Archbishop's column

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

'Before The Cross' by Archbishop Robert J. Carlson. Archbishop Carlson is the ninth Archbishop of Saint Louis. Listed below are the most recent columns written by Archbishop Carlson; click on the title to read the column. The Archdiocesan website has more information about Archbishop Robert J. Carlson.

‘Be not afraid!’

Introduction: The Holy Eucharist and everyday life

When considering the Holy Eucharist as a mystery to be lived, it is important, in our day, to recognize how our totally secularized culture has alienated everyday life from the Christian faith.The Holy Eucharist, however, by its very nature, animates every aspect of our lives.Through the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, Christ is in our midstto bring us to life in the Holy Spirit."Hence the Holy Eucharist, as the source and summit of the Church’s life and mission, must be translated into spirituality, into a life lived ‘according to the Spirit’ (Romans 8:4ff; cf. Galatians 5:16, 25)."Who receives the Body of Christ with faith thinks with Christ and acts as Christ would act. Quoting verse 2 of the 12th chapter of St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, Pope Benedict XVI declares in "Sacramentum Caritatis": "In this way the Apostle of the Gentiles emphasizes the link between true spiritual worship and the need for anew way of understanding and living one’s life" (No. 77).

Because the Communion with Christ in the Holy Eucharist involves every aspect of daily living, it necessarily involves the commitment to address the Word of Christ to the other cultures we encounter. The Holy Eucharist leads us to evangelize all cultures, for Christ pours out His life for the salvation of all men and women."The Eucharist becomes a criterion for our evaluation of everything that Christianity encounters in different cultures" (No. 78).The Holy Eucharist, for instance, must be our inspiration and strength in evangelizing the Islamic culture that becomes ever more present in our society and the world.Everything in life must be seen in the light of the Holy Eucharist, in order to see each thing in truth and to act in all things with love.

The Holy Eucharist and the spirituality of the lay faithful

Pope Benedict XVI then applies the truth about the relationship of the Holy Eucharist to everyday living to the various states of life. He begins by considering the spirituality of the lay faithful. He reminds us that the Holy Eucharist "meets each of us as we are, and makes our concrete existence the place where we experience daily the radical newness of the Christian life" (No. 79). The Holy Eucharist nourishes the life of Christ, which we have received through Baptism, inspiring and strengthening us to live our baptismal vocation, that is, to do whatever God asks of us, especially in what pertains to our vocation in life.

The vocation of the lay faithful, received at Baptism, is the sanctification and, therefore, transformation of every human activity, the transformation of the world.Through the Sacrament of Confirmation, the grace of Baptism is strengthened and increased for the carrying out of the lay vocation.The Holy Eucharist is the food which sustains the lay apostle in carrying out his or her mission. Pope Benedict XVI urges that the lay faithful "should cultivate a desire that the Eucharist have an ever deeper effect on their daily lives, making them convincing witnesses in the workplace and in society at large" (No. 79).Recognizing the challenge of their vocation and the irreplaceable source of strength to meet the challenge in the Holy Eucharist, the lay faithful rightly treasure the possibility of participating in Holy Mass daily, if possible.

Knowledge and love of the Eucharistic Mystery is especially critical to the vocation of the married and for the family life begun with the exchange of marriage consent. Through participation in the Holy Mass and in Eucharistic devotion, husband and wife come to understand the essential marks of their love of each other. The love of Christ poured out in the Holy Eucharist is the source of their love which, by definition, is total, ever faithful and procreative of new human life.The relationship between parents and children, likewise, finds its form in the purest and most selfless love of Christ in the Eucharistic Sacrifice.

Our Holy Father concludes the discussion of the Holy Eucharist and the spirituality of the laity by urging parish priests to "unfailingly support, guide and encourage the lay faithful to live fully their vocation to holiness within this world which God so loved that He gave His Son to become its salvation (cf. John 3:16)" (No. 79).The principal means by which pastors of souls assist those called to marriage and the family are instruction in the truth regarding the Holy Eucharist and exhortation to love of the Holy Eucharist.

The Holy Eucharist and priestly spirituality

In writing about the relationship of the Holy Eucharist to the spiritual life of the priest, Pope Benedict XVI recalls striking words from the Rite of Ordination of a Priest.After the new priest has been consecrated by the Laying On of Hands and the Prayer of Ordination, he goes before the bishop for the Anointing of Hands and the Handing Over of the Bread and Wine. When the bishop hands over the bread and wine, he declares: "Receive the oblation of the holy people, to be offered to God.Understand what you do, imitate what you celebrate, and conform your life to the mystery of the Lord’s Cross" (No. 80).In other words, the priest is to live the mystery of Christ’s Sacrifice in his daily life.

The priest is to make the Holy Eucharist the center of his priestly life and the source of his priestly ministry.The spiritual life is, therefore, "his highest priority" (No. 80).He is to bring Christ to the people, and, therefore, he must know Christ intimately and have the closest possible communion with Christ.He must experience deeply the love of Christ in the Holy Eucharist, if he is to love the flock in the person of Christ Head and Shepherd, Who lays down His life for the sheep (John 10:11).

Given the inherent eucharistic nature of the priest’s spirituality, Pope Benedict XVI makes his own a recommendation made by the bishops at the Synod of 2005, namely, that the priest should celebrate Mass every day, even if no faithful are present for the celebration. The Holy Father comments: "This recommendation is consistent with the objectively infinite value of every celebration of the Eucharist, and is motivated by the Mass’s unique spiritual fruitfulness" (No. 80).Through the daily celebration of the Holy Eucharist, at which the whole Communion of Saints always assists, the priest identifies ever more clearly his ministry and is strengthened to carry it out.

The Holy Eucharist and the spiritual life of consecrated persons

Those called to the consecrated life are to follow Christ more closely, especially in the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience.Their life consecrated totally to Christ is a source of light and strength for all the faithful in their Christian living. Acknowledging the variety of services which are provided by consecrated persons in the Church, Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that the distinct gift of consecrated persons is not so much what they do but who they are in Christ for the whole Church. "The essential contribution which the Church expects from consecrated persons is much more in the order of being than of doing" (No. 81).

Then the Holy Father addresses at some length "the importance of the witness of virginity, precisely in its relation to the mystery of the Eucharist." Consecrated virginity is a sign of the "Church’s exclusive devotion to Christ, Whom she accepts as her Bridegroom with a radical and fruitful fidelity."For the consecrated virgin, who belongs totally to Christ and is fittingly called the bride of Christ, participation in the Holy Mass and eucharistic devotion is the most elevated and most treasured exercise of her vocation.With regard to her being in the Church, the consecrated virgin finds in the Holy Eucharist "encouragement and strength to be a sign, in our own times too, of God’s gracious and fruitful love for humanity" (No. 81).

The consecrated life, including consecrated virginity, is for all of us a sign of our final destiny, that is, participation in the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, sharing in the indescribable riches of eternal life with Christ. Consecrated life and consecrated virginity, in particular, remind us that everything in our lives should be viewed in the light of heaven, the point of arrival of our earthly pilgrimage.Each time we participate in the Holy Eucharist, that point of arrival is anticipated, and we are reminded, indeed given a pledge, of our ultimate heritage, that is, eternal life with God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — in the company of the angels and all the saints.

The Holy Eucharist and moral transformation

We all know the challenge of Christlike living in a totally secularized society. It requires supernatural strength to overcome the many temptations to let ourselves be enslaved, to let ourselves "live as if God did not exist," as Pope John Paul II was used to say.The Holy Eucharist is the font of energy to live in freedom, to love as Christ loves, purely and selflessly. Pope Benedict XVI refers us to his encyclical letter "Deus Caritas Est (On Christian Love)," in which he reminded us that participation in the Eucharistic Sacrifice necessarily issues in a daily life marked by "the concrete practice of love" (No. 82).

