The instruction ‘Redemptionis Sacramentum’ &#151 V

Before the Cross - Archbishop Robert J. Carlson's Column

Introduction Chapter 4 of the instruction "Redemptionis Sacramentum," published by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments to complement the encyclical letter "Ecclesia de Eucharistia" of our late and most beloved Pope John Paul II, treats the liturgical norms pertaining to Holy Communion. Christ makes ever new His Sacrifice on Calvary, in order that we may be united with Him through Holy Communion, the reception of His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity under the eucharistic species. In the encyclical letter "Ecclesia de Eucharistia," Pope John Paul II reminded us: "The saving efficacy of the Sacrifice is fully realized when the Lord’s Body and Blood are received in Communion.The Eucharistic Sacrifice is intrinsically directed to the inward union of the faithful with Christ through Communion: We receive the very One who offered Himself for us, we receive His Body which He gave up for us on the Cross and His Blood which He "poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Matthew 26:28)(Pope John Paul II, encyclical letter Ecclesia de Eucharistia [On the Eucharist in Its Relationship to the Church]," April 17, 2003, n. 16). The words of our Holy Father remind us of the reverence and deep love with which we must approach Holy Communion.Through Holy Communion, Christ nourishes the life of the Holy Spirit within us, which we have first received through the Sacrament of Baptism and which has been strengthened and increased within us through the Sacrament of Confirmation.Holy Communion is truly the Heavenly Bread which sustains us spiritually along the way of our earthly pilgrimage home to God the Father. Right disposition for Holy Communion The instruction reminds us, first of all, that participation in the Holy Mass and reception of Holy Communion frees us from daily faults and preserves us from mortal sin.If, however, we have committed mortal sin, we must confess the sin and receive sacramental absolution, in order to be rightly disposed to receive Holy Communion. It is true that, at the beginning of the celebration of the Holy Mass, through the Penitential Rite, we prepare ourselves to enter into the Eucharistic Sacrifice and to receive Holy Communion by asking God to pardon our sins.The prayer of the Penitential Rite, however, "cannot be regarded as a substitute for the Sacrament of Penance in remission of graver sins."The instruction asks priests to be diligent in teaching the faithful about the need to confess mortal sin in the Sacrament of Penance before approaching to receive Holy Communion (n. 80). St. Paul, in the First Letter to the Corinthians, reminds us that we should examine our consciences carefully regarding our right disposition before approaching to receive the Body and Blood of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:27-29).If there is a "grave reason" why a person should receive Holy Communion and there is no possibility of making a good confession beforehand, he or she may approach to receive the Body of Christ only if he or she has first made an act of perfect contrition, "which includes the intention to confess as soon as possible" (n. 81). Participation in the Holy Mass is clearly directed to the reception of Holy Communion.The Church, in fact, directs her liturgical discipline to the "frequent and fruitful access of the faithful" to Holy Communion.At the same time, her discipline must set forth "the objective conditions under which Communion may not be given" (n. 82).Otherwise, the proper love of our Lord really present in the Blessed Sacrament will not be fostered and will, in fact, be betrayed. Today, as the instruction notes, it can happen that we approach the altar to receive Holy Communion "as a group indiscriminately" (n. 83). One of the strong impressions made upon me as a boy was the fact that not everyone went to Holy Communion at Sunday Mass.I remember asking my parents why some people did not receive and receiving the explanation that, for whatever reason, they must not have been prepared to receive Holy Communion.The explanation made me think how important it was for me to be properly prepared. Often, I have heard it observed that today the expectation is that everyone will receive Holy Communion.In such a situation, it becomes difficult for anyone to refrain from approaching to receive the Body of Christ.At the same time, such an expectation can easily dull the consciousness of the need to examine ourselves, in order to receive Holy Communion worthily.In our time, it is, therefore, all the more necessary to underline the Church’s teaching on the right disposition for reception of Holy Communion. NonCatholics and nonChristians and reception of Holy Communion Not infrequently, nonCatholics and nonChristians are present for the celebration of the Holy Mass, especially at wedding Masses or at Masses celebrated on other special