by Sandro Magister
ROMA, December 27, 2005 – In his powerful pre-Christmas address to the curia, Benedict XVI dedicated a passage to the synod of bishops on the Eucharist, which was held in the Vatican last October.
He recalled that this revival of Eucharistic adoration was also displayed during World Youth Day last August in Cologne.
And he contrasted with this a tendency that arose after the council, a tendency he sees as negative:
“In the period of liturgical reform, the Mass and adoration were often seen as conflicting with one another: according to a widespread objection at the time, the Eucharistic bread was given to be eaten, not contemplated.”
This tendency has left its mark on how the liturgy is celebrated in many places. And it still finds significant proponents.
For example, in the synod of last October, the archbishop of Agana on the island of Guam, Anthony Sablam Apuron, president of the Pacific bishops’ conference, asked that the practice of receiving communion while seated be extended, because “if the Eucharist is a banquet, then this is the most appropriate posture.”
He was seconded by Zbigniew Kiernikowski, bishop of Siedlce in Poland, who said that in order to emphasize fact that the Mass is a banquet, “the bread should look like food,” and “the chalice should be extended to be drunk from.”
Both of these bishops gave as an example to be followed the way in which the Mass is celebrated among the Neocatechumenals.
And in fact, among the new movements that have arisen in the Catholic Church, the Neocatechumenal Way is the one that goes the farthest in introducing innovations to the celebration of the Mass.
In the Neocatechumenal Way, communion is taken while seated around a large square table, with a large loaf of bread that is divided among the participants and wine that is passes from hand to hand and is taken in large swallows.
But communion is not the only area in which there is a departure from the traditional liturgy. There are significant innovations in other parts of the Mass.
For example, the readings from the liturgy of the Word are commented upon by the catechists of the group, who make lengthy “admonitions” followed by “resonances” from many of those present. The priest’s homily is hardly distinguished, or not distinguished at all, from the rest of the comments.
The times and places for the Mass are also unusual.
The Neocatechumenals do not celebrate their Masses on Sunday, but on Saturday evening, in small groups and separate from the parish communities to which they belong.
Each Neocatechumenal group corresponds to a different stage of the Way, so each group of 20-30 persons has its own Mass. If there are ten groups of Neocatechumenals in a parish, there will be ten different Masses on Saturday evening, in ten separate locations.
The statutes approved by the Holy See in 2002 require that the Masses of the Neocatechumenals be “open to other members of the faithful” (article 13.3), but in fact nothing has changed. The greetings, presentations, and applause during the entrance ceremony form a natural barrier to outsiders.
Benedict XVI has written the last word on all of this.
In mid-December, the founders and directors of the Neocatechumenal Way – Spaniards Kiko Argüello and Carmen Hernandez, and the Italian priest Mario Pezzi – received a two-page letter from cardinal Francis Arinze, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, with a list of “decisions of the Holy Father” which they must obey.
The letter is reproduced down below. Of the six points detailing the pope’s directives, only one permits the Neocatechumenals to continue what they are doing. This regards placing the exchange of peace before the offertory, a traditional practice in the Christian liturgy which is still in use today, for example, in the Ambrosian Rite celebrated in the archdiocese of Milan.
All the other points require the Neocatechumenal Way to eliminate a large portion of its liturgical innovations.
Until recently, the founders and directors of the Way had shielded these practices by claiming they had received verbal authorization from John Paul II. But with Benedict XVI, playtime is over.
And it’s coming to an end for the liturgical abuses practiced throughout the Church. In this regard, pope Joseph Ratzinger’s document in conclusion of the synod of the Eucharist will be of great interest.
Cardinal Arinze’s letter was delivered to Argüello, Hernandez, and Pezzi under confidentiality. But on December 22, the Vatican affairs journalist Andrea Tornielli broke the news of it in the newspaper “il Giornale.”