Our Holy Father goes on to comment that the moral transformation inherent in Eucharistic Communion is not a mere matter of a moral injunction imposed upon us by participation in the Eucharistic Sacrifice. "It is before all else the joy-filled discovery of love at work in the hearts of those who accept the Lord’s gift, abandon themselves to Him and thus find true freedom" (No. 82). It is our intimacy with the Lord in the Holy Eucharist which, at one and the same time, makes us conscious of our own sinfulness and inflames our desire to live always in Christ and, therefore, to love as He loves.

To help us understand the moral transformation which heartfelt participation in the Holy Eucharist brings about, Pope Benedict XVI refers us to the story of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10). When Zacchaeus met our Lord, he was, at once, moved to confess his sinfulness and to make superabundant restitution for what he had stolen and to provide, from his substance, for the poor.Our Holy Father concludes: "The moral urgency born of welcoming Jesus into our lives is the fruit of gratitude for having experienced the Lord’s unmerited closeness" (No. 82).

Conclusion: Eucharistic consistency

Pope Benedict XVI concludes his presentation on the moral transformation worked by the Holy Eucharist by reflecting on the public nature of our Eucharistic worship, that is, its "consequences for our relationships with others" (No. 82). Receiving Holy Communion is never a merely private act. Because of our public communion with Christ in the Holy Eucharist, others rightly expect Christlike living in us.If we receive Holy Communion and, then, think and speak and act in a way which betrays Christ, then we give scandal to others. We lead them to think that it is all right to receive Christ into our souls and, at the same time, to ignore or contradict His teaching by the way we live. We deceive them regarding the holiness of the Most Blessed Sacrament and its involvement in every aspect of our being and life.

Participation in the Holy Eucharist demands that all of us give witness to the truth and love which Christ teaches us. The responsibility to give public witness to our faith is especially weighty for those "who, by virtue of their social or political position, must make decisions regarding fundamental goods, such as respect for human life, its defense from conception to natural death, the family built upon marriage between a man and a woman, the freedom to educate one’s children and the promotion of the common good in all its forms" (No. 83). The Holy Father addresses, in particular, Catholic politicians who, in virtue of their communion with Christ in the Holy Eucharist, must promote and support laws which respect the natural law written by God on every human heart. In our own country, we are witnesses to the scandal caused by Catholic politicians who present themselves to receive Holy Communion and, at the same time, consistently support legislation which violates the natural moral law, for example, legislation which permits procured abortion, human cloning, embryonic stem-cell research, euthanasia or "assisted suicide," so-called "same-sex marriage" and other violations of fundamental human rights.Regarding such situations, the Holy Father, referring to chapter 11 of St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, declares plainly: "There is an objective connection here with the Eucharist (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:27-29).

The Holy Father reminds bishops of their duty to reaffirm the relationship of the Holy Eucharist to the moral life, especially for those who have responsibility for the common good. For bishops to do less constitutes a failure to shepherd the flock entrusted into their care.

‘Be not afraid!’


In Part Three of the post-synodal apostolic exhortation "Sacramentum Caritatis," Pope Benedict XVI discusses all that the Holy Eucharist means for our daily living.He begins the treatment by quoting a passage from the "Bread of Life Discourse" of our Lord Jesus Christ, recorded in Chapter 6 of the Gospel according to St. John.The passage reads: "As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me will live because of Me" (John 6:57).The import of our Lord’s words is clear.His true Body which we receive in the Holy Eucharist, by its very nature, becomes the principle and pattern of our daily living.We not only believe in the Holy Eucharist and celebrate the Holy Eucharist, but we also live by and through the Holy Eucharist.

Our Holy Father recalls words of St. Augustine of Hippo, regarding our living of the eucharistic mystery, which point out the distinct effect of eating the Heavenly Bread of the Holy Eucharist, when compared to our eating of earthly food. Earthly food becomes part of us, is assimilated into us.The Bread of Heaven transforms us more and more into the likeness of Christ. In other words, we become more like our spiritual food, that is, Christ Who gives Himself to us in the Holy Eucharist.

Spiritual worship

The Holy Eucharist "expresses at once both the origin and the fulfillment of the new and definitive worship of God" (No. 70).Participation in the Holy Eucharist is the most perfect action of worship which we can offer to God. It is, in fact, God the Father’s most perfect gift to us in our Lord Jesus Christ. At the same time, it is the fullness of our Christian life, for, in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, we unite our hearts, our lives fully with Christ, pouring out our life in selfless and ever purer love, that is, Christlike love.

Pope Benedict XVI quotes St. Paul’s exhortation that our "spiritual worship" be, indeed the presentation of our "bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God" (Romans 12:1).Our worship of God is never distant from or detached from our bodily existence. In the Eucharistic Sacrifice, rather, we, together with the whole Church, offer our bodies through, with and in our Lord Jesus Christ.Referring to No. 1368 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, our Holy Father reminds us: "Catholic doctrine, in fact, affirms that the Eucharist, as the sacrifice of Christ, is also the sacrifice of the Church, and thus of all the faithful" (No. 70).In the Eucharistic Sacrifice, our whole being is lifted up to the glorious Christ Who pours out His life for us, in order that we be transformed by pouring out our lives.

Transformation of every aspect of life

Our spiritual worship, that is, our participation in the Holy Eucharist, "includes and transfigures every aspect of life." In everything we think and say and do, we are to give glory to God and serve our neighbor.The Holy Eucharist gives us the strength to live a totally Christlike life."There is nothing authentically human — our thoughts and affections, our words and deeds — that does not find in the Sacrament of the Eucharist the form it needs to be lived to the full" (n. 71).

Through our participation in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, we come to understand that we cannot compartmentalize any aspect of our life in order to keep it from the transforming grace of Christ’s Real Presence.The Holy Eucharist, therefore, is always first and most important in our daily living and in our whole life. It must never be seen as detached from or unrelated to any part of our life."Worship pleasing to God thus becomes a new way of living our whole life, each particular moment of which is lifted up, since it is lived as part of a relationship with Christ and as an offering to God" (no. 71).Making visits to the Blessed Sacrament during the day and making a spiritual Communion at various moments throughout the day are true and efficacious devotional expressions of the reality of the Holy Eucharist which transforms every aspect of our lives.

Living the Lord’s Day

The Sunday Mass obligation is the discipline which respects the truth that the origin and the highest expression of our life in Christ is the Holy Eucharist.The obligation is a very ancient discipline of the Church.Our Holy Father quotes St. Ignatius of Antioch, who describes Christians as "those living in accordance with the Lord’s Day" (No. 71).In Pope Benedict XVI’s words: "The Christians’ customary practice of gathering on the first day after the Sabbath to celebrate the resurrection of Christ — according to the account of St. Justin Martyr — is also what defines the form of a life renewed by an encounter with Christ" (no. 72).

The observance of Sunday as the Lord’s Day and as the first day of the week expresses our consciousness of what the Holy Eucharist means in our life. It changes our life completely and gives a new meaning to all time.Each gift of time from our Lord is understood as an invitation to offer ourselves with Christ in love.Keeping the Lord’s Day, in the words of Pope Benedict XVI, "means living in the awareness of the liberation brought by Christ and making our lives a constant self-offering to God, so that his victory may be fully revealed to all humanity through a profoundly renewed existence" (No. 72).

