Vatican Diary / The Neocatechumenals get their diploma. But not the one they were expecting
The Holy See has approved the rites that mark the stages of their catechism. But the particularities with which they celebrate their Masses still remain under observation. Some of them are permitted. Others not
by Sandro Magister
VATICAN CITY, January 23, 2012 – Before the audience with Benedict XVI three days ago, the rumor within the Neocatechumenal Way was that this occasion would bring the definitive approval of the “liturgies” of the ecclesial movement founded by Francisco “Kiko” Argüello and Carmen Hernández:
These rumors even said the document of approval had been prepared.
In reality, this provision was absolutely not on the day’s agenda for the Vatican, as was seen in the course of the audience with the pope on January 20.
At the beginning of the audience, in fact, a decree from the pontifical council for the laity was read which, with “the agreement of the congregation for divine worship and the discipline of the sacraments,” simply “grants approval to those celebrations contained in the Catechetical Directory of the Neocatechumenal Way which do not appear by their nature to be regulated already by the liturgical books of the Church.”
More clearly, in his address the pope reiterated that the aforementioned decree simply “gives approval to the celebrations” present in the Catechetical Directory which “are not strictly liturgical.”
This means that the rituals approved on this occasion do not in any way concern the liturgy of the Mass or the administration of the sacraments, but only the celebrations within the Way that mark the principal stages of the long catechumenate of each of its members.
Benedict XVI also took advantage of the audience to address to the leaders and members of the Way a “brief reflection on the value of the liturgy.” And this was a “reflection” that had all the trappings of a lecture, dense and demanding in spite of its brevity.
In it, the pope recalled that “the true content of the liturgy” is indeed “the work of the Lord Jesus,” but “it is also the work of the Church, which, being his body, is a single subject together with Christ.” And with this, he warned against the temptation – present in the Neocatechumenal liturgical theories, but not only there – of an “archaeologism” that would presume to reproduce pedantically the last supper of Jesus and the “breaking of the bread” of the earliest Christian times, without taking into account the liturgical developments that have legitimately taken shape in the Church over the course of the centuries.
In his address, moreover, Benedict XVI highlighted the “public nature of the Holy Eucharist.” He recalled that on the basis of the statutes of the Way approved in 2008, “the Neocatechumenals may celebrate the Sunday Eucharist in the small community after first Vespers for Sunday, according to the guidelines of the diocesan bishop.” But he immediately added that “every celebration” must be “essentially open to all those who belong” to the one Church of Christ.
That is, the celebrations in the small communities – the pope continued – must produce a “progressive maturation” that foster “their insertion into the life of the greater ecclesial community,” or concretely “in the liturgical celebration of the parish.”
The pope finally reiterated that “the celebration in the small communities” must be “regulated by the liturgical books, which must be followed faithfully,” although “with the particularities approved in the statutes of the Way.”
In the statutes of 2008, the particularities permitted are two.
The first concerns “the distribution of Holy Communion under the two species” and “always with unleavened bread,” which the Neocatechumenals must receive “standing, remaining in their own place.”
The second is the moving “ad experimentum” of “the rite of peace to after the intercessions,” or before the offertory, as has always been done in the Ambrosian rite, in use in the archdiocese of Milan.
The statutes also stipulate that the participants of the Neocatechumenal communities may prepare “brief monitions for the readings.” But this is already permitted by the general instruction of the Roman missal, for any Mass.
But there is no mention at all, in the paragraphs of the statutes concerning the Mass, of the so-called “resonances,” meaning the spontaneous commentaries on the readings and the Gospel made by those who participate in the Masses of the Neocatechumenal communities, in addition to the homily by the priest.
Not only this particularity of the “resonances,” therefore, but any other liturgical particularity in use in the Way that is not explicitly approved by the Holy See was abusive before the audience of last January 20. And it remains so afterward as well.
The following is the “lecture” on the liturgy imparted by Benedict XVI to the Neocatechumenals and, further below, a summary of the extraliturgical rituals that have been approved by the Vatican authorities.
“… CELEBRATION REGULATED BY THE LITURGICAL BOOKS, WHICH MUST BE FOLLOWED FAITHFULLY…”
Benedict XVI to the Neocatechumenal Way, January 20, 2012
Dear brothers and sisters, […] a short time ago you were read the decree that gives approval to the celebrations present in the “Catechetical Directory of the Neocatechumenal Way,” which are not strictly liturgical, but are part of the journey of growth in faith. It is another element that shows you how the Church accompanies you attentively in a patient discernment, which embraces your richness but also looks to the communion and harmony of the entire “Corpus Ecclesiae.”
