In 1997 the Holy See issued an important document, unusual in its form and provenance in that it was signed by eight dicasteries, or departments of the Roman Curia.
- Congregation for the Clergy
- Pontifical Council for the Laity
- Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
- Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments
- Congregation for Bishops
- Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples
- Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life
- Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts
Don’t for a moment think that, just because the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith wasn’t at the top of the list, it isn’t the most important.
Ecclesia de mysterio approved by the Sovereign Pontiff who ordered that it be issued in forma specifica, which gives it even greater weight. It contains legal provisions in order to correct abuses.
In the light of the aforementioned principles, remedies, based on the normative discipline of the Church, and deemed opportune to correct abuses which have been brought to the attention of our Dicasteries, are hereby set forth.
You will have to look for this document on the website of the Holy See under the Pontifical Council for the Laity. You won’t find it easily by looking on the website under the other dicasteries or by using their so-called “search” feature.
As this document itself states:
The scope of this present document is simply to provide a clear, authoritative response to the many pressing requests which have come to our Dicasteries from Bishops, Priests and Laity seeking clarification in the light of specific cases of new forms of “pastoral activity” of the non-ordained on both parochial and diocesan levels.
Though being born in very difficult and emergency situations and even initiated by those who sought to be genuinely helpful in the pastoral moment, certain practices have often been developed which have had very serious negative consequences and have caused the correct understanding of true ecclesial communion to be damaged. These practices tend to predominate in certain areas of the world and even within these, a great deal of variation can be found.
Remember, eight dicasteries of the Curia signed onto this document.
Ecclesia de mysterio, among other things, seeks to correct the abuses of the laity and of the priesthood, both, which have crept in over time because of theological problems resulting from, for example, the terms “minister” and “ministry”.
Here the titles of the provisions:
- Need for an Appropriate Terminology
- The Ministry of the Word
- The Homily
- The Parish Priest and the Parish
- The Structures of Collaboration in the Particular Church
- Liturgical Celebrations
- Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest
- The Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion
- The Apostolate to the Sick
- Assistance at Marriages
- The Minister of Baptism
- Leading the Celebration at Funerals
- Necessary Selection and Adequate Formation
Let’s tease out one of these: 8. The Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion
I am not making this up. Go look for yourselves. My emphases.
The Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion
The non-ordained faithful already collaborate with the sacred ministers in diverse pastoral situations since “This wonderful gift of the Eucharist, which is the greatest gift of all, demands that such an important mystery should be increasingly better known and its saving power more fully shared”.(95)
Such liturgical service is a response to the objective needs of the faithful especially those of the sick and to those liturgical assemblies in which there are particularly large numbers of the faithful who wish to receive Holy Communion.
§ 1. The canonical discipline concerning extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion must be correctly applied so as to avoid generating confusion. The same discipline establishes that the ordinary minister of Holy Communion is the Bishop, the Priest and the the Deacon.(96) Extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion are those instituted as acolytes and the faithful so deputed in accordance with Canon 230, § 3.(97)
A non-ordained member of the faithful, in cases of true necessity, may be deputed by the diocesan bishop, using the appropriate form of blessing for these situation, to act as an extraordinary minister to distribute Holy Communion outside of liturgical celebrations ad actum vel ad tempus or for a more stable period. In exceptional cases or in un foreseen circumstances, the priest presiding at the liturgy may authorize such ad actum.(98)
§ 2. Extraordinary ministers may distribute Holy Communion at eucharistic celebrations only when there are no ordained ministers present or when those ordained ministers present at a liturgical celebration are truly unable to distribute Holy Communion.(99) They may also exercise this function at eucharistic celebrations where there are particularly large numbers of the faithful and which would be excessively prolonged because of an insufficient number of ordained ministers to distribute Holy Communion. (100)
This function is supplementary and extraordinary (101) and must be exercised in accordance with the norm of law. It is thus useful for the diocesan bishop to issue particular norms concerning extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion which, in complete harmony with the universal law of the Church, should regulate the exercise of this function in his diocese. Such norms should provide, amongst other things, for matters such as the instruction in eucharistic doctrine of those chosen to be extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, the meaning of the service they provide, the rubrics to be observed, the reverence to be shown for such an august Sacrament and instruction concerning the discipline on admission to Holy Communion.
To avoid creating confusion, certain practices are to be avoided and eliminated where such have emerged in particular Churches:
— extraordinary ministers receiving Holy Communion apart from the other faithful as though concelebrants;
— association with the renewal of promises made by priests at the Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday, as well as other categories of faithful who renew religious vows or receive a mandate as extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion;
— the habitual use of extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion at Mass thus arbitrarily extending the concept of “a great number of the faithful”.
(95) Sacred Congregation for the Discipline of the Sacraments, Premiss of the Instruction Immensae caritatis (29 January 1973), AAS 65 (1973), p. 264.
(96) Cf. C.I.C., can. 910, § 1; cf. John Paul II, Letter Dominicae coenae (24 February 1980), n. 11; AAS 72 (1980), p. 142.
(97) Cf. C.I.C., can. 910, § 2.
(98) Cf. Sacred Congregation for the Discipline of the Sacraments, Instruction Immensae caritatis (29 January 1973), AAS 65 (1973), p. 264, n. 1; Missale Romanum, Appendix: Ritus ad deputandum ministrum S. Communionis ad actum distribuendae; Pontificale Romanum, De institutione lectorum et acolythorum.
(99) Pontifical Commission for the Authentic Interpretation of The Code of Canon Law, Response (1 June 1998), AAS 80 (1988), p. 1373.
(100) Cf. Sacred Congregation for the Discipline of the Sacraments, Instruction Immensae caritatis (29 January 1973), n. 1; AAS 65 (1973), p. 264; Sacred Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship, Instruction Inestimabile donum (3 April 1980), n. 10: AAS 72 (1980), p. 336.
(101) Can. 230, § 2 and § 3 C.I.C., affirms that the liturgical services can be assigned to non-ordained faithful only “ex temporanea deputatione” or for supply.
I have a few questions for you readers.
If you are a seminarian or fairly recently ordained priest, have you ever heard of this document? Did you study it in seminary?
If you are an older priest, do you remember if this document was distributed to parish priests by your diocesan chancery?
If you are a lay person, and you have some kind of “ministry” in your parish or chapel, have you ever heard of this document?
Once you have read it, perhaps you might come back to this entry and comment on how you see “reality” on the ground where you are compared to the reality of what is required in this document, issued by eight dicasteries and in forma specifica.