Our Holy Father points out that a carelessness or lack of interest in keeping the Lord’s Day is dangerous for our Christian living."To lose a sense of Sunday as the Lord’s Day, a day to be sanctified, is symptomatic of the loss of an authentic sense of Christian freedom, the freedom of the children of God" (No. 73).Because of who we are in Christ, our conscience demands that we keep the Sunday Mass obligation.At the same time, participation in the Sunday Eucharist forms and strengthens our conscience to know what is good and to avoid what is evil.

Pope Benedict XVI then recalls for us the apostolic letter "Dies Domini" of the Servant of God Pope John Paul II.Pope John Paul II, in fact, called Sunday by four names: the Day of the Lord, the Day of Christ, the Day of the Church and the Day of Man.It is the Day of the Lord because it embraces all of God’s creation. It is the Day of Christ because, in the Holy Eucharist, God gives us the grace of becoming the new creation, of living in Christ.It is the Day of the Church, for the whole body of disciples marks the day by coming together to participate in the Holy Eucharist.Finally, it is the Day of Man, for it brings us "joy, rest and fraternal charity" (No. 73).

Finally, regarding the Lord’s Day, Pope Benedict XVI comments on the fittingness of concentrating parish activities around Sunday Mass.The Holy Father reminds us that, notwithstanding the granting of the indult to celebrate Sunday Mass on the Saturday evening, it is Sunday that is to be made holy.

Sunday and resting from work

Sunday, the Lord’s Day, is to be a day of rest from work.The Holy Father expresses the hope that civil society will recognize the need of the Christian to take Sunday rest and not punish him for it. By taking a rest from work, the Christian, in fact, sees work in its proper perspective, that is, as a means to give glory to God and to serve one’s neighbor.Sunday Mass helps us to recognize always that "work is for man and not man for work" (No. 74).

Sunday rest helps us to avoid what Pope Benedict XVI terms enslavement to work."It is on the day consecrated to God that men and women come to understand the meaning of their lives and also of their work" (No. 74).

Sunday celebrations in the absence of a priest

When there is no priest to offer Sunday Mass, what should an individual Christian and the whole Christian community do?First, we should make a thorough search to know the times of Masses at neighboring churches and should proceed to participate in Mass at a neighboring church.

If the distance to a neighboring church with a priest is so great that it is not possible for the faithful to travel there, the local community is encouraged to gather and to give praise and worship to God, as they are able.Care must be taken, however, that the community understands that its gathering for prayer does not fulfill the Sunday obligation, for it is not the celebration of the Holy Mass.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is to make available the rite to be followed, lest the faithful confuse the celebration of prayer in the absence of a priest and the full Sunday Eucharist.The lay faithful who conduct a Sunday liturgy in the absence of priests are to follow carefully the rite set down by the bishops’ conference.Our Holy Father cautions that care be taken, lest the gathering of the community on the Lord’s Day without the presence of the priest "create confusion about the central role of the priest and the sacraments in the life of the Church" (No. 75).

Given the key part which the Sunday Mass has in our Christian identity,we must be careful to maintain a clear and strong sense of our life in the Church and of the irreplaceable service of the priest who acts in the person of Christ, the Head and Shepherd of the flock.Our Holy Father reminds us that occasions when the faithful gather on Sunday in the absence of a priest "should be privileged moments of prayer for God to send holy priests after his own heart" (No. 75).

Pope Benedict XVI recalled Pope John Paul II’s 1979 "Letter to Priests," in which he recalled a certain practice of the faithful who are deprived of a priest by a "dictatorial regime."The faithful would meet at the church or at a shrine.They would place on the altar a priest’s stole which they had saved.Then, they would recite the prayers of the Mass.When they came to the words of consecration, they halted in silence because these words can only be uttered with efficaciousness by a priest.By keeping silence at the time when the consecration would normally take place the faithful expressed their heartfelt desire for a priest who would offer the Holy Mass for them, once again.

Sunday Mass and membership in the Church

Participation in Sunday Mass keeps before our eyes the reality that Christ’s Eucharistic Sacrifice makes us one community, makes us to live for Christ and, therefore, to live for one another.Pope Benedict XVI comments on what he calls the vertical and horizontal sense of our participation in the Communion of the Saints through the Holy Eucharist.Vertically, we, with all the saints, have communion with God in the Holy Mass.Each time that we are privileged to participate in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, we are joined by the angels and all the saints.Horizontally, we, with all the saints, are made one with each other through the Eucharistic Sacrifice.
When we participate in Holy Mass, we invoke the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the saints.

Through Baptism, we are brought to life in Christ.Baptism cleanses us from all sin, and we become members of the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ.The Holy Eucharist nourishes the life of Christ within us, from the moment of our baptism, and, therefore, draws us more intensely into the life of the Church.

The Holy Father comments on how the individual Christian experiences what the Holy Eucharist means by participation in the life of the diocese and the parish.Referring to a passage from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans (14:8), Pope Benedict XVI also notes how associations of the faithful, ecclesial movements and institutes of the consecrated all "have a particular responsibility for helping to make the faithful conscious that they belong to the Lord" (No. 76).

The radical secularization of our culture has led many to be isolated from others. It has eroded our sense of belonging to one another in the Church.The diocese and the parish as well as all associations of the faithful, conscious of the effects of secularization, must work to overcome isolation and the loss of a sense of belonging."Christianity, from its very beginning, has meant fellowship, a network of relationships constantly strengthened by hearing God’s Word and sharing in the Eucharist, and enlivened by the Holy Spirit.

‘Be not afraid!’


The Church and Apostolic Succession

Our Lord Jesus, from the very beginning of His public ministry, called disciples to follow Him and, from those who became His disciples, He immediately chose the Apostles for an essential service within the community of all the disciples.Throughout His public ministry, He prepared the Apostles to receive a particular grace, the grace of the Sacrament of Holy Priesthood, by which they and their successors would act in His person as Head and Shepherd of the flock in every time and place.When His public ministry had reached its culmination, on the night when He entered upon His Passion and Death, our Lord Jesus instituted the Holy Eucharist and the Holy Priesthood, which is indispensable for the offering of the Holy Eucharist.

The Apostles and their successors, the bishops, with and under the headship of Saint Peter and his successor, the Bishop of Rome — through the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, through their teaching and through their governance — are "the visible source and foundation of unity" in the Church (Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, "On the Church," Nov. 21, 1964, n. 23a).

Through apostolic succession, effected by the laying on of hands and the prayer of consecration in the Rite of Ordination, Christ remains faithfully and unceasingly the Head and Shepherd of the flock.

Tests of the unity of the Church and ecumenism

From the beginning, the unity of the Church has been severely tested by those who have wanted to form and lead the Church in a direction that suited their ideas and preferences but was not the mind of Christ.Recall, for instance, in the very first days of the Church,the controversy caused by those who insisted that new members of the Church who were not Jewish had to follow certain practices of the Jewish religious law.In order that the unity of the Church not be compromised, the Apostles gathered in Jerusalem, with Saint Peter as their head, and gave a definitive decision in the matter (Acts 15:1-21).

Throughout the Church’s history, her unity has suffered serious threats. Sometimes, most sadly, groups of the faithful have refused to accept the decisions of the Roman Pontiff and the bishops in communion with him, and have broken communion with the Church. In some cases, the apostolic succession was broken and the groups of the faithful were left without the essential priestly service of the Apostles and their successors, and, therefore, without the true Holy Eucharist. Today, there are, for instance, hundreds of different Christian ecclesial Communities without apostolic succession.There are also communities separated from the Roman Catholic Church which have preserved apostolic succession and are thus Churches separated from the Roman Catholic Church.

