that have been occurring in recent years.
What follows is written in question and answer format, with the answers composed of quotations from Redemptionis Sacramentum except where otherwise noted. The numbers at the end of each answer refer to paragraph numbers within the document. The entire text of the document is available online at www.catholic.com.
How seriously does the Church take the liturgical abuse problem?
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 that obviously cannot be allowed and must cease (4).
What does the Church say to those who have committed or turned a blind eye to abuses?
Let bishops, priests, and deacons, in the exercise of the sacred ministry, examine their consciences as regards the authenticity and fidelity of the actions they have performed in the name of Christ and the Church in the celebration of the sacred liturgy. Let each one of the sacred ministers ask himself, even with severity, whether he has respected the rights of the lay members of Christ’s faithful, who confidently entrust themselves and their children to him, relying on him to fulfill for the faithful those sacred functions that the Church intends to carry out in celebrating the sacred liturgy at Christ’s command. For each one should always remember that he is a servant of the sacred liturgy (186).
II. Regulating the Liturgy
Who has the authority to regulate the liturgy?
The regulation of the sacred liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church, which rests specifically with the Apostolic See and, according to the norms of law, with the bishop (SC 22 §1).
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, whether of the celebrant or of the community in which the mysteries are celebrated” (14, 18, cf. EE 52).
May the bishop regulate the liturgy any way he wants? In particular, may he remove options that are in the Church’s liturgical books by forbidding priests or laypeople to exercise them?
It pertains to the diocesan bishop . . . “within the limits of his competence, to set forth liturgical norms in his diocese, by which all are bound.” Still, the bishop must take care not to allow the removal of that liberty foreseen by the norms of the liturgical books so that the celebration may be adapted in an intelligent manner to the Church building, or to the group of the faithful who are present, or to particular pastoral circumstances (21; cf. CIC 838 §4).
Does the bishop have an obligation to take action to prevent liturgical abuses?
It is the right of the Christian people themselves that their diocesan bishop should take care to prevent the occurrence of abuses in ecclesiastical discipline, especially as regards the ministry of the word, the celebration of the sacraments and sacramentals, the worship of God, and devotion to the saints (24).
Do bishops or bishops’ conferences have the authority to authorize experimentation with the liturgy within their own area?
As early as the year 1970, the Apostolic See announced the cessation of all experimentation as regards the celebration of Holy Mass and reiterated the same in 1988. Accordingly, individual bishops and their conferences do not have the faculty to permit experimentation with liturgical texts or the other matters that are prescribed in the liturgical books. In order to carry out experimentation of this kind in the future, the permission of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments is required. It must be in writing, and it is to be requested by the conference of bishops. In fact, it will not be granted without serious reason. As regards projects of inculturation in liturgical matters, the particular norms that have been established are strictly and comprehensively to be observed (27).
Someone has been showing me a document that was drafted by a committee of the conference of bishops, but as far as I can tell it was never voted on by the full body or approved by the Holy See. What authority does it have?
All liturgical norms that a conference of bishops will have established for its territory in accordance with the law are to be submitted to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments for the recognitio [approval], without which they lack any binding force (28).
III. The Laity’s Participation at Mass
My parish liturgy director makes a big deal over “the active and conscious participation” of the faithful in the liturgy, by which she seems to mean that we should be doing something more than paying attention, singing, and saying the responses as we worship at Mass. How does the Church understand the participation of the laity?
From the fact that the liturgical celebration obviously entails activity, it does not follow that everyone must necessarily have something concrete to do beyond the actions and gestures, as if a certain specific liturgical ministry must necessarily be given to the individuals to be carried out by them. Instead, catechetical instruction should strive diligently to correct those widespread superficial notions and practices often seen in recent years in this regard, and ever 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 (40).
Can just any lay person serve a special role at Mass? Sometimes at my parish there have been people lectoring or serving in other roles who are in irregular marital situations or who openly advocate positions contrary to the Church’s moral doctrine.
The lay Christian faithful called to give assistance at liturgical celebrations should be well instructed and must be those whose Christian life, morals, and fidelity to the Church’s magisterium recommend them. It is fitting that such a one should have received a liturgical formation in accordance with his or her age, condition, state of life, and religious culture. No one should be selected whose designation could cause consternation for the faithful (46).
