Friday, June 4, 1999

Response to dubium on the contempt for the Eucharist

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Response to dubium on the contempt for the Eucharist

Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts

Responsum ad Dubium

The Fathers of the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts, at their plenary session on 4 June 1999, decided to respond in the following way to the dubium:

Q. Whether or not the word "abicere" in canons 1367 CIC and 1442 CCEO should be understood only as the act of throwing away.

R. Negative and "ad mentem".

The "mind" is that the word "abicere" should be considered to include any voluntarily and gravely contemptuous action towards the Sacred Species.

The Supreme Pontiff John Paul II, at the audience granted on 3 July 1999 to the undersigned President, was informed of the aforementioned decision, confirmed it and ordered it to be published.

+ Julián Herranz
Titular Archbishop of Vertara

+ Bruno Bertagna
Titular Bishop of Drivastum

Safeguarding the Bread of life come down from heaven[1]

Regarding the authentic interpretation of canons 1367 CIC and 1442 CCEO, the following points should be kept in mind:

1. In an expression as lapidary as it is rich and pregnant the Second Vatican Council said: "In the most blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church"[2]. And the Code of Canon Law summarizes the Council's abundant teaching on the subject and the Church's perennial doctrine, asserting: "The most august sacrament is the blessed Eucharist – in which Christ the Lord himself is contained, offered and received, and by which the Church continually lives and grows"[3]; therefore "Christ's faithful are to hold the blessed Eucharist in the highest honour ... ; they should receive the sacrament with great devotion and frequently, and should reverence it with the greatest adoration"[4].

Therefore we can understand the care and efforts of the Church's Pastors to see that this priceless Gift is deeply and devoutly loved, safeguarded and surrounded with that worship which expresses in the best way humanly our faith in Christ's real presence – body, blood, soul and divinity – under the Eucharistic Species, even after the Holy Sacrifice has been celebrated.

2. Just as believers are asked to express this faith with actions, prayers and objects of noble dignity, so it is also advisable that any kind of carelessness or negligence, the sign of a diminished sense of the Eucharistic divine presence, be carefully avoided in the behaviour of sacred ministers and the faithful. Indeed, in our age, marked by haste even in one's personal relationship with God, catechesis should reacquaint the Christian people with the whole of Eucharistic worship, which cannot be reduced to participation in Holy Mass and to Communion with the proper dispositions, but also includes frequent adoration – personal and communal – of the Blessed Sacrament, and the loving concern that the tabernacle – in which the Eucharist is kept – be placed on an altar or in a part of the church that is clearly visible, truly noble and duly adorned, so that it is a centre of attraction for every heart in love with Christ.

3. In contrast to such profound veneration for the true Bread come down from heaven, not only can deplorable disciplinary abuses occur, sometimes have occurred and still occur, but even acts of contempt and profanation on the part of individuals who, under almost diabolical inspiration, dare to oppose in this way whatever the Church and the faithful hold, adore and love as most sacred.

In order to deter those who let themselves be misled by such sentiments; the Church not only urges the faithful to avoid any form of disgraceful carelessness and negligence, but also considers the most unfortunate case of deliberate acts of hatred or contempt for the Blessed Sacrament. These actions certainly constitute by reason of their matter – a very grave sin of sacrilege. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says in fact that sacrilege "is a grave sin especially when committed against the Eucharist, for in this sacrament the true Body of Christ is made substantially present for us"[5].

4. Moreover, in certain cases these sacrileges constitute true and real offences, according to the canons of both Latin and Eastern Church law, to which a penalty is attached. This is determined in can. 1367 of the Code of Canon Law, corresponding to can. 1442 of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, with the variations proper to that legislation.

Here is the text of can. 1367: "Qui species consecratas abicit aut in sacrilegum finem abducit vel retinet in excommunicationem latae sententiae Sedi Apostolicae reservatam incurrit; clericus praeterea alia poena, non exclusa dimissione e statu clericali, puniri potest".