From the time of the first break with the communion of the Church, the Church has necessarily declared her relationship with the other Churches (with apostolic succession) and the ecclesial Communities (without apostolic succession).At the same time, she is called to work for the restoration of the unity of the Body of Christ.During the years of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, there was a concerted effort to promote Christian unity in response to the prayer of our Lord before entering upon His Passion: "I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me" (John 17:20). The teaching of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council continues to inspire the work of Christian unity or, as it is commonly called, the work of ecumenism.On the same day that the Fathers of the Council promulgated the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium, "On the Church," they also promulgated a document on ecumenism (Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree Unitatis redintegratio, "On Ecumenism," 21 November 1964).

Recent document of the Holy See

On this past June 29, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the office of the Holy Father which helps him "to promote and safeguard the doctrine on faith and morals in the whole Catholic world" addressed a number of questions which have been raised in the teaching about the Church, especially in what pertains to ecumenism. In specific, the Congregation responded to five questions about the teaching on the Church. The title of the document is: "Responsa ad quaestiones de aliquibus sententiis ad doctrinam de Ecclesia pertinentibus (Responses to Questions regarding Some Opinions Pertaining to the Teaching on the Church)."The full text of the document can be found on the archdiocesan website or the website of the Holy See: tions/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20.

Some have characterized the most recent Vatican document as a new teaching which is unfaithful to the teaching of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council.

Some of the faithful of the St. Louis Archdiocese have expressed concern that the recent document represents a weakening of the Church’s commitment to the work of ecumenism.

The document makes it clear that it is only presenting the perennial teaching of the Church in response to certain questions which have been frequently raised in recent theological writings on the Church. The document addresses the questions to remedy possible confusion and doubt. Everything contained in the document is teaching found in the official documents of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council and in subsequent official documents.

The five questions

The first question is: "Did the Second Vatican Council change the Catholic doctrine on the Church?"The response makes clear that the Council "neither changed nor intended to change this doctrine, rather it developed, deepened and more fully explained it."

The second question is: "What is the meaning of the affirmation that the Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church?" The response is that our Lord Jesus Christ established one Church which "throughout the centuries has always existed and will always exist, and in which alone are found all the elements that Christ Himself instituted."According to the teaching of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, subsistence means the "perduring, historical continuity and the permanence of all the elements instituted by Christ in the Catholic Church, in which the Church of Christ is concretely found on this earth." The Church of Christ "is present and operative in the Churches and ecclesial Communities not yet fully in communion with the Catholic Church, on account of the elements of sanctification and truth that are present in them," but the one Church of Christ, with all of the elements intended by Christ, subsists in the Catholic Church.

The third question is: "Why was the expression ‘subsists in’ adopted instead of the simple word ‘is’?The particular expression does not change the teaching of the Church but makes it clearer that there are elements "of sanctification and of truth" found in other Churches and ecclesial Communities which, because they belong properly to the Church of Christ, draw Christians to the unity of the one Church of Christ.

The fourth question is: "Why does the Second Vatican Council use the term ‘Church’ in reference to the oriental Churches separated from full communion with the Catholic Church?"The answer, as noted above, is the reality of apostolic succession and, therefore, of the true Holy Eucharist in the oriental Churches. Still, the separated oriental Churches lack full communion with the Catholic Church. "Since communion with the Catholic Church, the visible head of which is the Bishop of Rome and the Successor of Peter, is not, however, some external complement to a particular Church but rather one of its internal constitutive principles, these venerable Christian communities lack something in their condition as particular churches."

The fifth question is: "Why do the texts of the Council and those of the Magisterium since the Council not use the title of ‘Church’ with regard to those Christian Communities born out of the Reformation of the 16th century?"As indicated above, the communities in question lack apostolic succession which is "a constitutive element of the Church" and, therefore, are not properly called by the title, "Church." "These ecclesial Communities which, specifically because of the absence of the sacramental priesthood, have not preserved the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic Mystery cannot, according to Catholic doctrine, be called ‘Churches’ in the proper sense."


The recent document of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith does not set forth new teaching on the Church but rather enunciates the Church’s perennial teaching in responding to five questions which are frequently raised. The document also does not draw back from the Church’s responsibility for the work of ecumenism. It, rather, gives clear expression to the Catholic Church’s understanding of herself.The clear statement of the Church’s teaching about herself is indispensable to the work of ecumenism.Such clarity does not discourage ecumenical conversation but, rather, rests it upon the honesty which is necessary for all true conversation.

Be not afraid!

Introduction: Two different but related subjects

In writing to you this week, I want to address two different but related subjects of concern to us all.The first is the recent publication of new liturgical norms pertaining to the celebration of two forms of the Rite of the Mass, the form used by all until 1970 and the new form introduced by Pope Paul VI.The new norms, given by Pope Benedict XVI on July 7, have been the subject of much discussion in the media. For your better understanding of the new norms, I want to offer you my reflections on the norms and their implementation in the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

I also write to you about National Natural Family Planning (NFP) Awareness Week, which we will be celebrating next week, July 22-28.The weeklong observance, designated by the U.S. Conference of Bishops, provides us all with an opportunity to understand more deeply the crowning of married love, which is the generation and education of new human life.The observance is centered around the 39th anniversary of the publication of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical "Humanae Vitae (On the Regulation of Birth)," issued on July 25, 1968. In a timely way, it brings to greater consciousness God’s plan for married love and procreation.In a culture which is so filled with confusion about human sexuality and its conjugal meaning, attention to the procreative dimension of the conjugal act is indeed timely.

The two topics seem to be quite diverse.In fact, however, they are closely related.The sanctification of our lives through participation in the liturgy, especially the Sacrifice of the Mass, is expressed concretely in the manner by which we fulfill the daily responsibilities of our vocation in life.For the married, the communion with our Lord in the Eucharistic Sacrifice is the source of their communion of life, also in its sexual or conjugal expression.The more we grow in reverence for the sacredness of the liturgy, the more we also grow in care to live a holy life in all things.

Two forms of the one Rite of the Mass

By his apostolic letter "Summorum Pontificum," Pope Benedict XVI has provided for the easier use of the form of the Rite of the Mass until 1970, which was published by Blessed Pope John XXIII in 1962, in addition to the use of the Rite of the Mass, which was published by Pope Paul VI in 1970 and with which we are all quite familiar.The first form is sometimes popularly called the Tridentine Rite of the Mass, referring to the fact that, in its essentials, it remained the same from the time of the reforms introduced by the Council of Trent (Tridentine is the adjective for Trent). Changes were introduced into the rite over the centuries, including the changes made in the 1962 edition of the Roman Missal, but the greater part of the rite remained unchanged.

The second form is called the Novus Ordo or New Order of the Mass. It also retains the essential elements found in the Tridentine Rite but introduces a somewhat radical simplification of the rite. It is, however, one and the same Rite of the Mass.

With the norms promulgated by Pope Benedict XVI, the Novus Ordo remains the ordinary form in which the Rite of the Mass is to be celebrated.The Order of the Mass in force before the changes introduced by the Novus Ordo is now the extraordinary form, which may be celebrated by any priest, without special permission, under the conditions set forth by the Holy Father.In establishing the extraordinary form of the Rite of the Mass, our Holy Father reminds us that, in fact, the use of the Roman Missal of Blessed Pope John XXIII "was never juridically abrogated and, consequently, in principle, was always permitted" (Letter of Pope Benedict XVI Accompanying the Apostolic Letter Summorum Pontificum, July 7, 2007, paragraph 6).