Since adult men can be instituted as acolytes, should the traditional custom of having altar boys be maintained?
It is altogether laudable to maintain the noble custom by which boys or youths, customarily termed servers, provide service of the altar after the manner of acolytes, and receive catechesis regarding their function in accordance with their power of comprehension. Nor should it be forgotten that a great number of sacred ministers over the course of the centuries have come from among boys such as these (47).
I know that under canon law only men can be instituted as acolytes (cf. CIC 230 §1), but can girls and women serve at the altar without being instituted as acolytes?
Girls or women may also be admitted to this service of the altar, at the discretion of the diocesan bishop and in observance of the established norms (47).
IV. The Proper Celebration of Mass
1. The Matter of the Most Holy Eucharist
My parish occasionally uses bread at Mass that seems to have an unusual texture. What kind of bread is allowed?
The bread used in the celebration of the most holy eucharistic sacrifice must be unleavened, purely of wheat, and recently made so that there is no danger of decomposition (48).
What if other ingredients are used? Or if only a small amount are included, so that the material would still be considered bread in the opinion of most people?
Bread made from another substance, even if it is grain, or if it is mixed with another substance different from wheat to such an extent that it would not commonly be considered wheat bread, does not constitute valid matter for confecting the sacrifice and the eucharistic sacrament (48).
What about seasonings in small quantities, like honey? I’ve seen newsletters thanking people for donating “honey for the hosts.” Also, can anybody make hosts for their parish?
It is a grave abuse to introduce other substances, such as fruit or sugar or honey, into the bread for confecting the Eucharist. Hosts should obviously be made by those who are not only distinguished by their integrity but also skilled in making them and furnished with suitable tools (48).
2. The Eucharistic Prayer
Sometimes a deacon or pastoral assistant or even the congregation itself is invited to say part of the Eucharistic Prayer. Is this permitted?
The proclamation of the Eucharistic Prayer, which by its very nature is the climax of the whole celebration, is proper to the priest by virtue of his ordination. It is therefore an abuse to proffer it in such a way that some parts of the Eucharistic Prayer are recited by a deacon, a lay minister, or by an individual member of the faithful, or by all members of the faithful together. The Eucharistic Prayer, then, is to be recited by the priest alone in full (52).
At my parish they occasionally play the organ or have the choir sing during part of the Eucharistic Prayer. Our parish liturgy director says this makes the people more involved so that they won’t be completely passive. Is she right?
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,” except for the people’s acclamations that have been duly approved (53; cf. GIRM 32).
My priest breaks the host at the consecration when he says the words “On the night he was betrayed, Jesus took bread and broke it.” Is he allowed to do that?
In some places there has existed an abuse by which the priest breaks the host at the time of the consecration in the Holy Mass. This abuse is contrary to the tradition of the Church. It is reprobated and is to be corrected with haste (55).
3. The Other Parts of the Mass
I know that priests are permitted to adapt certain explanations that occur in the Mass (cf. GIRM 31), but my priest changes the wording of fixed texts in order to “keep the people paying attention,” he says. Is he allowed to do that?
The reprobated practice by which priests, deacons, or the faithful here and there alter or vary at will the texts of the sacred liturgy that they are charged to pronounce must cease. For in doing thus, they render the celebration of the sacred liturgy unstable and not infrequently distort the authentic meaning of the liturgy (59).
At a local monastery they sometimes have one of the nuns read the Gospel. What is the status of this?
Within the celebration of the sacred liturgy, the reading of the Gospel . . . is reserved by the Church’s tradition to an ordained minister. Thus it is not permitted for a layperson, even a religious, to proclaim the Gospel reading in the celebration of Holy Mass, nor in other cases in which the norms do not explicitly permit it (63).
Who is allowed to preach the homily?
The homily, which is given in the course of the celebration of Holy Mass and is a part of the liturgy itself, “should ordinarily be given by the priest celebrant himself. He may entrust it to a concelebrating priest or occasionally, according to circumstances, to a deacon, but never to a layperson. In particular cases and for a just cause, the homily may even be given by a bishop or a priest who is present at the celebration but cannot concelebrate” (64; cf. GIRM 66).
