Chapter III-3. A Common Possession of the Church
12. We cannot, even for a moment, forget that the Eucharist is a special possession belonging to the whole Church. It is the
greatest gift in the order of grace and of sacrament that the divine Spouse has offered and unceasingly offers to His spouse.
And precisely because it is such a gift, all of us should in a spirit of profound faith let ourselves be guided by a sense of truly
Christian responsibility. A gift obliges us ever more profoundly because it speaks to us not so much with the force of a strict
right as with the force of personal confidence, and thus--without legal obligations--it calls for trust and gratitude. The Eucharist
is just such a gift and such a possession. We should remain faithful in every detail to what it expresses in itself and to what it
asks of us, namely, thanksgiving.
The Eucharist is a common possession of the whole Church as the sacrament of her unity. And thus the Church has the strict
duty to specify everything which concerns participation in it and its celebration. We should therefore act according to the
principles laid down by the last Council, which, in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, defined the authorizations and
obligations of individual bishops in their dioceses and of the episcopal conferences, given the fact that both act in collegial unity
with the Apostolic See.
Furthermore, we should follow the directives issued by the various departments of the Holy See in this field: be it in liturgical
matters, in the rules established by the liturgical books in what concerns the Eucharistic Mystery, and in the Instructions
devoted to this mystery, be it with regard to communicatio in sacris, in the norms of the Directorium de re oecumenica and
in the Instructio de peculiaribus casibus admittendi alios christianos ad communionem eucharisticam in Ecclesia catolica.
And although at this stage of renewal the possibility of a certain "creative" freedom has been permitted, nevertheless this
freedom must strictly respect the requirements of substantial unity. We can follow the path of this pluralism (which arises in part
from the introduction itself of the various languages into the liturgy) only as long as the essential characteristics of the celebration
of the Eucharist are preserved, and the norms prescribed by the recent liturgical reform are respected.
Indispensable effort is required everywhere to ensure that within the pluralism of eucharistic worship envisioned by the Second
Vatican Council the unity of which the Eucharist is the sign and cause is clearly manifested.
This task, over which in the nature of things the Apostolic See must keep careful watch, should be assumed not only by each
episcopal conference but by every minister of the Eucharist, without exception. Each one should also remember that he is
responsible for the common good of the whole Church. The priest as minister, as celebrant, as the one who presides over the
eucharistic assembly of the faithful, should have a special sense of the common good of the Church, which he represents
through his ministry, but to which he must also be subordinate, according to a correct discipline of faith. He cannot consider
himself a "proprietor" who can make free use of the liturgical text and of the sacred rite as if it were his own property, in such a
way as to stamp it with his own arbitrary personal style. At times this latter might seem more effective, and it may better
correspond to subjective piety; nevertheless, objectively it is always a betrayal of that union which should find its proper
expression in the sacrament of unity.
Every priest who offers the holy Sacrifice should recall that during this Sacrifice it is not only he with his community that is
praying but the whole Church, which is thus expressing in this sacrament her spiritual unity, among other ways by the use of the
approved liturgical text. To call this position "mere insistence on uniformity" would only show ignorance of the objective
requirements of authentic unity, and would be a symptom of harmful individualism.
This subordination of the minister, of the celebrant, to the Mysterium which has been entrusted to him by the Church for the
good of the whole People of God, should also find expression in the observance of the liturgical requirements concerning the
celebration of the holy Sacrifice. These refer, for example, to dress, and in particular to the vestments worn by the celebrant.
Circumstances have of course existed and continue to exist in which the prescriptions do not oblige. We have been greatly
moved when reading books written by priests who had been prisoners in extermination camps, with descriptions of Eucharistic
Celebrations without the above-mentioned rules, that is to say, without an altar and without vestments. But although in those
conditions this was a proof of heroism and deserved profound admiration, nevertheless in normal conditions to ignore the
liturgical directives can be interpreted as a lack of respect towards the Eucharist, dictated perhaps by individualism or by an
absence of a critical sense concerning current opinions, or by a certain lack of a spirit of faith.
Upon all of us who, through the grace of God, are ministers of the Eucharist, there weighs a particular responsibility for the
ideas and attitudes of our brothers and sisters who have been entrusted to our pastoral care. It is our vocation to nurture, above
all by personal example, every healthy manifestation of worship towards Christ present and operative in that sacrament of love.
May God preserve us from acting otherwise and weakening that worship by "becoming unaccustomed" to various
manifestations and forms of eucharistic worship which express a perhaps "traditional" but healthy piety, and which express
above all that "sense of the faith" possessed by the whole People of God, as the Second Vatican Council recalled.
As I bring these considerations to an end, I would like to ask forgiveness--in my own name and in the name of all of you,
venerable and dear brothers in the episcopate--for everything which, for whatever reason, through whatever human weakness,
impatience or negligence, and also through the at times partial, one-sided and erroneous application of the directives of the
Second Vatican Council, may have caused scandal and disturbance concerning the interpretation of the doctrine and the
veneration due to this great sacrament. And I pray the Lord Jesus that in the future we may avoid in our manner of dealing with
this sacred mystery anything which could weaken or disorient in any way the sense of reverence and love that exists in our
May Christ Himself help us to follow the path of true renewal towards that fullness of life and of eucharistic worship whereby
the Church is built up in that unity that she already possesses, and which she desires to bring to ever greater perfection for the
glory of the living God and for the salvation of all humanity.