Mass Confusion

By Jose Ma J Fernandez

Writing about the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and other aspects of the Sacrament of the Eucharist is problematic at best, and particularly difficult for a simple layman like this author. Fortunately, I have a slight advantage in a good search engine and a few thousand books on the Faith in our library – one of which I dusted off to be able to come up with a fairly decent piece on a few aspects on the violation of liturgical norms. I hesitate to use the words “liturgical abuse” because this has always proven to be controversial both in the past and the present time.

There are two texts that may be highly recommended for anyone who wishes to find out what may or may not be done in the celebration of the Eucharist. The first is an Encyclical titled Redemptionis Sacramentum, a very comprehensive but simply written encyclical that was done under the aegis of Cardinal Arinze, known for his adherence to faithful observance of Catholic norms of piety. The second is a more lightly written tome called Mass Confusion (the title of which I have borrowed for this article), written by popular Catholic author and blogger, James Akin.

Graviora Delicta

One set of abuses mentioned in the encyclical are those referred to as Graviora Delicta, and are reserved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Among the more important ones that are considered grave indeed, are the following:

· Taking the consecrated species for sacrilegious ends or throwing them away

· The attempted celebration of the liturgical action of the Eucharistic Sacrifice or the simulation of the same

· The forbidden concelebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice with ministers of Ecclesial Communities that do not have the apostolic succession nor acknowledge the sacramental dignity of priestly Ordination

· The consecration for sacrilegious ends of one matter without the other in the celebration of the Eucharist or even of both outside the celebration of the Eucharist.

The taking away (stealing) of consecrated hosts is so grave that it results in automatic excommunication. No priest or bishop may restore the offender to the Faith as this is reserved exclusively to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, upon instruction by the Holy Father.

First of all, faithful Catholics know and believe that the consecrated Host is already the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ, hiding under the physical accident of unleavened bread. It is no wonder that some cults or groups that hold the Church in disdain always require the use of a consecrated host that is desecrated in their various rites and ceremonies. Satanic cults are especially fond of using these precious consecrated hosts in order to assert the (imagined) mastery of their leader, the Demon, over Christ. We have also heard of how trainers and owners of fighting cocks feed the hosts to their birds under the mistaken notion that these will give the fighting birds some preternatural strength.

Thus, the encyclical cites special care that should be taken by the Extraordinary Ministers (and even the Ordinary Ministers) in the giving of Communion to the Faithful, seeing to it that the hosts are consumed immediately upon reception.

A friend of mine who knows that one can probably catch a mass during the wake of friends (or even strangers) even on Sundays tells of some fake priests who make the rounds offering their services. Usually, distraught families without access to priest-friends or parish priests fall for these charlatans, who come dressed in complete robes and appear to know how to celebrate mass – until unmasked by those who know their doctrine. People like this are also subject to excommunication for performing a function that is reserved only to the clergy, and must be done in accordance to norms set aside by the Church.

Before Pope John Paul II cracked down on Eucharistic concelebrated masses that had clergy of churches or rites not in communion with the Catholic Church, we would see this happening quite often. It is probably all right to just have a joint prayer service, where a group of clerics from different faiths give the opening prayers for an important national event, for example. But these clerics cannot participate actively in the celebration of the Holy Mass, not even under the guise of ecumenism.

Grave Matters

There are several points taken up under the topic of Grave Matters. A couple of these have to do with the use of the proper materials to be consecrated: Unleavened Bread with no additives or other foreign substances; and Wine from Grapes – not sparkling wine or those mixed with other substances, or even grape juice.

Priests are encouraged to make use of Lectionaries and Missals that are properly vetted. They must use only the Eucharistic Prayers found in these missals and must not “wing it” or create ad hoc that may be great in style but totally suspect in substance or provenance. Priests are also required to mention the names of the Holy Father and the ordinary (bishop) of the diocese where the mass is being celebrated. He is not allowed to omit mentioning their names for the simple expedient of saving time or other such pretext.