At my parish they have a seminarian who is doing his “pastoral year,” and they sometimes have him preach the homily “to practice for what he will have to do later.” Surely that is allowed.
The prohibition of the admission of laypersons to preach within the Mass applies also to seminarians, students of theological disciplines, and those who have assumed the function of those known as “pastoral assistants”; nor is there to be any exception for any other kind of layperson, or group, or community, or association (66).
Sometimes our parish has a layperson give a “faith talk” after or in place of the priest’s homily. Is this allowed?
If the need arises for the gathered faithful to be given instruction or testimony by a layperson in a Church concerning the Christian life, it is altogether preferable that this be done outside Mass. Nevertheless, for serious [Latin, “grave”] reasons it is permissible that this type of instruction or testimony be given after the priest has proclaimed the prayer after Communion. This should not become a regular practice, however. Furthermore, these instructions and testimony should not be of such a nature that they could be confused with the homily, nor is it permissible to dispense with the homily on their account (74).
Can laypeople ever preach in church, even if it is not a homily?
The homily, on account of its importance and its nature, is reserved to the priest or deacon during Mass. As regards other forms of preaching, if necessity demands it in particular circumstances, or if usefulness suggests it in special cases, lay members of Christ’s faithful may be allowed to preach in a church or in an oratory outside Mass in accordance with the norm of law. This may be done only on account of a scarcity of sacred ministers in certain places, in order to meet the need, and it may not be transformed from an exceptional measure into an ordinary practice, nor may it be understood as an authentic form of the advancement of the laity. All must remember besides that the faculty for giving such permission belongs to the local ordinary, and this as regards individual instances; this permission is not the competence of anyone else, even if they are priests or deacons (161).
Just what does the Church want the homily to consist of? My priest drones on and on, but you can’t tell how what he says is connected to the readings. Often his point never seems to amount to more than a general exhortation to be nice to others, a pious platitude, or an endorsement for his political ideas.
Particular care is to be taken so that the homily is firmly based upon the mysteries of salvation, expounding the mysteries of the faith and the norms of Christian life from the biblical readings and liturgical texts throughout the course of the liturgical year and providing commentary on the texts of the Ordinary or the Proper of the Mass, or of some other rite of the Church. It is clear that all interpretations of Sacred Scripture are to be referred back to Christ himself as the one upon whom the entire economy of salvation hinges, though this should be done in light of the specific context of the liturgical celebration.
In the homily to be given, care is to be taken so that the light of Christ may shine upon life’s events. Even so, this is to be done so as not to obscure the true and unadulterated word of God: for instance, treating only of politics or profane subjects, or drawing upon notions derived from contemporary pseudo-religious currents as a source (67).
All of the priests in my diocese seem to be lousy preachers, presumably because of the education they received in seminary. What can be done about this besides waiting for a new generation of priests?
The diocesan bishop must diligently oversee the preaching of the homily, also publishing norms and distributing guidelines and auxiliary tools to the sacred ministers, and promoting meetings and other projects for this purpose so that they may have the opportunity to consider the nature of the homily more precisely and find help in its preparation (68).
After the offering is collected, they put it all in one basket and place it on the altar. They also sometimes take up a collection of things besides money (e.g., cans of food for the poor). Should they do that?
In order to preserve the dignity of the sacred liturgy, in any event, the external offerings should be brought forward in an appropriate manner. Money, therefore, just as other contributions for the poor, should be placed in an appropriate place that should be away from the eucharistic table. Except for money and occasionally a minimal symbolic portion of other gifts, it is preferable that such offerings be made outside the celebration of Mass (70).
People cross the aisles to exchange the sign of peace, ushers go up and down the aisles extending it to people in each pew, and the priest seems to go romping all over the Church. Should this happen?
It is appropriate “that each one give the sign of peace only to those who are nearest and in a sober manner.” “The priest may give the sign of peace to the ministers but always remains within the sanctuary, so as not to disturb the celebration. He does likewise if for a just reason he wishes to extend the sign of peace to some few of the faithful” (72; cf. GIRM 82; IGMR 154).