Here it is, in its entirety:
“I am to inform you of the Holy Father’s decisions…”
Congregatio de Cultu Divino et Disciplina Sacramentorum
From Vatican City, December 1, 2005
To the esteemed Mr. Kiko Argüello, Ms. Carmen Hernandez, and Rev. Father Mario Pezzi,
Following the conversations with this Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments on the celebration of the Most Holy Eucharist in the communities of the Neocatechumenal Way, in keeping with the guidelines issued in the meeting with you on November 11 of this year, I am to inform you of the Holy Father’s decisions.
In the celebration of the Holy Mass, the Neocatechumenal Way shall accept and follow the liturgical books approved by the Church, without omitting or adding anything. Furthermore, in regard to some elements the guidelines and clarifications are emphasized as follows:
1. Sunday is the “Dies Domini” as the Servant of God Pope John Paul II wished to illustrate in the Apostolic Letter on the Lord’s Day. Therefore the Neocatechumenal Way must enter into dialogue with the diocesan bishop in order to make it clear that the community of the Neocatechumenal Way is incorporated into the parish even in the context of the liturgical celebrations. At least one Sunday per month, the communities of the Neocatechumenal Way must participate in the Holy Mass of the parish community.
2. As for any admonitions issued before the readings, these must be brief. Adherence must also be shown to what is set out in the “Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani” (nn. 105 and 128) and to the Praenotanda of the “Ordo Lectionum Missae” (nn. 15, 19, 38, 42).
3. The homily, because of its nature and importance, is reserved to the priest or deacon (cf. Codex Iuris Canonici, can. 767 § 1). As for the occasional contribution of testimonies on the part of the lay faithful, the proper places and methods for these are indicated in the Interdicasterial Instruction “Ecclesiae de Mysterio,” which was approved “in specific form” by Pope John Paul II and published on August 15, 1997. In this document, sections 2 and 3 of article 3 read as follows:
§2 – “It is permitted to have a brief instruction that helps explain better the liturgy that is being celebrated, and even, in exceptional circumstances, a few testimonies, as long as these conform to the liturgical norms, are offered on the occasion of Eucharistic liturgies celebrated on particular days (for seminarians, the sick, etc.), and are thought truly helpful as an illustration of the regular homily delivered by the celebrating priest. These instructions and testimonies must not assume characteristics that might cause them to be confused with the homily.”
§3 – “The possibility of ‘dialogue’ during the homily (cf. Directorium de Missis cum Pueris, no. 48) can be used occasionally and with prudence by the celebrating minister as a means of exposition, which does not transfer to others the duty of preaching.”
Careful attention must also be paid to the Instruction “Redemptionis Sacramentum,” no. 74.
4. On the exchange of peace, permission is granted to the Neocatechumenal Way to continue using the indult already granted, pending further instructions.
5. On the manner of receiving Holy Communion, a period of transition (not exceeding two years) is granted to the Neocatechumenal Way to pass from the widespread manner of receiving Holy Communion in its communities (seated, with a cloth-covered table placed at the center of the church instead of the dedicated altar in the sanctuary) to the normal way in which the entire Church receives Holy Communion. This means that the Neocatechumenal Way must begin to adopt the manner of distributing the Body and Blood of Christ that is provided in the liturgical books.
6. The Neocatechumenal Way must also make use of the other Eucharistic Prayers contained in the missal, and not only Eucharistic Prayer II.
In short, the Neocatechumenal Way, in its celebration of the Holy Mass, should follow the approved liturgical books, keeping in mind what is laid out above under the numbers 1,2,3,4,5, and 6.
Acknowledging the favors that the Lord has bestowed upon the Church through the many activities of the Neocatechumenal Way, I take this occasion to extend to you my best regards.
+ Francis Card. Arinze
Mr. ARGÜELLO Kiko, Ms. HERNANDEZ Carmen, Rev. Fr. PEZZI Mario
Via dei Gonzaga, 205
The complete text of Benedict XVI’s December 22, 2005 address to the Roman curia, in an English version edited by “Asia News”:
“Dear cardinals, venerable brothers in the episcopate…”