cases. Unless the right disposition for the reception of Holy Communion is explained to them, they may simply approach to receive Holy Communion with the rest of the congregation, without knowing the Church’s teaching and discipline regarding the Holy Eucharist."It is the duty of pastors at an opportune moment to inform those present of the authenticity and the discipline that are strictly to be observed" (n. 84).The Eucharist is our greatest spiritual treasure in the Church.Those who are not in the full communion of the Catholic Church should naturally understand why we take care to explain the Church’s teaching on the Holy Eucharist and the corollary disciplinary norms.The U.S. Conference of Bishops has published an excellent summary of the Church’s discipline and of the doctrinal reasons for it, which it would be good to print in programs for special celebrations of the Mass or to read aloud at the time of the distribution of Holy Communion. "Catholic ministers licitly administer the sacraments only to the Catholic faithful, who likewise receive them licitly only from Catholic ministers, except for those situations for which provision is made in canon 844, paragraph 2, 3 and 4, and canon 861, paragraph 2" (n. 85; cf. can. 844, paragraph 1). Can. 861, paragraph 2, permits that any person "with the right intention," in "a case of necessity" licitly administers the Sacrament of Baptism. By right intention is meant that the person who administers the Sacrament intends to do what the Church does when she baptizes. Under the following conditions, a Catholic may receive "the Sacraments of Penance, Holy Eucharist and Anointing of the Sick from nonCatholic ministers in whose Churches these sacraments are valid": 1) "necessity requires it or true spiritual advantage suggests it," that is, there is a true spiritual need, not just a personal desire; 2) the reception of the sacrament or sacraments will not be the cause of error or religious indifference; and 3) the impossibility of approaching a Catholic minister exists (can. 844, paragraph 2).The churches in which the sacraments are valid are those whose ministers are validly ordained, principally the Eastern churches which do not have full communion with the Catholic Church. Catholic ministers are permitted to administer the Sacraments of Penance, Holy Eucharist and the Anointing of the Sick "to members of Eastern Churches which do not have full communion with the Catholic Church, if they seek such on their own accord and are properly disposed" (can. 844, paragraph 3). The discipline is also valid "for members of other Churches which in the judgment of the Apostolic See are in the same condition in regard to the sacraments as these Eastern Churches" (can. 844, paragraph 3).There are two conditions under which the sacraments can be administered licitly in such a case: 1)the person must seek the sacraments "on their own," that is, not at the urging of the Catholic minister; and 2) the person must be properly disposed, that is, be coherent with the Catholic teaching regarding the sacraments. Canon 844, paragraph 4, provides for the administration of the same three sacraments "to other Christians not having full communion with the Catholic Church," under certain conditions.The conditions are: 1) there is danger of death or, "in the judgment of the diocesan bishop or conference of bishops,"there is a grave need; 2) the person does not have access to a minister of his or her own community; 3) the person requests the sacrament on his or her "own accord," that is, not at the urging of the Catholic minister; 4) the person gives the signs of Catholic faith in the sacrament; and 5) the person is properly disposed.Regarding the "grave need," the instruction of the Secretariat for Christian Unity of the Apostolic See, dated Jan. 6, 1972, gives, as examples, imprisonment or persecution.Regarding the discipline of can. 844, paragraph 4, the conditions "cannot be separated; thus, it is necessary that all of these conditions be present together" (n. 85). Sacrament of Penance and Holy Communion The Sacrament of Penance has an essential relationship to the Holy Eucharist.It is the sacrament by which the grace of the Holy Spirit is restored when it has been lost through mortal sin and by which the grace of the Holy Spirit is renewed when it has been weakened through venial sin (Catechism of the Catholic Church, nn. 1448, 1484, 1493 and 1863).A person who desires to receive our Lord in Holy Communion will also have regular access to the Sacrament of Penance, in order that he or she be properly disposed.In every parish, there is to be a stable schedule of times for the Sacrament of Penance to foster worthy and frequent reception of Holy Communion.When we receive Holy Communion "often or daily," it is important that we regularly confess our sins and receive sacramental absolution, lest in any way we lose a sense of awe and of our own unworthiness before the Blessed Sacrament (n. 86). Because of the