As he observes, there was a greater attachment to the former rite than perhaps was anticipated, especially among the faithful "with a notable liturgical formation and a deep, personal familiarity with the earlier form of the liturgical celebration" (Ibid.).An interest in and attachment to the former Rite of the Mass also developed among the faithful in circumstances in which the reforms of the Novus Ordo were not implemented with fidelity but were falsely seen to permit or even require a creative interpretation on the part of the priest.Such circumstances, in the words of Pope Benedict XVI, "led to deformations of the liturgy which were hard to bear" (Ibid.). Our Holy Father reflects upon his own experience of the confusion and hurt which sometimes accompanied the implementation of the Novus Ordo.

Not infrequently, I meet young people who are attracted to the former Order of the Mass, even though they had no experience of it when they were growing up.What attracts them is the beauty and reverence, which the earlier form very much fosters.Such beauty and reverence should also be evident in the celebration of the Novus Ordo.Because the ordinary form is greatly simplified, the priest and those who assist him must be attentive to the divine action taking place and not give way to an informality and familiarity which is offensive to the nature of the Sacred Liturgy.

Through "Summorum Pontificum," Pope Benedict XVI makes the former Order of the Mass more available to the faithful who are attached to it.At the same time, he maintains the Novus Ordo as the ordinary form of the celebration of the Mass.It is the expressed hope of our Holy Father that the use of the extraordinary form will support the faithful celebration of the Mass according to the Novus Ordo.

Implementation of the new norms in the archdiocese

Some of the faithful of the archdiocese have expressed the fears that the use of the vernacular in the celebration of the Mass will be taken away and that the use of the extraordinary form of the Mass will be imposed upon them, while they, in fact, are attached to the ordinary form.Both fears are unfounded.The celebration of the extraordinary form in parishes must be requested by a group of the faithful and is to be scheduled in such a way as to permit the other faithful the use of the ordinary form. Priests, when they celebrate the Mass without a congregation, that is, when they are on vacation or away from a parochial assignment, may choose either form.Members of the faithful can, of course, assist at the Mass, no matter in which form it is celebrated.

At present, the Archdiocese of St. Louis has a most effective apostolate on behalf of the faithful who are attached to the extraordinary form of the Rite of the Mass, that is the Roman Missal of Blessed Pope John XXIII.St. Francis de Sales Oratory is the center of the apostolate and serves well the faithful who desire the celebration of the Mass and of the other sacraments according to the rites which were in force in 1962.The Canons Regular of the New Jerusalem also provide Sunday and holy day Masses at the Chapel of the Passionist Nuns in Ellisville.In addition, the Canons Regular, as befits their form of religious life, celebrate daily and publicly the Liturgy of the Hours in the chapel of their Priory in Chesterfield.

If additional requests of the regular celebration of the extraordinary form of the Rite of the Mass are received, I will work with the parish priests in responding appropriately and generously to the requests. Also, courses of liturgical formation pertaining to the Roman Missal of Blessed Pope John XXIII will be provided for priests who desire it.The seminarians at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary will be provided the liturgical formation necessary to celebrate the Mass according to the extraordinary form.Their studies of Latin will also give attention to the texts of the extraordinary form.

Gratitude for the richness of the forms of the Sacred Liturgy

In concluding my brief reflections on "Summorum Pontificum," I express, in the name of us all, deepest gratitude to Pope Benedict XVI for providing so richly and well for the worthy and beautiful celebration of the Sacred Liturgy, especially the Holy Mass.With Pope Benedict XVI, I am certain that the richer possibilities for the celebration of the Mass and the other sacraments will lead us all to a deeper appreciation of the immeasurable love of God for us and to a deeper response of love, on our part.

Natural Family Planning and marital love

Marriage is the foundation of the life of the Church and of society, in general.The faithful, lifelong and procreative love of man and woman in marriage forms the first cell of life in the Church and in society.For the good of the individual couples and for the common good, the Church, in her teaching and practice, devotes special attention to the various aspects of marital life and love.

A central aspect of marital life and love is the conjugal union, the marriage act, as it is called.It is rightly called the marriage act for it is proper and right for the married alone. In accord with God’s plan, man and woman become "one flesh" through the Sacrament of Marriage.

Their communion is expressed not only in their exclusive and lifelong love of each other but also in the marriage act by which their bodies become one and they are disposed to create, with God, that is, to procreate, new human life.The inherently procreative nature of the conjugal act, in fact, reveals the perfection of married love which is a share in God’s own love by which each of us has been called into being and nurtured throughout our lifetime.

Sometimes it has been said that spouses can share love with each other through the conjugal act, while, at the same time, deliberately excluding, by the use of hormonal treatments or devices, the possibility of procreation.But marital love is, by its nature, fertile or life-giving.At the heart of the love of husband and wife is the power to share with God in the generation and education of new life created in the divine image and likeness.Husband and wife do not give themselves totally to one another when they deliberately manipulate the marital act to avoid the possibility of procreation.

Natural Family Planning

The inherently procreative meaning of the conjugal act does not mean that a couple should not plan for the conception, birth and education of their children.The Church urges couples to plan for their children, in accord with the law of God, written in their human nature, that is, in accord with the times in which the wife is fertile.By observing the signs of fertility in the wife, a couple are enabled to plan better for the births of their children.There are various effective methods of such observation.They are all methods of Natural Family Planning.

It should be noted that Natural Family Planning is also used most effectively by couples who are having difficulty in conceiving a child.It helps them to have sexual intercourse at the times when the woman is most likely to conceive. It will not surprise you that one of the important programs of the Archdiocesan Office of Natural Family Planning is its support group for couples who are suffering with infertility.

Some have said that there is no real difference between Natural Family Planning and artificial contraception because both are directed to the regulation of births.In fact, there is an essential and great difference.Both may be directed to the regulation of births, but Natural Family Planning employs a method which fully respects God’s plan for us, while artificial contraception proudly violates God’s plan in favor of a kind of false human control of the marriage act.

The couples who follow a method of Natural Family Planning remain always open to new human life, for they have not manipulated the marriage act, while couples who use artificial contraception have closed themselves to procreation. As a result, among couples with a contraceptive mentality, there is frequently the openness to employ sterilization and even procured abortion, when artificial contraception does not work for them.

Here it should be noted that some methods of artificial contraception are, in fact, abortifacient, that is, they cause an abortion.The methods of artificial contraception that are directed to the prevention of the implantation of the fertilized egg in the womb of the mother, in fact, cause the abortion of a human life in its very first stages of development.

From my own experience with couples, I have noted how the use of methods of Natural Family Planning enhances the communication between husband and wife, and fosters their mutual respect and devotion to family life.At the same time, I have noted how the use of artificial contraception often leads to a failure in communication, a certain coldness toward the partner or even loss of trust, and to the tensions and stress which come from our unwarranted attempts to control and reorder nature itself.


We are blessed in the Archdiocese of St. Louis to have the Office of Natural Family Planning under the direction of K. Diane Daly, RN, CFCE. Through a variety of means, the Office of Natural Family Planning assists married couples to live fully their vocation, always respecting and treasuring the procreative aspect of their love, which belongs exclusively to the love of those who are married.

I invite you to be in communication with the Office of Natural Family Planning.It is at 11700 Studt Ave., Suite C, and is part of St. John’s Mercy Medical Center. The telephone number is: (314) 997-7576.The fax number is: (314) 692-8097. The website address is; the e-mail address is dalydk@ and her staff will be happy to hear from you and to respond to any questions which you may have.

Also, I invite you to obtain from the Office of Natural Family Planning a copy of the statement of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops titled "Married Love and the Gift of Life." Key excerpts of the statement are available as an insert for parish bulletins. It is an excellent summary of the wisdom of the Church’s teaching on Natural Family Planning.