EDITORIAL NOTE: The IGMR is the Latin original of the GIRM. The latter contains additional adaptations approved by Rome for the dioceses of the United States. GIRM 154 contains an adaptation regarding the priest exchanging the sign of peace:
The priest may give the sign of peace to the ministers but always remains within the sanctuary, so as not to disturb the celebration. In the dioceses of the United States of America, for a good reason, on special occasions (for example, in the case of a funeral, a wedding, or when civic leaders are present) the priest may offer the sign of peace to a few of the faithful near the sanctuary (GIRM 154).
4. Joining Other Rites to the Mass
My parish has “penance services” in which people go to confession in the context of the Mass. Is this permitted?
According to a most ancient tradition of the Roman Church, it is not permissible to unite the sacrament of penance to the Mass in such a way that they become a single liturgical celebration (76).
Does this mean that confessions cannot be heard during Mass? Sometimes I need to go to confession but haven’t been able to go before Mass. I’d like to go to one of the parish priests who isn’t celebrating, but I’ve been told that this isn’t appropriate because it would take the focus off the Mass being celebrated.
This does not exclude . . . that priests other than those celebrating or concelebrating the Mass might hear the confessions of the faithful who so desire, even in the same place where Mass is being celebrated, in order to meet the needs of those faithful. This should nevertheless be done in an appropriate manner (76).
My parish has introduced some prayers that the liturgy director says are based on “Native American spirituality.” Is this allowed?
It 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 (79).
V. Holy Communion
Sometimes people whom I know are not Catholic take Communion. My priest also knows that they are not Catholic but says that it isn’t his job to “check ID cards” for Communion. What does the Church say?
When Holy Mass is celebrated for a large crowd—for example, in large cities—care should be taken lest out of ignorance non-Catholics or even non-Christians come forward for Holy Communion, without taking into account the Church’s magisterium in matters pertaining to doctrine and discipline. It is the duty of pastors at an opportune moment to inform those present of the authenticity and the discipline that are strictly to be observed (84).
Is it permitted to give children First Communion before having them go to confession? Also, which children should receive First Communion? In my parish some children who barely know the faith are given First Communion, while others who know the faith much better are denied it on the grounds that they aren’t old enough.
The First Communion of children must always be preceded by sacramental confession and absolution. Moreover First Communion should always be administered by a priest and never outside the celebration of Mass. . . . “Children who have not attained the age of reason, or those whom” the parish priest “has determined to be insufficiently prepared” should not come forward to receive the Holy Eucharist. Where it happens, however, that a child who is exceptionally mature for his age is judged to be ready for receiving the sacrament, the child must not be denied First Communion provided he has received sufficient instruction (87; cf. CIC 914).
What is the proper posture for receiving Communion, and do you have to make a sign of reverence first?
“The faithful should receive Communion kneeling or standing, as the conference of bishops will have determined,” with its acts having received the recognitio [approval] 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” (90; cf. IGMR 160).
EDITORIAL NOTE: The GIRM contains an approved adaptation on this point for the United States:
The norm for reception of Holy Communion in the dioceses of the United States is standing. Communicants should not be denied Holy Communion because they kneel. Rather, such instances should be addressed pastorally, by providing the faithful with proper catechesis on the reasons for this norm.
When receiving Holy Communion, the communicant bows his or her head before the sacrament as a gesture of reverence and receives the body of the Lord from the minister. The consecrated host may be received either on the tongue or in the hand, at the discretion of each communicant. When Holy Communion is received under both kinds, the sign of reverence is also made before receiving the precious blood (GIRM 160).
My priest denied me Communion because I wanted to receive kneeling rather than standing. I have never been so humiliated in all my life. Is he allowed to do that?
In distributing Holy Communion it is to be remembered that “sacred 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 (91; cf. CIC 843 §1).
Is a priest allowed to force a communicant to receive in the hand?
Although each of the faithful always has the right to receive Holy Communion on the tongue, at his choice, if any communicant should wish to receive the sacrament in the hand, in areas where the bishops” conference with the recognitio [approval] of the Apostolic See has given permission, the sacred host is to be administered to him or her (92).
