National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  October 3, 2003

An altar server carries the crucifix in procession at the start of Mass.
-- CNS/Bob Roller
Outdated liturgy document creates a stir

Draft would have restored Communion rail, other old ways


A draft document on the liturgy from the Vatican caused quite a stir last week when various media reported that the document would discourage the distribution of Communion under the forms of both bread and wine and ban girls as altar servers.

In fact, cardinal and bishop members of the congregations for the Doctrine of the Faith and for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, who had reviewed the draft during an unusual plenary assembly in June, raised objections to parts of the document and returned it to the drafting committee with suggestions for corrections.

Media reports were based on an Italian-language article that appeared in Jesus, a magazine of the Pauline Fathers, which reported Sept. 22 that it had obtained a copy of the June draft.

When Pope John Paul II issued his encyclical on the Eucharist in April, he said he had asked the congregations to prepare a document on liturgical abuses. A draft of this document is what caused the stir. The document the pope requested is not projected for release until later this fall at the earliest, and perhaps 2004, so at this stage it is not clear what final form it will take.

In the now-outdated June 5 draft, the document contained 200 paragraphs and 37 main “abuses.” It stipulated that it is the right of every Catholic to denounce liturgical abuses, first to their bishop, but also to the Holy See. The document insists that people who complain about abuses must be treated with respect, stressing that all have the right to defend their good name.

While the early draft of the document moves in the direction of a more restrained and orderly liturgy, its language appears to be phrased in terms of recommendations rather than edicts, which means that the document may change very little at the level of practice.

One chief concern is to drive home the distinction between ordained priests and deacons on the one hand, and lay pastoral workers on the other. The document insists that laity perform only those roles in the liturgy that church law opens to them, and refrain from every other role, including that of preaching. The concern here seems to be not to blur the unique role of the ordained celebrant.

The document also calls for reverence and sobriety in liturgical celebrations, frowning upon the use of clapping and dancing, and says there should be no demands placed on liturgists to adopt such extraneous practices.

The document speaks in favor of restoring Communion rails where they have been removed, a feature of church design associated with pre-Vatican II architecture. It recommends against use of the phrase “eucharistic hospitality” to designate joint Communion services with Protestants. Non-Catholic ministers should not stand alongside Catholic priests during concelebrated Masses or offer “blessings” in such a context.

The document rules out “self-service” in the distribution of Com-munion, so that laity should receive the body and blood of Christ from an ordained minister, and urges decorum in the distribution of Communion under both species.

The document calls upon bishops to renew their national liturgical commissions as well as to seek out new experts “solid in the Catholic faith and truly prepared in theological and cultural matters.” This is a reference to a widespread perception in Rome that many professional Catholic liturgists, especially in Europe and North America, tend to be overly progressive in their approach. Liturgical experimentation, even by bishops’ conferences, is forbidden without the approval of the Congregation for Worship.

Even details such as liturgical dress and a ban on headwear not envisioned by the liturgy itself are treated.

Sources in Rome say the general drift of discussion such as the June 29 plenary assembly was that the document should be shorter, less detailed, and perhaps could omit some points already covered in existing law.

While the final content of the document is not yet known, based on this June 5 draft, it appears the document will strengthen the hand of those Catholics who prefer a by-the-book approach to liturgy, but will steer clear of draconian new rules that would turn existing practice on its head.

John L. Allen Jr. is NCR Rome correspondent. His e-mail address is

National Catholic Reporter, October 3, 2003

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