In thanking Daly and her staff, I also thank all of the teaching couples who generously and selflessly hand on to others the great gift which Natural Family Planning has been in their lives.I thank, too, the medical facilities which assist the archdiocese in caring for those called to the married life.Each year, I celebrate the Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis to honor the Church’s teaching on the regulation of births, especially as it was so prophetically expressed in the encyclical "Humanae Vitae." This year, I celebrated the Mass on June 16.The couples who take part in the Mass always express their deepest gratitude for the Church’s teaching on the procreative meaning of married love.

During National Natural Family Planning Awareness Week, please pray for married couples, that they may always respect both the love-giving and life-giving meaning of the marriage act.Please pray, in a particular way, through the intercession of St. Gianna Beretta Molla, for couples who are experiencing difficulty in conceiving and bringing a child to birth.

‘Be not afraid!’


Pope Benedict XVI concludes Part Two, titled "The Eucharist, A Mystery To Be Celebrated," of the post-synodal apostolic exhortation "Sacramentum Caritatis" by taking up two topics: 1) the deeply interior dispositions required for a fruitful participation in the Holy Eucharist; and 2) eucharistic adoration and devotions. Both topics address what is required for a personal eucharistic piety, which is deep and constant.Both topics have suffered from some neglect during the first decades of the liturgical reforms that followed upon the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council.

Eucharistic participation and interior dispositions

Clearly, the whole meaning of participation in the Eucharistic Sacrifice is union with Christ in the outpouring of His life for love of God and of our brothers and sisters."The Church’s great liturgical tradition teaches us that fruitful participation in the liturgy requires that one be personally conformed to the mystery being celebrated, offering one’s life to God in unity with the sacrifice of Christ for the salvation of the whole world" (n. 64).Otherwise, participation in the Holy Mass becomes a mere matter of words and gestures which are not related to the everyday living of the faithful.

To cultivate union with Christ in the Holy Eucharist, one must be carefully instructed in eucharistic faith and that instruction must be kept fresh. How is such instruction imparted and consistently deepened?Following upon the recommendations formulated at the Synod of Bishops, Pope Benedict XVI indicates "a mystagogical approach to catechesis" as the most fitting method of formation in eucharistic faith.Mystagogy refers to the instruction given to the newly baptized, that they may deepen their understanding of the faith in which they have been baptized.Without mystagogy, there is a great danger that the newly baptized will cease to grow in the faith and its practice, and may even drift from the faith so recently received.The mystagogical approach helps the faithful to continue, throughout a lifetime, deepening their understanding of the reality and action of the Holy Mass (n. 64).

Our Holy Father reminds us again of "the close relationship between the ars celebrandi (the art of celebrating) and an actuosa participatio (active participation)."It follows then that the manner of the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice is key to the deepening of interior participation.Pope Benedict XVI observes: "By its nature, the liturgy can be pedagogically effective in helping the faithful to enter more deeply into the mystery being celebrated."In accord with the long tradition of the Church, the preparation for Baptism or reception into the full communion of the Church involves a gradual introduction into the rites of the Sacred Liturgy. The instruction in the doctrine of the faith is necessarily accompanied by the experience of the doctrine alive in the Sacred Liturgy and in the witness of those who have come to life in Christ through the sacraments (n. 64).

Three elements of the mystagogical approach

In the ongoing instruction in eucharistic faith, there are three elements which must be respected.The first is the interpretation of the rites of the Sacred Liturgy in terms of the story of our salvation.Christ is the fullness of all revelation.In Him, everything revealed in the Old Testament finds its fulfillment.In the Holy Eucharist, His consummation of God’s plan for our salvation on Calvary is always present for us.The great reality of Christ’s Real Presence with us in the Holy Eucharist is more deeply understood in the light of all of the Holy Scriptures."From the beginning, the Christian community has interpreted the events of Jesus’ life, and the Paschal Mystery in particular, in relation to the entire history of the Old Testament" (n. 64a).

Secondly, the mystagogical approach is always attentive to teaching the meaning of the various signs employed in the Sacred Liturgy.Pope Benedict XVI points out the particular importance of teaching the meaning of liturgical signs in a highly technological culture which is weakened in its ability to interpret these signs."More than simply conveying information, a mystagogical catechesis should be capable of making the faithful more sensitive to the language of signs and gestures which, together with the word, make up the rite" (n. 64b).

Thirdly, a mystagogical catechesis always draws out the meaning of the liturgical rites for our daily Christian living in all of its aspects.Pope Benedict XVI draws particular attention to the missionary meaning of our participation in the Holy Eucharist. "Part of the mystagogical process is to demonstrate how the mysteries celebrated in the rite are linked to the missionary responsibility of all the faithful."Through the mystagogical approach, the participant in the Holy Eucharist becomes ever more aware of how the Rite of the Mass must transform us more and more into effective witnesses of Christ in the world (n. 64c).

Finally, our Holy Father reminds us that such high quality of catechesis requires teachers and mentors who are fittingly prepared.The bishops at the synod also "called for greater involvement by communities of consecrated life, movements and groups which, by their special charisms, can give new impetus to Christian formation." Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that the Holy Spirit is most generous in bestowing His sevenfold gift for "the apostolic mission of the Church, which is charged with spreading the faith and bringing it to maturity" (n. 64).

Reverence for the Holy Eucharist

If eucharistic faith is cultivated and deepened, the sign will be a greater reverence before the whole action of the Mass.Such reverence will be manifest in the outward signs which those who are accompanying the new Christians or new members of the Church teach them.The Holy Father comments: "I am thinking in general of the importance of gestures and posture, such as kneeling during the central moments of the Eucharistic Prayer."Every gesture and posture, every outward sign, should point to the reality that God Himself comes to us on earth "in the lowliness of the sacramental signs" (n. 65).

Celebration and adoration

Pope Benedict XVI describes, as one of the most moving moments of the Synod of Bishops, the gathering of the bishops, together with a large number of faithful, for eucharistic adoration in St. Peter’s Basilica.The fact that eucharistic adoration is essentially related to participation in the Eucharistic Sacrifice explains its great attraction for us (n. 66).

Our Holy Father comments on a certain loss of understanding and appreciation of eucharistic adoration in the years following the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council.He recalls an argument used to discourage eucharistic adoration, namely, the argument that the Sacred Host was given to us "not to be looked at, but to be eaten." He also notes how the Church’s long tradition points up the fallacy of such an argument.St. Augustine, for instance, teaches us that we would sin by not adoring the Most Blessed Sacrament, the Body and Blood of Christ (n. 66).

Eucharistic adoration "is simply the natural consequence of the eucharistic celebration, which is itself the Church’s supreme act of adoration."Eucharistic adoration is truly an extension of the highest adoration which we give during the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice."The act of adoration outside Mass prolongs and intensifies all that takes place during the liturgical celebration" (n. 66).The failure to participate in eucharistic adoration is a sign of the loss of eucharistic faith.It should not surprise us that the fruit of the abandonment of eucharistic adoration in many parts of the Church, in the years immediately following the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, has resulted in a loss of eucharistic faith.Today, we are told that a significant number of those who call themselves Catholic do not believe that the bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Christ during the Eucharistic Sacrifice and remain the Body of Christ reposed in the tabernacle.

Eucharistic adoration

Pope Benedict XVI, therefore, urges "the practice of eucharistic adoration, both individually and in community."He reminds us that, if eucharistic adoration is to be fruitfully practiced, then its profound significance, especially in the relationship to the Eucharistic Sacrifice, must be taught."Great benefit would ensue from a suitable catechesis explaining the importance of this act of worship, which enables the faithful to experience the liturgical celebration more fully and more fruitfully."

