The Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts. Response to a question regarding the safeguarding of the Eucharist (July 3, 1999)
The Fathers of the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts, at their plenary session on 4 June 1999, decided to respond in the following way to the dubium:
Q. Whether or not the word “abicere” in canons 1367 CIC and 1442 CCEO should be understood only as the act of throwing away.
R. Negative and “ad mentem.”
The “mind” is that the word “abicere” should be considered to include any voluntarily and gravely contemptuous action towards the Sacred Species.
The Supreme Pontiff John Paul II, at the audience granted on July 3, 1999 to the undersigned President, was informed of the aforementioned decision, confirmed it and ordered it to be published.
@ Julián Herranz
Titular Archbishop of Vertara
@ Bruno Bertagna
Titular Bishop of Drivastum
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Regarding the authentic interpretation of canons 1367 CIC and 1442 CCEO, the following points should be kept in mind:
1. In an expression as lapidary as it is rich and pregnant, the Second Vatican Council said: “In the most blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church” (Decree Presbyterorum Ordinis, no. 5). And the Code of Canon Law summarizes the Council’s abundant teaching on the subject and the Church’s perennial doctrine, asserting: “The most august sacrament is the blessed Eucharist, in which Christ the Lord himself is contained, offered and received, and by which the Church continually lives and grows” (can. 897); therefore “Christ’s faithful are to hold the blessed Eucharist in the highest honor...; they should receive the sacrament with great devotion and frequently, and should reverence it with the greatest adoration” (can. 898).
Therefore we can understand the care and efforts of the Church’s Pastors to see that this priceless Gift is deeply and devoutly loved, safeguarded and surrounded with that worship which expresses in the best way humanly possible our faith in Christ’s real presence — body, blood, soul and divinity — under the Eucharistic Species, even after the Holy Sacrifice has been celebrated.
2. Just as believers are asked to express this faith with actions, prayers and objects of noble dignity, so it is also advisable that any kind of carelessness or negligence, the sign of a diminished sense of the Eucharistic divine presence, be carefully avoided in the behavior of sacred ministers and the faithful. Indeed, in our age, marked by haste even in one’s personal relationship with God, catechesis should reacquaint the Christian people with the whole of Eucharistic worship, which cannot be reduced to participation in Holy Mass and to receiving Communion with the proper dispositions, but also includes frequent adoration — personal and communal — of the Blessed Sacrament, and the loving concern that the tabernacle — in which the Eucharist is kept — be placed on an altar or in a part of the church that is clearly visible, truly noble and duly adorned, so that it is a center of attraction for every heart in love with Christ.
3. In contrast to such profound veneration for the true Bread come down from heaven, not only can deplorable disciplinary abuses occur, sometimes have occurred and still occur, but even acts of contempt and profanation on the part of individuals who, under almost diabolical inspiration, dare to oppose in this way whatever the Church and the faithful hold, adore and love as most sacred.
In order to deter those who let themselves be misled by such sentiments, the Church not only urges the faithful to avoid any form of disgraceful carelessness and negligence, but also considers the most unfortunate case of deliberate acts of hatred or contempt for the Blessed Sacrament. These actions certainly constitute — by reason of their matter — a very grave sin of sacrilege. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says in fact that sacrilege “is a grave sin especially when committed against the Eucharist, for in this sacrament the true Body of Christ is made substantially present for us” (no. 2120).
4. Moreover, in certain cases these sacrileges constitute true and real offenses, according to the canons of both Latin and Eastern Church law, to which a penalty is attached. This is determined in can. 1367 of the Code of Canon Law, corresponding to can. 1442 of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, with the variations proper to that legislation.
Here is the text of can. 1367: “Qui species consecratas abicit aut in sacrilegum finem abducit vel retinet, in excommunicationem latae sententiae Sedi Apostolicae reservatam incurrit, clericus praeterea alia poena, non exclusa dimissione e statu clericali, puniri potest.”
5. Given the various translations made of the Code of Canon Law, with the different nuances resulting from the expressions of each language, a dubium was submitted to this Pontifical Council as to whether the word “abicit” should be understood only
in its proper — but limited — sense of “to throw away” the Eucharistic Species, or in the overly generic sense of “to profane.” Therefore, while the two cases of offense consisting in taking away (abducit) or in keeping (retinet) the Sacred Species — in both cases “for a sacrilegious purpose” — are clear, an authentic interpretation was requested of the first case, expressed in the word abicit. After careful study, this Pontifical Council has given the following authentic interpretation, confirmed by the Holy Father, who ordered it to be promulgated (cf. CIC, can. 16, 2; CCEO, can. 1498, 2).
The verb abicit should not be understood only in the strict sense of throwing away, nor in the generic sense of profaning, but with the broader meaning of to scorn, disdain, demean. Therefore, a grave offense of sacrilege against the Body and Blood of Christ is committed by anyone who takes away and/or keeps the Sacred Species for a sacrilegious (obscene, superstitious, irreligious) purpose, and by anyone who, even without removing them from the tabernacle, monstrance or altar, makes them the object of any external, voluntary and serious act of contempt. Anyone guilty of this offense incurs, in the Latin Church, the penalty of excommunication latae sententiae (i.e., automatically), the absolution of which is reserved to the Holy See; in the Eastern Catholic Churches he incurs a major excommunication ferendae sententiae (i.e., to be imposed).
6. It is helpful to remember, as was mentioned above, that the sin of sacrilege should not be confused with the offense of sacrilege; in fact, not all sins committed in this area are offences. Canonical doctrine teaches that an offense is an external and imputable violation of an ecclesiastical law, to which a penal sanction is ordinarily attached. Therefore, all the norms and attenuating or excusing circumstances given in the Latin and Eastern Codes apply here. In particular, it should be noted that the offense of sacrilege we are discussing also involves an external, but not necessarily public, act.
7. Even when the Church is forced, as it were, to impose penalties, she is also moved by the need to safeguard the moral integrity of the ecclesiastical community and to seek the spiritual good and correction of the offenders, but in this case she does so, also and primarily, in order to safeguard the greatest Good she has received from the divine mercy, i.e., Christ the Lord himself, who has become “the bread of eternal life” (cf. Jn 6:27) in the most blessed Eucharist.
@ Julián Herranz
Titular Archbishop of Vertara
Pope John Paul II: Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Asia (November 6, 1999).
Pope John Paul II: Apostolic Letter in the form of a motu proprio proclaiming St. Bridget of Sweden, St. Catherine of Siena, and St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) as co-patrons of Europe (October 1, 1999).
Congregation for the Clergy: Circular Letter “The Priest, Teacher of the Word, Minister of the Sacraments, and Guide of the Community at the Threshold of the Third Christian Millennium” (March 19, 1999, published in L’Osservatore Romano on July 30, 1999)
Apostolic Penitentiary: Decree for the publication of the fourth edition of Enchiridion Indulgentiarum (July 16, 1999)
“Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification” (October 31, 1999), signed by representatives of the Catholic Church and the World Lutheran Federation.