Should a priest receive before or after the congregation? One priest in my parish insists on receiving after the people “as a sign of service.”
A priest must communicate at the altar at the moment laid down by the Missal each time he celebrates Holy Mass, and the concelebrants must communicate before they proceed with the distribution of Holy Communion. The priest celebrant or a concelebrant is never to wait until the people’s Communion is concluded before receiving Communion himself (97).
Should Communion under both kinds automatically be offered to the faithful, or are there circumstances in which it should not be offered?
The chalice should not be ministered to lay members of Christ’s faithful where there is such a large number of communicants that it is difficult to gauge the amount of wine for the Eucharist and there is a danger that “more than a reasonable quantity of the blood of Christ remain to be consumed at the end of the celebration.” The same is true wherever access to the chalice would be difficult to arrange, or where such a large amount of wine would be required that its certain provenance and quality could be known only with difficulty, or wherever there is not an adequate number of sacred ministers or extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion with proper formation, or where a notable part of the people continues to prefer not to approach the chalice for various reasons, so that the sign of unity would in some sense be negated (102; cf. GIRM 285a).
What if there are too many people present for a single chalice to be used?
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 that the priest celebrant should not use several chalices. For it is to be remembered that all priests in celebrating Holy Mass are bound to receive Communion under both kinds. It is praiseworthy, by reason of the sign value, to use a main chalice of larger dimensions, together with smaller chalices.
The 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 (105–6).
I have read reports of people pouring the precious blood down the sacrarium after Mass rather than consuming the remainder of it. What sanctions does the Church have against people who do this?
In accordance with what is laid down by the canons, “one who throws away the consecrated species or takes them away or keeps them for a sacrilegious purpose incurs a latae sententiae [automatic] excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See; a cleric, moreover, may be punished by another penalty, not excluding dismissal from the clerical state.” To be regarded as pertaining to this case is any action that is voluntarily and gravely disrespectful of the sacred species. Anyone, therefore, who acts contrary to these norms, for example casting the sacred species into the sacrarium or in an unworthy place or on the ground, incurs the penalties laid down (107; cf. CIC 1367).
VI. Reservation of the Eucharist
Where should the tabernacle be located?
“According to the structure of each church building and in accordance with legitimate local customs, the Most Holy Sacrament is to be reserved in a tabernacle in a part of the church that is noble, prominent, readily visible, and adorned in a dignified manner” and furthermore “suitable for prayer” by reason of the quietness of the location, the space available in front of the tabernacle, and also the supply of benches or seats and kneelers. In addition, diligent attention should be paid to all the prescriptions of the liturgical books and to the norm of law, especially as regards the avoidance of the danger of profanation (130; cf. GIRM 314).
EDITORIAL NOTE: The GIRM contains additional information on where the tabernacle is to be located and indicates that the final decision among the permitted options is to be made by the diocesan bishop:
It is more in keeping with the meaning of the sign that the tabernacle in which the Most Holy Eucharist is reserved not be on an altar on which Mass is celebrated.
Consequently, it is preferable that the tabernacle be located, according to the judgment of the diocesan bishop, either in the sanctuary, apart from the altar of celebration, in a form and place more appropriate, not excluding on an old altar no longer used for celebration; or even in some chapel suitable for the faithful’s private adoration and prayer and is organically connected to the church and readily visible to the Christian faithful” (GIRM 315).
Should a person who is taking the Eucharist to a sick person go directly to the sick person or is it okay for him to do other things first?
A priest or deacon, or an extraordinary minister who takes the Most Holy Eucharist when an ordained minister is absent or impeded in order to administer it as Communion for a sick person, should go insofar as possible directly from the place where the sacrament is reserved to the sick person’s home, leaving aside any profane business so that any danger of profanation may be avoided and the greatest reverence for the body of Christ may be ensured (133).
What should the bishop do regarding adoration?
The ordinary should diligently foster eucharistic adoration, whether brief or prolonged or almost continuous, with the participation of the people. For in recent years in so many places “adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament is also an important daily practice and becomes an inexhaustible source of holiness,” although there are also places “where there is evident almost a total lack of regard for worship in the form of eucharistic adoration” (136; cf. EE 10).