The Holy Father then gives two concrete recommendations for the fostering of the development of eucharistic adoration.First, he specifically recommends the establishment of perpetual or continuous adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament in "specific churches or oratories," especially in "densely populated areas."Secondly, he recommends that children who are preparing to receive First Holy Communion "be taught the meaning and the beauty of spending time with Jesus, and helped to cultivate a sense of awe before His presence in the Eucharist" (n. 67).With the many eucharistic chapels established throughout the archdiocese, every child preparing for First Holy Communion can be effectively introduced to eucharistic adoration in practice.Certainly, children and young people should be invited to join the whole community in keeping the hours of eucharistic adoration.

In the context of promoting continuous or perpetual eucharistic adoration, Pope Benedict XVI expresses his deepest gratitude to "all those institutes of consecrated life whose members dedicate a significant amount of time to eucharistic adoration" and to "associations of the faithful and confraternities specifically devoted to eucharistic adoration."The Holy Father observes that "they serve as a leaven of contemplation for the whole Church and a summons to individuals and communities to place Christ at the center of their lives" (n. 67).We are greatly blessed in the Archdiocese of St. Louis with religious communities that practice continuous adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament.

Forms of eucharistic adoration

Our relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ always leads us back to His Real Presence in the Most Blessed Sacrament and, in Him, to all our brothers and sisters for whom He gave His life.Rightly then, the Church urges the corporate adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament. "For this reason, besides encouraging individual believers to make time for personal prayer before the Sacrament of the Altar, I feel obliged to urge parishes and other Church groups to set aside times for collective adoration" (n. 68).

The Holy Father also mentions other forms of eucharistic adoration. Processions with the Blessed Sacrament are an important way to deepen and promote eucharistic faith.Pope Benedict XVI notes that "already existing forms of eucharistic piety retain their full value." He mentions, in particular, the annual procession on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, parish Forty Hours devotions, and "local, national and international eucharistic congresses, and other similar initiatives" (n. 68). From June 15-22, 2008, the 49th International Eucharistic Congress will be held in Qubec City, Canada.The opportunity will be offered for faithful of the archdiocese to participate in the International Eucharistic Congress which has as its theme: "The Eucharist: God’s Gift for the Life of the World."

Placement of the Tabernacle

Pope Benedict XVI concludes Part Two by discussing "the proper placement of the tabernacle in our churches." He observes that the "correct positioning of the tabernacle contributes to the recognition of Christ’s Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament."He notes that "the place where the eucharistic species are reserved, marked by a sanctuary lamp, should be readily visible to everyone entering the church" (n. 69).

The architecture of the church, therefore, will help us to determine the proper location of the tabernacle, so that it will be central and immediately visible to all who enter the church.With regard to already existing churches, Pope Benedict XVI notes that, "where the high altar with its tabernacle is still in place, it is appropriate to continue to use this structure for the reservation and adoration of the Eucharist, taking care not to place the celebrant’s chair in front of it."With regard to new churches, the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, if there is one, should be "close to the sanctuary." If there is no Blessed Sacrament Chapel, "it is preferable to locate the tabernacle in the sanctuary, in a sufficiently elevated place, at the center of the apse area, or in another place where it will be equally conspicuous."

Finally, Pope Benedict XVI reminds us of the care which is to be given to the artistic beauty of the tabernacle. He also reminds us that "final judgment on these matters belongs to the diocesan bishop" (n. 69).

‘Be not afraid!’


Continuing his treatment of the celebration of the Eucharistic Mystery in "Sacramentum Caritatis," Pope Benedict XVI takes up the discussion of the qualities of the participation of the faithful in the Eucharistic Sacrifice.He reminds us of the call of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council for "active, full and fruitful participation."He notes that "considerable progress" has been made in responding to the Council’s desire regarding the liturgical participation of the faithful (n. 52).

The Holy Father also notes a certain failure to understand accurately what the Council intended by participation.The misunderstanding centers around the meaning of the Latin word "actuosa," an adjective used to describe the desired participation of the faithful.The Latin word is usually translated by the English word "active," but it does not mean "mere external activity during the celebration."It means, rather, a deeply interiorized participation, that is, participation in the sacred action of the Mass with awareness of its profound significance for our daily living.In other words, when we participate in the Holy Mass, we are not onlookers.We are engaged in the action of Christ and are conscious of what our engagement means in terms of a life poured out in love of God and neighbor (n. 52).

The Holy Father lists some of the aspects of the participation of the faithful in Holy Mass, as they are set forth by the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council.The aspects include instruction through the proclamation and exposition of the Word of God, reception of the Body of Christ, the act of thanksgiving to God, and union with the priest in offering ourselves, with Christ, to God the Father, "not only through the hands of the priest but also together with him" (n. 52).

Participation and the service of the priest, deacon and liturgical ministers

Active participation in the Eucharistic Sacrifice is fostered by a good understanding of the distinct functions of the faithful in the Sacred Liturgy.In particular, the distinct service of the priest must be understood.The priest "alone, and no other, as the tradition of the Church attests, presides over the entire Eucharistic celebration, from the initial greeting to the final blessing" (n. 53).Configured to the person of Christ, Head and Shepherd of the flock, the priest most fully expresses his identity when he gives his whole being to Christ for the offering of the Mass.The ordained priest acts in the person of Christ in offering the Eucharistic Sacrifice, or, in other words, Christ acts.

The Holy Father reminds us that every celebration of the Holy Mass is offered by the bishop, chief shepherd of the flock, either by the bishop himself or by a priest, a co-worker of the bishop.The unity of the Church throughout the world is experienced at every offering of the Mass through the one ministry of the Apostles and their successors, the bishops, in communion with the Apostle Peter, head of the Apostles, and his successor, the Roman pontiff (n. 53).

The deacon also carries out a distinctive service during the Eucharistic Liturgy, which should not be confused with the other liturgical ministries.The deacon "prepares the altar, assists the priest, proclaims the Gospel, preaches the homily from time to time, reads the intentions of the Prayer of the Faithful, and distributes the Eucharist to the faithful" (n. 53).

The Holy Father also makes reference to the liturgical ministries "which can be carried out in a praiseworthy manner by religious and properly trained laity." In a footnote, Pope Benedict XVI quotes one of the conclusions of the Synod of Bishops, which recalls to our minds that such ministries "must be introduced in accordance with the real needs of the celebrating community"; that those appointed to the ministries must be "chosen with care, well prepared, and provided with ongoing formation"; that their appointment is for a defined time; and, finally, that they "must be known to the community and be gratefully acknowledged by the community" (footnote 162).Some examples of liturgical ministers are lectors (readers), cantors and extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion.


Pope Benedict XVI next takes up the discussion of "adaptations appropriate to different contexts and cultures," which promote participation in the Sacred Liturgy.The legitimate introduction of such adaptations is called inculturation.While the Holy Father acknowledges that "certain abuses have occurred" in carrying out inculturation, he stresses that the "clear principle" of inculturation "must be upheld in accordance with the real needs of the Church as she lives and celebrates the mystery of Christ in a variety of cultural situations."God became man, the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity took our human flesh, in order to fulfill His desire "to encounter us in our own concrete situation" (n. 54).Inculturation must always be understood and carried out in the light of the mystery of the Incarnation.