essential relationship between the Sacraments of Penance and the Holy Eucharist, children who are to make their First Holy Communion are prepared "by sacramental confession and absolution" (n. 87).It is important that children, from their very first instruction on the Holy Eucharist, understand the relationship of the sacramental confession and absolution of our sins to the right disposition for reception of Holy Communion.In this regard, it is important that parents make a point to take their children with them at the scheduled times for confession.Otherwise, the children will not develop a habit of regular confession. First Holy Communion In addition to the prior First Confession, the instruction provides several norms for the celebration of First Holy Communion.First Holy Communion "should always be administered by a priest and never outside of Mass."Since the priest is the ordinary minister of Holy Communion and has the pastoral responsibility for the worthy celebration of the Holy Eucharist, it is only proper that he administer First Holy Communion. Unless there is an exceptional case, First Holy Communion is not administered at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday.The instruction suggests that First Holy Communion be given on Sunday, "the day of the Eucharist," and recommends the Sundays from the Second to the Sixth Sundays of Easter, the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ or Corpus Christi, or "the Sundays of Ordinary Time." For the reception of First Holy Communion, the child must have reached the age of reason and the parish priest must have determined that the child is sufficiently prepared.The instruction makes provision for the exception of the reception of First Holy Communion by a child who has not reached the age of reason but is "exceptionally mature for his age," if the parish priest judges the child to be sufficiently prepared (n. 87). Distribution of Holy Communion The reception of Holy Communion by the faithful immediately follows the reception of Holy Communion by the priest or priests celebrating the Mass.The priest who celebrates the Mass has the responsibility to distribute Holy Communion, in accord with his sacramental character.If the congregation is large, he may be assisted by other priests or deacons.When necessary, he may also be assisted by extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion (n. 88). In the same line, if possible, the communicants should receive hosts consecrated at the Mass in which they are participating (n. 89). Large congregations make it impossible to follow this norm strictly.For the most part, however, the faithful should receive hosts which the priest celebrant has consecrated and is distributing. The proper posture for the reception of Holy Communion in the United States of America is standing.Because the communicant is not receiving the Sacred Host kneeling, he or she should bow reverently before receiving Holy Communion (n. 90).The Holy Eucharist may not be denied to a person who wishes to receive in the kneeling posture, if he or she is otherwise properly disposed and not prevented from receiving Holy Communion by the Church’s discipline (n. 91). Holy Communion may be received on the tongue or in the hand in the United States. If the Sacred Host is received in the hand, it is to be consumed immediately in the presence of the minister of the Holy Eucharist. No one is permitted to receive Holy Communion in the hand and to walk away from the eucharistic minister without consuming the Host (n. 92).During the distribution of Holy Communion, the Mass server should hold the paten under the chin or hand of the person receiving, in order to prevent that any particle or fragment fall to the ground (n. 93). It is not permitted to take the Host from the priest or other ordinary or extraordinary minister of Holy Communion.Holy Communion is to be received, not taken.Also, it is not permitted for the faithful to pass the Sacred Hosts or the chalice with the Precious Blood from one to another."Moreover, in this regard, the abuse is to be set aside whereby spouses administer Holy Communion to each other at a nuptial Mass" (n. 94). Holy Communion may be received twice in the same day, as long as the second reception of Holy Communion takes place within the celebration of the Holy Mass in which the person receiving participates (n. 95).In danger of death, a person is "strongly urged to receive Communion again," even if he or she has already received Holy Communion on the same day (can. 921, paragraph 2). "The practice is reprobated whereby either unconsecrated hosts or other edible or inedible things are distributed during the celebration of Holy Mass or beforehand after the manner of Communion, contrary to the prescriptions of the liturgical books," lest confusion or error regarding the incomparable reality of the Holy Eucharist be caused.The custom of blessing bread after Mass for distribution can be retained, if it already exists.The