Vatican cracks down on ‘liturgical abuses’

Published June 1, 2004

The Vatican has severely criticized “liturgical abuses” that include the concelebration of the eucharist by Roman Catholic priests and ministers of Protestant denominations.

The criticism came in a document, Redemptionis Sacramentum (The Sacrament of Redemption), recently made public after being signed on March 25 by Cardinal Francis Arinze, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.

The document notes with “great sadness” that “ecumenical initiatives which are well-intentioned, nevertheless indulge at times in eucharistic practices contrary to the discipline by which the church expresses her faith.”

Among serious offences the document lists, “The forbidden concelebration of the eucharistic sacrifice with ministers of Ecclesial Communities [Protestant denominations] that do not have the apostolic succession nor acknowledge the sacramental dignity of priestly ordination.”

Rev. Sven Oppegaard, acting general secretary of the Geneva-based Lutheran World Federation (LWF), said the document was stating in the form of instructions the official rules governing the practices of the Roman Catholic church.

“The document affirms already established Roman Catholic parameters for eucharistic practice [pertaining to the sacrament of holy communion],” he noted. “Doing this, it reaffirms implicitly some significant differences from other church traditions, such as the Lutheran.”

Still, he said, ecumenical dialogue needed to continue, so that the eucharist could become “a shared treasure” within the one ecumenical movement.

Some leaders of the Lutheran federation said then they had hoped for more progress on the issue of the eucharist after the LWF and the Roman Catholic church signed, in 1999, a joint declaration on the doctrine of justification, one of the most divisive issues at the time of the Reformation.

During a press conference to present the new document, Cardinal Arinze rejected suggestions that the Vatican had been divided on how to deal with the issue of “inter-communion” and “eucharistic hospitality” and that it was for this reason the Pope decided that these issues should be dealt with only in general terms.

The Milan daily newspaper Corriere della Sera reported that the document had gone through 12 different versions. An earlier version was reported to have discouraged the use of altar girls and denounced such practices as dancing and applauding during Mass.


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