Is it okay to pray the rosary before the Blessed Sacrament? My priest says that one shouldn’t because it would detract from worshiping Jesus.
Before the Most Holy Sacrament either reserved or exposed, the praying of the rosary, which is admirable “in its simplicity and even its profundity,” is not to be excluded either. Even so, especially if there is exposition, the character of this kind of prayer as a contemplation of the mystery of the life of Christ the Redeemer and the Almighty Father’s design of salvation should be emphasized, especially by making use of readings taken from Sacred Scripture (137; cf. RVM 2).
Should perpetual adoration and exposition be available everywhere? How are these practices to be integrated with the life of the parish?
It is highly recommended that at least in the cities and the larger towns the diocesan bishop should designate a church building for perpetual adoration; in it, however, Holy Mass should be celebrated frequently, even daily if possible, while the exposition should rigorously be interrupted while Mass is being celebrated. It is fitting that the host to be exposed for adoration should be consecrated in the Mass immediately preceding the time of adoration, and that it should be placed in the monstrance upon the altar after Communion (140).
VII. Extraordinary Functions of the Laity
With the priest shortage today, can the laity—and the common priesthood they exercise—ever substitute for ordained priests on an extraordinary basis?
There can be no substitute whatsoever for the ministerial priesthood. For if a priest is lacking in the community, then the community lacks the exercise and sacramental function of Christ the Head and Shepherd, which belongs to the essence of its very life. For “the only minister who can confect the sacrament of the Eucharist in persona Christi is a validly ordained priest” (146; cf. CIC 900 §1).
I have heard that we aren’t supposed to refer to “ministers of the Eucharist” or “eucharistic ministers.” If not, what are we supposed to call ordinary lay people who distribute Communion? Some of the books that I have seen often refer to them as “special ministers.” Is that okay?
As has already been recalled, “the only minister who can confect the sacrament of the Eucharist in persona Christi is a validly ordained priest.” Hence the name “minister of the Eucharist” belongs properly to the priest alone. . . .
This function is to be understood strictly according to the name by which it is known, that is to say, that of extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, and not “special minister of Holy Communion” nor “extraordinary minister of the Eucharist” nor “special minister of the Eucharist,” by which names the meaning of this function is unnecessarily and improperly broadened (154, 156; cf. CIC 900 §1).
So who can serve as extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion? Also, can there be a special ceremony in the liturgy for installing them in office?
In addition to the ordinary ministers there is the formally instituted acolyte, who by virtue of his institution is an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion even outside the celebration of Mass. If, moreover, reasons of real necessity prompt it, another lay member of Christ’s faithful may also be delegated by the diocesan bishop, in accordance with the norm of law, for one occasion or for a specified time, and an appropriate formula of blessing may be used for the occasion. This act of appointment, however, does not necessarily take a liturgical form, nor, if it does take a liturgical form, should it resemble sacred ordination in any way. Finally, in special cases of an unforeseen nature, permission can be given for a single occasion by the priest who presides at the celebration of the Eucharist (155).
When can extraordinary ministers be used? If there are enough ordinary ministers at a Mass, what should the extraordinary ministers do? I’ve seen some Masses where the priest doesn’t even distribute Communion but lets the extraordinary ministers do it.
If there is usually present a sufficient number of sacred ministers for the distribution of Holy Communion, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion may not be appointed. Indeed, in such circumstances, those who may have already been appointed to this ministry should not exercise it. 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.
Indeed, the extraordinary minister of Holy Communion may administer Communion only when the priest and deacon are lacking, when the priest is prevented by weakness or advanced age or some other genuine reason, or when the number of faithful coming to Communion is so great that the very celebration of Mass would be unduly prolonged. This, however, is to be understood in such a way that a brief prolongation, considering the circumstances and culture of the place, is not at all a sufficient reason (157–8).
The use of extraordinary ministers is everywhere in my diocese. What should happen in cases like this?