faithful, however, are to be duly catechized about the meaning of the blessing of bread in clear distinction from the Holy Eucharist."In fact, no other similar practices should be introduced, nor should unconsecrated hosts ever be used for this purpose" (n. 96). Communion of the priest or priests "A priest must communicate at the altar at the moment laid down by the Missal each time he celebrates Holy Mass, and the concelebrants must communicate before they proceed with the distribution of Holy Communion."It is not permitted for the priest celebrant or the concelebrants to receive Holy Communion only after they have completed the distribution of Holy Communion to the faithful (n. 97). The priest celebrant and concelebrants must receive a Sacred Host consecrated at the Mass they are celebrating.Also, they must receive Holy Communion under both species.Holy Communion is distributed to concelebrants by the bishop, a priest or a deacon in silence, without announcing "The Body of Christ" and "The Blood of Christ" (n. 98).If a priest is present for Holy Mass and is unable to concelebrate, he may always receive Holy Communion under both species (n. 99). Communion under both species Communion is distributed to the faithful under both species, in order to provide for the fuller sign of the Eucharistic Banquet.It is, however, not always permitted or possible.It is important, therefore, that all of the faithful understand that they receive the whole Christ under each of the sacred species (n. 100). In making the decision to distribute Holy Communion under both species, the circumstances must be carefully assessed, in accord with any instruction given by the diocesan bishop."It is to be completely excluded where even a small danger exists of the sacred species being profaned" (n. 101). The following circumstances exclude the distribution of Holy Communion under the species of the consecrated wine: 1) the congregation is so large that it is "difficult to gauge the amount of wine for the Eucharist," risking an unreasonable amount of the Precious Blood remaining to be consumed after the distribution of Holy Communion; 2) it is difficult to bring the chalice to the faithful; 3) the amount of wine required would make it difficult to be sure about "its certain provenance and quality"; 4) there is a lack of a sufficient number of ordinary and extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion; and 5) "a notable part of the people continues to prefer not to approach the chalice for various reasons, so that the sign of unity would in some sense be negated" (n. 102). The Precious Blood may be received by drinking from the chalice or by intinction, the dipping of the Host into the Precious Blood. If intinction is employed, the following conditions must be observed: 1) the Hosts must be sufficiently thick and large; 2) Holy Communion may only be received on the tongue; 3) the communicant may not "intinct the Host himself in the chalice"; and 4) the Host used for intinction must be valid matter and must have been consecrated (nn. 103-104). When a single chalice is not sufficient for the distribution of the Precious Blood, several chalices are to be used."It is praiseworthy, by reason of the sign value, to use a main chalice of large dimensions, together with smaller chalices"(n. 105). The Precious Blood may not be poured from one vessel to another, in order to avoid the risk of profanation of the Blessed Sacrament.Although a flagon or similar vessel may be used to bring the wine to the altar at the Preparation of the Gifts, it may not be used as a container of the Precious Blood (n. 106).The wine to be consecrated should be poured into the chalices beforehand or at the time of the Preparation of the Gifts. Conclusion Chapter 4 concludes by reminding us of the severe penalty of automatic excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See, which is imposed upon a person "who throws away the consecrated species or takes them away or keeps them for a sacrilegious purpose."A cleric who commits such an act can be further punished, "not excluding dismissal from the clerical state" (can. 1367).The instruction further reminds us that the discipline is to be understood to apply to "any action that is voluntarily and gravely disrespectful of the sacred species."The instruction makes it clear that anyone violating the norms regarding the care of the Body and Blood of Christ "incurs the penalties laid down" by canon law.It gives, as an example of such violation, "casting the sacred species into the sacrarium or in an unworthy place or on the ground." Finally, the instruction reminds us that, once the distribution of Holy Communion has been completed, whatever remains of the Precious Blood "must be entirely and immediately consumed by the priest or another minister."Any remaining Sacred Hosts "are to be consumed by the priest at the altar" or reposed immediately in the tabernacle (n. 107).

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