5. Given the various translations made of the Code of Canon Law, with the different nuances resulting from the expressions of each language, a dubium was submitted to the Pontifical Council as to whether the word "abicit" should be understood only in its proper – but limited – sense of "to throw away" the Eucharistic Species, or in the overly generic sense "to profane". Therefore, while the two cases of offence consisting in taking away (abducit) or in keeping (retinet) the Sacred Species – in both cases "for a sacrilegious purpose" are clear, an authentic interpretation was requested of the first case, expressed in the word abicit. After careful study, this Pontifical Council has given the following authentic interpretation, confirmed by the Holy Father, who ordered it to be promulgated. [6]

The verb abicit should not be understood only in the strict sense of throwing away, nor in the generic sense of profaning, but with the broader meaning of to scorn, disdain, demean. Therefore, a grave offence of sacrilege against the Body and Blood of Christ is committed by anyone who takes away and/or keeps the Sacred Species for a sacrilegious (obscene, superstitious, irreligious) purpose, and anyone who, even without removing them from the tabernacle, monstrance or altar, makes them the object of any external, voluntary and serious act of contempt. Anyone guilty of this offence incurs, in the Latin Church, the penalty of excommunication latae sententiae (i.e., automatically), the absolution of which is reserved to the Holy See; in the Eastern Catholic Churches he incurs a major excommunication ferendae sententiae (i.e., to be imposed).

6. It is helpful to remember, as was mentioned above, that the sin of sacrilege should not be confused with the offence of sacrilege; in fact, not all sins committed in this area are offences. Canonical doctrine teaches that an offence is an external and imputable violation of an ecclesiastical law, to which a penal sanction is ordinarily attached. Therefore, all the norms and attenuating or excusing circumstances – a the Latin and Eastern Codes apply here. In particular, it should be noted that the offence of sacrilege we are discussing also involves an external, but not necessarily public, act.

7. Even when the Church is forced, as it were, to impose penalties, she is also moved by the need to safeguard the moral integrity of the ecclesiastical community and to seek the spiritual good and correction of the offenders, but in this case she does so, also and primarily, in order to safeguard the greatest Good she has received from the divine mercy, i.e., Christ the Lord himself who has become "the bread of eternal life"[7] in the most blessed Eucharist.

+ Julián Herranz
Titular Archbishop of Vertara

[1] From L'Osservatore Romano, Weekly Edition in English, 14 July 1999, 3-4

[2] Decree Presbyterorum ordinis, n. 5

[3] Can. 897

[4] Can. 898

[5] CCC n. 2120

[6] Cf. CIC, can. 16, §2; CCE0, can. 1498, §2

[7] Cf. Jn 6:27

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Thursday, April 15, 1999

Response to dubium on Communion in the hand

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Response to dubium on Communion in the Hand

Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments

This response by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments was sent to us by Father Paul McDonald, of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Diocese of Saint Catherine’s in Ontario, Canada. The response appeared in Notitiae (April 1999), the official publication of the CDW, regarding the reception of Communion. The translation is Father McDonald's.

Query: Whether in dioceses where it is allowed to distribute Communion in the hands of the faithful, a priest or extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion may restrict communicants to receive Communion only in their hands, not on the tongue.

Response: Certainly it is clear from the very documents of the Holy See that in dioceses where the Eucharistic bread is put in the hands of the faithful, the right to receive the Eucharistic bread on the tongue still remains intact to the faithful. Therefore, those who restrict communicants to receive Holy Communion only on in the hands are acting against the norms, as are those who refuse to Christ's faithful [the right] to receive Communion in the hand in dioceses that enjoy this indult.

With attention to the norms concerning the distribution of Holy Communion, ordinary and extraordinary ministers should take care in a particular way that the host is consumed at once by Christ's faithful, so that no one goes away with the Eucharistic species in his hand.

However, let all remember that the time-honored tradition is to receive the host on the tongue. The celebrant priest, if there is a present danger of sacrilege, should not give the faithful communion in the hand, and he should make them aware of the reason for way of proceeding.

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