This occasion offers me the opportunity for a brief reflection on the value of the liturgy. Vatican Council II defines it as the work of Christ the priest and of his body which is the Church (cf. “Sacrosanctum Concilium,” 7). At first glance, this might seem strange to us, because it seems that the work of Christ would designate the redemptive historical actions of Jesus, his passion, death, and resurrection. In what sense, then, is the liturgy the work of Christ? The passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus are not solely historical events; they reach and penetrate history, but they transcend it and remain always present in the heart of Christ. In the liturgical action of the Church, there is the active presence of the risen Christ who makes the same paschal mystery present and efficacious for us today, for our salvation; he draws us into this act of self-donation that is always present in his heart and makes us participate in this presence of the paschal mystery. This work of the Lord Jesus, which is the true content of the liturgy, the entrance into the presence of the paschal mystery, is also the work of the Church, which, being his body, is a single subject together with Christ: “Christus totus caput et corpus,” Saint Augustine says. In the celebration of the sacraments, Christ immerses us in the paschal mystery to make us pass from death to life, from sin to the new existence in Christ.
This holds true in a very special way for the celebration of the Eucharist, which, being the summit of Christian life, is also the hinge of its rediscovery, toward which the Neocatechumenate strives. As your statutes state, “The Eucharist is essential to the Neocatechumenate, since this is a post-baptismal catechumenate lived in small communities” (art. 13 §1). Precisely for the sake of fostering the return to the richness of sacramental life on the part of persons who have distanced themselves from the Church, or have not received an adequate formation, the Neocatechumenals may celebrate the Sunday Eucharist in the small community after first Vespers for Sunday, according to the guidelines of the diocesan bishop (cf. Statutes, art. 13 §2). But every Eucharistic celebration is an action of the one Christ together with his one Church, and is thus essentially open to all those who belong to this his Church. This public nature of the holy Eucharist is expressed in the fact that every celebration of the holy Mass is ultimately directed by the bishop as member of the episcopal college, responsible for a specific local Church (cf. “Lumen Gentium,” 26).
The celebration in the small communities, regulated by the liturgical books, which must be followed faithfully, and with the particularities approved in the statutes of the Way, has the task of helping those who make the Neocatechumenal journey to perceive the grace of being inserted into the salvific mystery of Christ, which makes possible a Christian witness capable of taking on sometimes radical features. At the same time, the progressive maturation in faith of the individual and of the small community must foster their insertion into the life of the greater ecclesial community, which finds in the liturgical celebration of the parish, in which and for which the Neocatechumenate is implemented (cf. Statutes, art. 6), its ordinary form. But also during the Way, it is important not to separate oneself from the parish community, precisely in the celebration of the Eucharist, which is the true place of the unity of all, where the Lord embraces us in the various stages of our spiritual maturation and unites us in the one bread that makes us one body (cf. 1 Cor. 10:16f). […]
The complete text of the pope’s address:
TWELVES RITES, FOR AS MANY STAGES
The journey of catechesis that every member of the Way makes lasts at least ten years, and is made up of five phases.
Each phase has stages marked by specific rituals, twelve of them in all.
It is these extraliturgical rituals used in the Neocatechumenal communities that have now been approved by the Vatican authorities.
1. Rite of conversion. Coincides with the tenth of the of the sixteen introductory catecheses. The rite, which is highly detailed, precedes and follows in communal fashion the individual sacramental confession of each of those present. For those who will continue in the Way, this rite will be repeated on a monthly basis.
2. Bestowal of the Bible. Coincides with the fifteenth catechesis.
3. Rite of illumination. Introduces the “coexistence” of three days that concludes the sixteen introductory catecheses. Other celebrations of the Word set the rhythm of these same days, and will set the rhythm, week by week, of the continuation of the Way.
4. First scrutiny. Marks the end of this second phase, which lasts for at least two years.
PASSAGE TO CATECHUMENATE
5. “Shemà.” In Hebrew: listening. It celebrates the welcoming of the Word of God.
6. Second scrutiny. Concludes the two-year process of this third phase. In it takes place the renunciation of personal wealth, sometimes substantial, in favor of community.
7. Bestowal of the book of Psalms.
8. Traditio Symboli. The bestowal of the “Credo.”
9. Redditio Symboli. The public confession of one’s faith, learned with the “Credo.”
10. Bestowal of the Our Father. This is the rite that introduces the third year of this fourth phase.
11. Book of life. By writing his name in this book, the Neocatechumen opens the two years of this fifth and last phase of the Way.
12. Renewal of baptismal promises. This is the culmination of the Way. The rite is performed during the Easter Vigil, which lasts until dawn and is concluded with a banquet.
The official website of the Neocatechumenals, in multiple languages:
An index of all of the previous articles from http://www.chiesa on the Way:
English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.