Pope Benedict XVI notes that the "possibilities" of inculturation are defined in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, in the directives of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, and in Pope John Paul II’s post-synodal apostolic exhortations for Africa, America, Asia, Europe and Oceania. It is the Conference of Bishops which has the responsibility for inculturation, always with the review of the Apostolic See, so that the unity of the Church is not wounded in its highest and most perfect manifestation, the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy.

Personal conditions for eucharistic participation

What is required for my own "fruitful participation" in the Sacred Liturgy?First of all, there must be conversion of life to Christ."Active participation in the Eucharistic Liturgy can hardly be expected if one approaches it superficially, without an examination of his or her life."The Holy Father mentions three specific means by which the conversion of life necessary for participation in the Holy Mass is cultivated: "Recollection and silence for at least a few moments before the beginning of the liturgy," the eucharistic fast and sacramental Confession.Active participation in the Eucharistic Sacrifice necessarily means active participation "in the life of the Church as a whole, including a missionary commitment to bring Christ’s love into the life of society" (n. 55).

We participate most fully in the Holy Mass when we personally receive our Lord in Holy Communion.Presence at the Holy Mass, however, does not confer "a right or even an obligation to approach the table of the Eucharist."If a person cannot receive Holy Communion, for whatever reason, he is still required to participate in the Holy Mass.His participation "remains necessary, important, meaningful and fruitful." Pope Benedict XVI urges the faithful, who find themselves in a situation in which they cannot receive Holy Communion,"to cultivate a desire for full union with Christ through the practice of spiritual communion, praised by Pope John Paul II and recommended by saints who were masters of the spiritual life" (n. 55).

Participation by nonCatholic Christians

May "Christians belonging to churches and ecclesial communities not in full communion with the Catholic Church" participate in the Holy Mass?First of all, Pope Benedict XVI observes that the "intrinsic link between the Eucharist and the Church’s unity inspires us to long for the day when we will be able to celebrate the Holy Eucharist together with all believers in Christ."But we must remember that the Holy Eucharist signifies full communion with the Church.The Holy Eucharist cannot, therefore, become our means of trying to achieve a unity which does not exist. "We hold that Eucharistic Communion and ecclesial communion are so linked as to make it generally impossible for nonCatholic Christians to receive the former without enjoying the latter" (n. 56).

In the same way, concelebration with ministers who are not in full communion with the Church contradicts the meaning of the Eucharistic Sacrifice.Once again, such concelebration signifies full communion with the Church, which is not verified in the case of the ministers in question.

In individual cases, however, for the sake of the salvation of souls, nonCatholic Christians may receive Holy Communion, the absolution of their sins in the Sacrament of Penance, and the Anointing of the Sick, but specific conditions must be present.Those conditions are clearly stated in the Code of Canon Law and the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Participation through the communications media

With regard to the televised celebration of the Holy Mass, Pope Benedict XVI underlines the grave responsibility to make the celebration an example of the correct and reverent offering of the Holy Mass.The Holy Father mentions also the importance of paying careful attention to the fittingness of the place in which the televised Mass is celebrated (n. 57).

Participation in the Holy Mass by way of television does not fulfill the Sunday and Holy Day obligation to participate in the Eucharistic Sacrifice. The televised Mass represents the celebration of the Mass but does not make it present.It is clear, too, that watching the Sunday Mass does not "dispense (us) from going to church and sharing in the Eucharistic assembly in the living Church" (n. 57).

Participation by the sick

Our Holy Father addresses with special concern a concern that he notes was often expressed during the sessions of the Synod of Bishops, the pastoral care of the sick, whether they are at home or in the hospital.He states directly: "These brothers and sisters of ours should have the opportunity to receive sacramental Communion frequently." He reminds us that sacramental Communion will unite them more fully to Christ in their suffering and help them to carry out their mission in the Church "by the offering of their sufferings in union with our Lord’s sacrifice" (n. 58).

Regarding persons with special needs, the parish should provide for their participation in the Holy Mass, if their situation makes it possible.The church building should be provided with those structures which make it accessible to persons with special needs (n. 58).

Regarding the mentally impaired, Eucharistic Communion should be given to them, "if they are baptized and confirmed." The Holy Father reminds us that the mentally handicapped "receive the Eucharist in the faith also of the family or the community that accompanies them" (n. 58).

Prisoners and the reception of Holy Communion

Pope Benedict XVI recalls the Gospel injunction to visit prisoners, found in our Lord’s Parable of the Last Judgment and its fitting inclusion in the corporal works of mercy.He observes that those in prison "have a particular need to be visited personally by the Lord in the Sacrament of the Eucharist" (n. 59).

In the isolation of imprisonment, the closeness of our Lord and of the Church through the reception of Holy Communion assists the prisoner greatly in keeping a Christian mind and heart, and in working toward "full social rehabilitation."The Holy Father declares: "Taking up the recommendation of the Synod, I ask dioceses to do whatever is possible to ensure that sufficient pastoral resources are invested in the spiritual care of prisoners" (n. 59).

Migrants and eucharistic participation

A particular pastoral care must be exercised on behalf of migrants.Pope Benedict XVI expresses a special concern for migrants who belong to the Eastern Catholic Churches, for "in addition to being far from home, they also encounter the difficulty of not being able to participate in the Eucharistic Liturgy in their own rite" (n. 60). He asks that they be served by priests of their proper rites.

In this regard, the Holy Father reminds us of the great spiritual enrichment which comes to us through our communication with persons of the other rites in the Church. He notes the particular enrichment which comes to priests and deacons from knowing different liturgical rites.In a footnote, the Holy Father recommends that seminarians "be introduced to these traditions" (footnote 180).

Large-scale concelebration and the use of Latin

The Holy Father addresses briefly the situation of a very large celebration of the Holy Mass with both a numerous congregation and a large number of concelebrating priests.He underlines the importance of such celebrations "when the bishop himself celebrates, surrounded by his presbyterate and by the deacons" (n. 61).It is clear that such celebrations requires very careful planning, so that the distinct manner of participation of priests and of the other members of the faithful is reflected.

Within the discussion of large-scale celebrations of the Sacred Liturgy, Pope Benedict XVI addresses the question of the use of the Latin language at large-scale international gatherings.The Holy Father, making his own a proposal made by the Synod of Bishops, declares that, "with the exception of the readings, the homily and the prayer of the faithful, such liturgies could be celebrated in Latin."The practice of celebrating the Mass in Latin would "express more clearly the unity and the universality of the Church."In addition, he mandates that "the better-known prayers of the Church’s tradition should be recited in Latin and, if possible, selections of Gregorian Chant should be sung" (n. 62).

In order to further the appropriate use of Latin in the Sacred Liturgy, the Holy Father asks that seminarians be educated "to understand and to celebrate the Mass in Latin, and also to use Latin texts and execute Gregorian Chant" (n. 62).It should also be observed that, if the faithful are to be able to participate more fully in large international liturgical celebrations, in which the Latin language and Gregorian Chant are appropriately employed, they will need to be introduced to both the prayers in Latin and the Gregorian Chant in their parish churches.

Small-group celebrations

Pope Benedict XVI acknowledges the benefit of a small-group celebration of the Holy Mass, especially for formation in an active and fruitful participation in the Eucharistic Sacrifice.He cautions, however, that such a celebration be coherent "with the overall pastoral activity of the diocese." Clearly, they cannot be seen, in any way, to be "in competition with, or parallel to, the life of the particular Church" (n. 63).

The Holy Father sets forth "necessary criteria" for small-group celebrations.First, they must serve the unity of the local community and not contribute to its fragmentation.Second, the benefits reaped "ought to be clearly evident."And, lastly, the fruitful participation of the whole assembly should be fostered, and "the unity of the liturgical life of individual families" should be safeguarded (n. 63).

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