Observations on Redemptionis Sacramentum

Thursday, September 28 2006

With the publication of the Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum, On Certain Matters to be Observed or to be Avoided regarding the Most Holy Eucharist, pastors may be looking for assistance in responding to various questions.

The following are notes to help in the reflections of pastors and faithful. These have been prepared by the French Sector National Liturgy Office of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, in consultation with the English Sector National Liturgy Office.


When applying the Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum, it will be pertinent to recall the following:

  1. The Instruction is to be read in continuity with the 17 April 2003 Encyclical Letter of Pope John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia.
  2. The Instruction is accompanied by a presentation from the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, His Eminence Francis Cardinal Arinze.
  3. The implementation of the Instruction is entrusted to the bishop of the diocese who is the moderator, promoter, and custodian of the whole liturgical life of his diocese (cf. can. 835).
  4. As recalled by the Second Vatican Council in its Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, no. 26, “Liturgical services are not private functions, but are celebrations of the Church, which is the ‘sacrament of unity’, namely, a holy people united and organized under their bishops. Therefore, liturgical services pertain to the whole body of the Church….”


These notes have been prepared by the French Sector National Liturgy Office of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, in consultation with the English Sector National Liturgy Office, on the Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum, approved on 25 March 2004 and issued 23 April 2004 by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.

1. Nature of the document

This is an instruction from a Roman Congregation, approved in ordinary form by the Supreme Pontiff. It resembles an act of administrative rather than legislative law. The subtitle clearly indicates its disciplinary nature: “On certain matters to be observed or to be avoided regarding the Most Holy Eucharist”.

The Instruction does not seek to provide a catechesis or a theology of the Eucharist. The vocabulary used is distinctly disciplinary; for example, the term “norm(s)” appears 67 times whereas the term “formation” appears only three times. The first chapter, “The Regulation of the Sacred Liturgy”, presents a summary of the major principles of liturgical law. The eighth and final chapter, “Remedies”, deals with applicable procedures and sanctions in cases of liturgical abuses. The reader is directed to other documents (Sacrosanctum Concilium, Dies Domini and Ecclesia de Eucharistia) for a reflection on theological or catechetical aspects.

2. Objective

The objective is clearly indicated in paragraph 2: the Instruction treats “of certain matters pertaining to the discipline of the Sacrament of the Eucharist” but is not “a compendium of norms” regarding the sacrament. At the same time, it also establishes further norms “by which those earlier ones are explained and complemented”. In this regard, the Instruction is intended to serve as a reminder of pre-existing norms and to clarify their implications.

It is evident that the Congregation seeks to counter and to correct a certain number of abuses, as well as to encourage full respect for liturgical norms. “All should conform to the ordinances set forth by legitimate ecclesiastical authority” (n. 7). Different types of abuses are dealt with more explicitly near the end of the document. The first of these to be presented are the most serious offences that violate the sanctity of the sacrament of the Eucharist and are to be referred to the Congregation, which is the only authority competent to deal with the graviora delicta (n. 172). As for other types of abuses, there are certain serious matters that risk the validity and dignity of the sacrament (n. 173). Other abuses are characterized by the violation of norms found in liturgical books; these abuses are also to be avoided and corrected (n. 174-175). Numerous abusive practices are listed in each chapter, and the questions dealt with are evident by surveying the table of contents.

3. Intended audience

In principle, the Instruction is aimed at the entire Latin Church and, within it, all categories of the faithful. Redemptionis Sacramentum makes specific mention of the important roles of the diocesan Bishop, “the first steward of the mysteries of God in the particular Church entrusted to him” (n. 19); of priests, the “capable, prudent and indispensable co-workers of the order of Bishops, called to the service of the People of God” (n. 29); and of lay ministers, who “for the good of the community and of the whole Church of God … have rightly and laudably exercised ministries in the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy” (n. 43).

The Instruction also makes particular note of the following:

Bishops: are reminded that by virtue of their mission as moderators, promoters and guardians of the whole liturgical life of their diocese (n. 19), they must investigate an abuse of the sacrament of the Eucharist whenever they receive plausible notice (n. 178);

Priests: as “capable, prudent and indispensable co-workers of the order of Bishops” (n. 30), are to cultivate “their liturgical knowledge and ability” (n. 33);

Deacons: are also to do their part to celebrate the liturgy according to the norms of the duly approved liturgical books (n. 35);

Lay faithful: are reminded of their right “to a liturgical celebration that is an expression of the Church’s life in accordance with her tradition and discipline” (n. 11);

All the faithful: have a right to bring a complaint regarding liturgical abuse to the attention of the local Bishop or Apostolic See (n. 184), but at the same time the document suggests starting with the diocesan Bishop.

4. Helpful principles

The Instruction deals with diverse questions of varying importance. Occasionally, the text recalls legislative or liturgical principles that will be useful in evaluating particular situations. Some of these principles are the following:

5. Abuses indicated

All the abuses indicated in the Instruction are not equally serious, and so it is also important to evaluate their gravity. In addition to those most serious cases which involve sacrilege, the simulation of the Mass, or concelebration with ministers of Ecclesial Communities that do not have Apostolic Succession, other abuses include: