Vatican City -- October 6, 2005
At the Eleventh Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops
Holy Father, venerable brothers in the episcopate, my dear brothers and sisters:
Instrumentum Laboris, in no. 34, emphasizes the importance of the sense of the sacred in the celebration of the Eucharist. I would like to present here some points for reflection that it might be useful to study, in order to find specific ways of helping the faithful to grasp more clearly the sacred character of the Eucharistic Sacrifice.
The liturgy nourishes the faith of the people of God. Therefore, any loss or diminishing of the sacred character of the celebration of the Eucharist could affect faith in Christ’s presence in the Blessed Sacrament; while, in contrast, a renewed stress on the sacredness of this great mystery would help strengthen the faith of the People of God and assist them in their efforts to lead a holy life. This is the spirit of the Second Vatican Council which, in striving to increase Christian life among the faithful and foster the union of all who believe in Christ, felt the need to take a special interest in the liturgy.
Instrumentum Laboris rightly affirms that the application of the liturgical reform according to the spirit of the Council has helped further the participation of the faithful in the celebration of the Christian mystery. Nevertheless, it also points out that mistakes have occurred, due precisely to a weakening of the sense of the sacred character of the celebration of the Eucharist. Because of its sacramental nature, the Eucharist demands certain specific signs and words, and these, therefore, must not be neglected or abandoned without prejudice to God’s plan for the sacrament.
As no. 42 in the General Dispositions for the Roman Missal emphasizes, one must take care to ensure that the established norms provide for the common spiritual good of the People of God, rather than for the personal tastes or preferences of the celebrant.
Instrumentum Laboris contains a list of abuses, and I think the need exists to try to eliminate them, through the application of the directives provided in the Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum. These abuses, which are mentioned in the document, should serve as a point of departure for our reflection. But it would also be opportune to examine certain norms whose application, without being an abuse in itself, presents aspects that are clearly negative and that in fact favor abuses.
For example, some aspects involving Masses with a great number of concelebrants merit being considered more deeply, both to defend faith in the Eucharistic mystery, as well as to foster the sacred attitude, both interior and exterior, of the concelebrants. And this is not only a matter of the obvious difficulties of a practical nature. Because of the great number of priests, it can happen that many find themselves outside the sanctuary and, at times, are so far removed from the altar that they cannot even see it. In these cases the altar-priest relationship is very weak; the words hoc/hic of the consecration lose their significance, since they are not applicable to such distant realities. The difficulty of saying the words of the consecration simultaneously generates more than a few doubts of a symbolic/sacramental order. In addition, the presence of many concelebrants outside the sanctuary can cause in the faithful a certain confusion regarding the difference between the ministerial priesthood and the common priesthood.
Thinking also of celebrations where a large crowd of faithful is present, I ask myself—inspired by an idea expressed by the then Cardinal Ratzinger in his book Guardare al Crocifisso—if it might not be opportune to avoid general distribution of Communion when this cannot be done in a dignified manner.
To confront these problems, and others that cannot be dealt with now in this brief presentation, perhaps it would be necessary to study the suitability of new norms, because experience shows that it is not enough to recall the present norms: that is to say, some of these ought to be revised.
A recovery of the sense of the sacred in Eucharistic celebrations, stemming from a true love for Christ and a sincere devotion, would foster in the whole Church an increase in Christian practice, in priestly vocations, and in missionary zeal, and also help strengthen the spiritual life of the People of God, both clergy and laity. If we restore the respect, devotion and love that we should always have towards the Mystery of the Eucharist, it would become a source of life and attraction for many souls who have distanced themselves from the faith, and also for non-Catholics and non-Christians.