Friday, August 20, 2004

On the Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum and the institutionalization of abuses in the Novus Ordo Mass

On April 23, 2004, the Vatican released its latest Instruction on the Eucharist, Redemptionis Sacramentum, an instruction on certain matters to be observed or to be avoided regarding the Most Holy Eucharist. The Adoremus Bulletin, which reprinted the entire Instruction in it's Special Documentary Edition of July-August, 2004, called it "unprecedented and highly important."

My question, however, is whether we have not reached the point of such gaping discrepancies between the word and deed that it must be seriously asked whether any such instruction from the Vatican can be taken seriously. Take the comparatively "small" matter of "Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion," where members of the laity are permitted to assist in the distribution of Communion. Here is what the instruction states:
"[157.] If there is usually present a sufficient number of sacred ministers [priests and deacons] for the distribution of Holy Communion, extraordinary inisters 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.

"[158.] 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....

"[160.] 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...." [emphasis added]
My experience suggests that little will be done to bring the ordinary practice of most parishes in conformity with these norms. Certainly most individual priests lack the fortitude to carry out such reforms in the context of parishes and dioceses where the practice -- as in most parishes -- has been quite otherwise. Need I explain this to anyone? Is there any Catholic, even one who considers himself lucky enough to be in a generally "good" parish, who does not witness two or three or even half-a-dozen "Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion" (usually called "Eucharistic Ministers," and usually middle-aged women) gathering around the altar after the recitation or singing of the Agnus Dei ("Lamb of God ...")?

This practice is a comparatively minor abuse. It involves no priest preaching open heresy or trying to consecrate a Dominos Pizza. But it is still a serious abuse: it's effect is desacralizing -- that is, it detracts from the sacredness of the Sanctuary -- the Holy space around the altar that used to be separated from the congregation by the Communion Rail, or, before that, the Rood Screen. In fact, so much of our experience has been anomalous that the irregular has come to seem regular and one could speak of the institutionalization of abuse in the experience of Novus Ordo parishes. The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments admitted as much in its official journal Notitiae (Oct. 1992), in which an editorial laments:
"Thirty years are too many for an incorrect praxis, which in and of itself tends to be already fixed in place. The malformations born in the first years of the application still endure, and gradually, as new generations follow one another, could almost become the rule."
The problem, of course, is that these abuses have "become the rule." Most Catholics today couldn't recognize a liturgical abuse if it slapped them in the face. All they have ever experienced in church, virtually, has been liturgical abuse.

The trouble with focusing on abuses in the Novus Ordo Mass is that it's easy to lose sight of the forest for the trees. Here we've focused on abuse involved in the role of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. This may lead one to think that the problems with the Novus Ordo are therefore minor, since this isn't a truly grave abuse. But the problem is that the abuses are cumulative and epidemic. When you look into the history of the development of what constitutes current liturgical practice, what at first appear to be minor blemishes begin to take on a more serious cast.

Take Communion in the hand. Nobody considers that an "abuse" anymore. Even Cardinal Ratzinger has recently made light of it and suggested that people not make an issue of it. It is true that Communion had been given in the hand in the early Church. But as German liturgist Fr. Joseph Jungmann has explained, as reverance for the Blessed Sacrement deepened in the life of the Church over the centuries, the tradition developmed that only that which was consecrated could touch the Host, and this exceptional privilege as reserved for the consecrated hands of the priest, which had been anointed for this purpose at his ordination. There was a similar reverance for the Holy of Holies and Ark of the Covenant in the Tabernacle of the ancient Hebrews, and the privilege of entering its precincts was reserved to the High Priest alone on certain specified occasions. Today in many parishes all barriers have been seemingly removed, and unconsecrated laymen and laywomen can waltz up to the Altar or Tabernacle and handle the consecrated Hosts as though they were going to the kitchen for a common snack.

The practice of Communion in the hand was first resurrected by Protestants in the 16th century as an expression of their belief that the bread received at Communion is merely ordinary bread and that the person distributing it is an ordinary person. In our own time, the practice of Communion in the hand began shortly after the Second Vatican Council among "progressive" parishes in the Netherlands, whence it spread to neighboring countries. When Pope Paul VI subsequently polled the bishops of the world as to the acceptability of the practice, the overwhelming majority replied that it was not, and the Instruction Memoriale Domini, published in 1969, gave a clear exposition of the reasons for the traditional practice and the threat to reverance posed by the abuse of Communion in the hand. Pope Paul made the following direct appeal to the bishops of the world:
"The Supreme Pontiff judged that the long received manner of ministering Holy Communion to the faithful should not be changed. The Apostolic See therefore strongly urges bishops, priests and people to observe zealously this law, valid and again confirmed, according to the judgment of the majority of the Catholic episcopate, in the form which the present rite of the sacred liturgy employs, and out of concern for the common good of the Church." (Memoriale Domini, the Instruction on the Manner of Administering Holy Communion, The Congregation for Divine Worship, May 29, 1969)
This was the Church's instruction. Was it implimented by the bishops? On the contrary, in country after country, it was ignored by the very bishops who had voted to uphold the traditional practice, as the Holy See, following the lead of these bishops, yielded in abject surrender to the disobedience of the rebels.

The same is true with other practices, now commonplace, like Communion in the hand, that were originally proscribed by the Conciliar Church, then later legitimated under pressure -- practices such as the ordinary use of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, Communion under both kinds, altar girls, the regular use of female lectors, the ideologically tendentious mistranslations of the New Mass by the International Commission for English in the Liturgy (ICEL) -- for example, translating pro multis ("for many") as "for all" -- liturgical dancing, balloons and clowns, slipshod or heretical catechesis, the promotion of heterodox literature as though it represented orthodox Catholicism, etc.

At present, there are few places in the world where one can find a Novus Ordo Mass celebrated without abuse, with dignity and reverance. The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC, is one example, as is the Brompton Oratory or Westminster Cathedral in London. But examples are few. The Church seems to have effectively abandoned the task of carrying out the reform of the traditional Roman Rite mandated by Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Second Vatican Council's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. Fr. Joseph Fessio's Adoremus Society seems to be about the only organization devoted to carrying out the concerns of the Council Fathers, but its monthly Adoremus Bulletin seems almost wholly devoted to pointing out abuses in the Novus Ordo Mass and pointing out the instructions of the Vatican on how these abuses are to be corrected, rather than with any substantial concern on how the traditional Roman Rite might be reformed. This leaves Catholics who desire to be faithful in the worship in a pinch. The Novus Ordo is so far from being an established 'rite' that it constitutes what Msgr. Klaus Gamber described as a "liturgical destruction of startling proportions -- a debacle worsening with each passing year," a "dismantling of the traditinal values and piety," a "destruction of the forms of the Mass which had developed organically during the course of many centuries" (The Reform of the Roman Liturgy, 1993, p. 5). Meanwhile, the only truly established Western 'rite' is one that comes with excellent credentials and has served the Church well for centuries: the traditional Roman Rite, the oldest Christian liturgical rite in the world, whose Roman Canon stems from the fourth century. The only problem is that nearly all bishops and priests seem so threatened by it that, as with so many other things, they are reluctant to implement the provisions for its continued use guaranteed by Pope John Paul II in Ecclesia Dei adflicta. So what's a wanna-be-good Catholic to do?