Let the diocesan bishop give renewed consideration to the practice in recent years regarding this matter, and if circumstances call for it, let him correct it or define it more precisely. Where such extraordinary ministers are appointed in a widespread manner out of true necessity, the diocesan bishop should issue special norms by which he determines the manner in which this function is to be carried out in accordance with the law, bearing in mind the tradition of the Church (160).
If the priest is absent, my parish sometimes has an alternative service on Sundays that the pastoral assistant directs and presides over. Is this permitted?
It is necessary to avoid any sort of confusion between this type of gathering and the celebration of the Eucharist. The diocesan bishops, therefore, should prudently discern whether Holy Communion ought to be distributed in these gatherings. . . . It will be preferable, moreover, when both a priest and a deacon are absent, that the various parts be distributed among several faithful rather than having a single lay member of the faithful direct the whole celebration alone. Nor is it ever appropriate to refer to any member of the lay faithful as “presiding” over the celebration (165).
My parish has Communion services on weekdays if the priest is out of town. Is that ever allowed?
Likewise, especially if Holy Communion is distributed during such celebrations, the diocesan bishop, to whose exclusive competence this matter pertains, must not easily grant permission for such celebrations to be held on weekdays, especially in places where it was possible or would be possible to have the celebration of Mass on the preceding or the following Sunday. Priests are therefore earnestly requested to celebrate Mass daily for the people in one of the churches entrusted to their care (166).
My parish has an ex-priest who sometimes plays various roles during the Mass, such as giving the Scripture readings. Also, some have wondered whether he could ever celebrate the Mass or hear confessions if the regular priest is absent. What does the Church say?
“A cleric who loses the clerical state in accordance with the law . . . is prohibited from exercising the power of order.” It is therefore not licit for him to celebrate the sacraments under any pretext whatsoever save in the exceptional case set forth by law, nor is it licit for Christ’s faithful to have recourse to him for the celebration, since there is no reason that would permit this according to canon 1335.1 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 (168; cf. CIC 292).
EDITORIAL NOTE: The exceptional case mentioned above is when a member of the faithful is in danger of death. In such cases, even an ex-priest can celebrate the sacraments. Further, “even though a priest lacks the faculty to hear confessions, he absolves validly and licitly any penitents whatsoever in danger of death from any censures and sins, even if an approved priest is present” (CIC 976).
VIII. Other Matters
Are priests permitted to say the current rite of Mass in Latin, or do they need to get special permission from the bishop to do this?
Mass is celebrated either in Latin or in another language, provided that liturgical texts are used that have been approved according to the norm of law. Except in the case of celebrations of the Mass that are scheduled by the ecclesiastical authorities to take place in the language of the people, priests are always and everywhere permitted to celebrate Mass in Latin (112).
My parish offers a Sunday “teen Mass” in which the teens are invited to stand around the altar during the Eucharistic Prayer, which I understand is not permitted by liturgical law. Since this is a Mass for a special group, are they exempt from the usual rules?
While it is permissible that Mass should be celebrated for particular groups according to the norm of law, these groups are nevertheless not exempt from the faithful observance of the liturgical norms (114).
Is it okay to use chalices made of glass or clay?
Sacred vessels for containing the body and blood of the Lord must be made in strict conformity with the norms of tradition and of the liturgical books. . . . Reprobated, therefore, is any practice of using for the celebration of Mass common vessels, or others lacking in quality, or devoid of all artistic merit or that are mere containers, as also other vessels made from glass, earthenware, clay, or other materials that break easily. This norm is to be applied even as regards metals and other materials that easily rust or deteriorate (117).
In our parish they talk constantly about the Mass being a “meal” of the “community.” Isn’t the Mass first and foremost a sacrifice?
The constant teaching of the Church on the nature of the Eucharist not only as a meal, but also and preeminently as a sacrifice, is therefore rightly understood to be one of the principal keys to the full participation of all the faithful in so great a sacrament (38).
Our liturgy director says that if liberties aren’t taken with the rules then Mass will be inflexible and boring to the congregation. Are the rules really that inflexible?