Although the mass started as part of a meal during the first years of the Church, it gradually was made to stand on its own precisely because of the danger of the ceremony degenerating into a bacchanalian feast, which it often did. Thus, today’s mass must never be inserted as part of a meal or a celebration where food is present or the people are seated at tables. Unfortunately, this particular point is often abused. We suggest that, in the same venue, a separate set of chairs be placed at a side section facing an altar, with all celebrants attending the mass first prior to the banquet itself.

Some priests, after giving the hosts to be distributed to the extraordinary ministers, decide to sit down and pray or simply watch the process. This is inherently wrong because the extraordinary ministers are only there to help the priest and not take over his function. It is also forbidden for the priest to set the hosts on a table or the altar and have the faithful get the hosts themselves to take into their mouths. This is a grave abuse called self-intinction and detracts from the spirit of the Eucharist being a gift from the Church to the faithful – to be given to them through the priest.

The option to give communion under one species is usually exercised in favor of the communion hosts only, given that using the consecrated wine is more difficult to handle and that careless use will result in spillage and possible desecration. In fact, the practice of consecrating wine in a large chalice and then pouring the contents into smaller bowls later on for the giving of communion under two species is discouraged. It is both disrespectful and can result in spillage.

At one time, I observed that our own church had obtained a glass chalice to be used for the consecration of the wine. There was also a wooden cup set aside for that purpose. The norms prescribe that the chalice be made of a precious metal like gold or silver, and not some mere alloy that can rust or a material that can break or absorb the wine through its pores (like in the case of wood).

After communion, only the priest or a deacon may clean the consecrated vessels at the altar. If there are too many of the bowls used by the extraordinary ministers, these are brought to the credence table to be cleaned by the priest, a deacon, or an acolyte assigned to this task. It is not usually the job of the extraordinary minister to do this or to guzzle the unfinished consecrated wine. This, again, is the sort of abuse that often slips by but is not good for all concerned.

Other Matters

One can write volumes on this topic, but allow us to cite just a few areas that are often of concern to the faithful. Among these are:

· Only the bishop, priest, or deacon can give the homily or read the Gospel. This is not a task set aside for a layman. A homily must be given on Sundays and holy days of obligation.

· The Creed must be recited on Sundays. And in masses for adults, the Nicene Creed would be the preferred version.

· There are parts of the mass that are supposed to be recited by the priest alone. One of the portions of the mass that is often recited by those present is that called the Per Ipsum: “…Through Him, with Him, in Him…” This is strictly to be said by the priest alone!

· There are many friendly priests around, but they are not supposed to leave the sanctuary and go shaking hands with everyone during the giving of the sign of Peace.

· During big celebrations like weddings or birthdays, the celebrant should probably inform all present that communion is reserved only for Catholics – given that many other people from other faiths will be present.

These points are just a few among many to be found in both the encyclical and the book Mass Confusion. We encourage that the faithful find copies of these, or at the very least, get a copy of the encyclical through the internet or a good outlet for Catholic books and pamphlets. In addition, there are many other good resource materials out there. One only need look.

Fraternal Charity

As a postscript to the points mentioned, it may be proper at this point to request that the faithful refrain from taking on the position of fault-finder, to watch with intent for mistakes or mishaps on the part of the celebrants. One is supposed to participate in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and not to be a one-person fault-finder.

However, if and when a special case of abuse of certain liturgical norms is encountered, we suggest that one first pray for the priest concerned, begging the Lord to somehow help the priest concerned to do the right thing. Failing this, it may be time for a gentle fraternal correction. Unfortunately, many parishioners and faithful engage in negative actions if a priest is not to their liking, or if they feel he is “not quite right” for the position. Priests are human too but more importantly, they are ministers who act in persona Christi when they perform their pastoral and missionary work. Furthermore, it is good to realize that even the Holy Angels stand in awe of the priesthood, and they gaze in rapt adoration as each priest summons the Word to come down from heaven during the Consecration to be present in His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity on the altar.

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