Ample flexibility is given for appropriate creativity aimed at allowing each celebration to be adapted to the needs of the participants, their comprehension, their interior preparation, and their gifts, according to the established liturgical norms. In the songs, the melodies, the choice of prayers and readings, the giving of the homily, the preparation of the prayer of the faithful, the occasional explanatory remarks, and the decoration of the Church building according to the various seasons, there is ample possibility for introducing into each celebration a certain variety by which the riches of the liturgical tradition will also be more clearly evident, and so, in keeping with pastoral requirements, the celebration will be carefully imbued with those particular features that will foster the recollection of the participants. Still, it should be remembered 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 (39).
Our liturgy director seems to want to put all the focus on the Mass and relegate everything else to the trash can as “outmoded forms of devotion.” What does the Church say?
For encouraging, promoting, and nourishing this interior understanding of liturgical participation, the continuous and widespread celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours, the use of the sacramentals and exercises of Christian popular piety are extremely helpful. These latter exercises—which “while not belonging to the liturgy in the strict sense, possess nonetheless a particular importance and dignity”—are to be regarded as having a certain connection with the liturgical context, especially when they have been lauded and attested by the magisterium itself, as is the case especially of the Marian rosary (41; cf. MeD 182).
Should the laity be involved with helping to correct liturgical abuses, or should they simply leave this up to professional liturgists and pastors?
In order that a remedy may be applied to such abuses, “there is a pressing need for the biblical and liturgical formation of the people of God, both pastors and faithful,” so that the Church’s faith and discipline concerning the sacred liturgy may be accurately presented and understood. Where abuses persist, however, proceedings should be undertaken for safeguarding the spiritual patrimony and rights of the Church in accordance with the law, employing all legitimate means (170; cf. VQA 15).
Who has the primary responsibility on the local level for dealing with liturgical abuses?
Since he must safeguard the unity of the universal Church, the bishop is bound to promote the discipline common to the entire Church and therefore to insist upon the observance of all ecclesiastical laws. He is to be watchful lest abuses encroach upon ecclesiastical discipline, especially as regards the ministry of the word, the celebration of the sacraments and sacramentals, the worship of God, and the veneration of the saints (392).
What should happen when the local ordinary is notified that a significant liturgical abuse is taking place?
Whenever a local ordinary or the ordinary of a religious institute or of a society of apostolic life receives at least a plausible notice of a delict [“offense”] or abuse concerning the Most Holy Eucharist, let him carefully investigate, either personally or by means of another worthy cleric, concerning the facts and the circumstances as well as the imputability.
Delicts against the faith as well as graviora delicta [“more grave offenses”] committed in the celebration of the Eucharist and the other sacraments are to be referred without delay to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which “examines [them] and, if necessary, proceeds to the declaration or imposition of canonical sanctions according to the norm of common or proper law.”
Otherwise the ordinary should proceed according the norms of the sacred canons, imposing canonical penalties if necessary, and bearing in mind in particular that which is laid down by canon 1326.2 If the matter is serious [Latin, “grave”], let him inform the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (178–80; cf. PB 52).
What happens when Rome is notified of a liturgical abuse that is taking place?
Whenever the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments receives at least a plausible notice of a delict or an abuse concerning the Most Holy Eucharist, it informs the ordinary so that he may investigate the matter. When the matter turns out to be serious [Latin, “grave”], the ordinary should send to the same dicastery as quickly as possible a copy of the acts of the inquiry that has been undertaken, and where necessary, the penalty imposed (181).
Do the faithful have the right to lodge complaints regarding liturgical abuses, and to whom should such complaints be addressed?
Any Catholic, whether priest or deacon or lay member of Christ’s faithful, has the right to lodge a complaint regarding a liturgical abuse to the diocesan bishop or the competent ordinary equivalent to him in law, or to the Apostolic See on account of the primacy of the Roman Pontiff. It is fitting, however, insofar as possible, that the report or complaint be submitted first to the diocesan bishop. This is naturally to be done in truth and charity (184).
Appendix: Status of Liturgical Issues
The following table summarizes the status of the liturgical issues dealt with in this report. A basic listing is given for each (e.g., “required,” “encouraged,” “permitted,” “prohibited”), along with the page number where fuller treatment of the subject can be found.
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