NEW YORK, JAN. 1, 2006 - The Neocatechumenal Way welcomed the Holy See's dispositions on the celebration of Mass within the Way's communities.
The guidelines were presented in a letter, dated Dec. 1, signed by Cardinal Francis Arinze, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments. It is addressed to the Way's initiators and directors: Kiko Argüello, Carmen Hernández and Father Mario Pezzi.
To better understand the document, ZENIT interviewed Giuseppe Gennarini, a spokesman who is in charge of the Way in the United States.
Q: What is the significance of this letter for the Way?
Gennarini: For the first time, the Holy See has accepted several variations to the way the Eucharist is celebrated within the context of the Neocatechumenal Way, as licit adaptations to help contemporary man to better receive the grace communicated by the sacraments.
To the best of my knowledge, this is the only case in which the Holy See has granted such an explicit permission to an ecclesial group.
Until now we had done so with verbal authorization from the [Vatican] congregation, but not in writing. In fact, John Paul II had always supported this concept, and he even expressed it in his apostolic letter "Dies Domini," in which he spoke about the possibility that "in view of special needs in the area of formation and pastoral care" such celebrations of the Sunday Mass could take place.
Q: Which are the liturgical variations allowed by the congregation to the Neocatechumenal Way?
Gennarini: Cardinal Arinze's letter accepts the principle of special celebrations for the Neocatechumenal communities on Saturday evening.
To better understand the importance of such concession, we must take into account that many have opposed this practice of the Way, considering it elitist or divisive, although the liturgies of the Way are open to all.
In spite of these criticisms, this principle has been officially approved. The request for partaking once a month in the general celebrations of the parish is already a widespread practice, as for example in the context of such liturgical solemnities as Christmas, Epiphany, the Mass of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday, the patronal feast, the Assumption, All Saints' Day, and the Immaculate Conception.
The letter also restates the article of the Roman Missal regarding [commentaries], but extends its use from an extraordinary practice to an ordinary one. The "echoes" before the homily have also been accepted; this is something completely new in the Church and receives here some general guidelines.
The letter also allows for the sign of peace to take place before the offertory. To understand the magnitude of this concession, we must remember that only a few weeks before the signing of this letter, the prefect of the congregation had explained to hundreds of bishops attending the Synod on the Eucharist that no one would be allowed to change the place of the sign of peace. In fact, several bishops' conferences had requested such a variation, but it has never been allowed.
Finally, the way of distributing Communion as it currently takes place, is allowed for a long period of time, if only "ad experimentum." Such a grant shows that this practice is not irreverent, but fully legitimate, as can be attested by anyone who participates in a Eucharist of the communities.
This concession is written within the context of the final approval of the statutes of the Neocatechumenal Way, which are right now approved also "ad experimentum." When this period "ad experimentum" ends, the interdicasterial commission of the five congregations which approved the statutes … will verify the necessary adaptations.
Q: Why is it important to celebrate the Mass in small groups?
Gennarini: More than 70% of the members of the Way used to be non-practicing Catholics. The liturgical celebrations in the context of a small community creates a welcoming environment for the unchurched.
In the context of an increasingly secularized, individualistic and anonymous society, the Way offers in the parish an environment where people, whether baptized or not, may rediscover the faith in the context of real communion.
One of the problems in the Church today in the anonymity in our parishes. Through this experience, for instance, married couples can experience forgiveness, and are able to transmit the faith to their children. One of the fruits of the Way is the rebuilding of the family through this communal experience.
Thousands of vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life are emerging from these rebuilt families, and all of this thanks to the celebration of the Eucharist in small faith communities.
The community saves the family, and, as stated in "Ecclesia de Eucharistia," no Christian community can be built up unless it has its root in the celebration of the Eucharist.
Q: Some media articles written about this letter presents it as a scolding and as a rejection of the Way by Benedict XVI.
Gennarini: There could be nothing farther from the truth.
Our relationship with Benedict XVI before becoming Pope has always been very good. The then Cardinal Ratzinger met the Way in the 1970s and introduced it in his native Germany. As prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he has always helped us and has mentioned the Way in a very positive way in several of his books.
Benedict XVI received in an audience the initiators of the Way last November and personally confirmed his support for the Way and his joy for the great fruits that it is giving to the Church.
As a sign of his love for the fruits of the Way, the Holy Father will send this coming 12th of January 200 new families in mission who will go to the most de-Christianized parts of the world to announce the Gospel.
Without the intervention of the Holy Father, the approval of these liturgical variations would have never taken place. We feel fully confirmed by Peter. Those who are trying to oppose Benedict XVI and John Paul II are altering the reality.
These days we are reading news articles that are absolutely unfounded: I wish to clarify that never has a lay person of the Neocatechumenal communities given a homily in place of a priest.
An international news agency even contradicted itself when it accused the Way at one and the same time of having "innovative practices" and having "a very conservative worldview."
Q: In your opinion, why has the Holy Father approved these variations?
Gennarini: Benedict XVI has confirmed the view of John Paul II granting these permissions in writing to the Neocatechumenal Way because he is very aware of the dramatic situation of secularization and of the need to evangelize.
At World Youth Day he said to the German bishops: "The majority of the population is not baptized, has no contact with the Church and has often not even heard of either Christ or the Church. … 'We have become a mission land.' … Throughout Europe, and likewise in France, Spain and elsewhere, we should give serious thought as to how to achieve a true evangelization in this day and age, not only a new evangelization, but often a true and proper first evangelization. … There is a new form of paganism and it is not enough for us to strive to preserve the existing flock, although this is very important. We must ask the important question: What really is life? I believe we must all try together to find new ways of bringing the Gospel to the contemporary world, of proclaiming Christ anew and of implanting the faith."
This shows how much the Holy Father is concerned with finding ways to reach contemporary man. It is with this background that we can understand these permissions.
Q: Which is the context of this letter?
Gennarini: This letter is a very important step within the process of approval of the Way. In 1997 John Paul II encouraged the initiators to examine the experience of the Way after 30 years, and to formalize it with the writing of a statute.
In this context, five Vatican dicasteries -- the Council for the Laity, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Congregation for the Clergy […], the Congregation for Catholic Education, and the Congregation for the Liturgy -- have studied for years the multiple activities of the Way, offering recommendations and essentially confirming the experience of this catechetical itinerary.
The praxis of the Neocatechumenal Way has always been known and supported by the different Vatican dicasteries. As early as the 1970s, when the new Rite of Christian Initiation ritual was being prepared after Vatican II, the then emerging experience of the Way was praised as a practical application of what the Curia was trying to formulate.
The initiators have always kept a dialogue with the Popes, beginning with Paul VI and especially with John Paul II.
Q: Which have been the results of this process up until now?
Gennarini: The catechetical content of the Way in its itinerary of Christian initiation was studied in detail by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, then led by Benedict XVI, who approved it with very few adjustments.
The next step was the approval of the statute, which was no easy task due to the fact that the Way is neither a lay group, nor a priestly fraternity, nor an association.
The Holy See realized this complexity and recognized the Way neither as a movement nor as an association, but as an itinerary of Christian formation valid to transmit the faith in this present society, both to renew the faith of the already baptized and to initiate the pagans into the faith.
After the approval of the method and the statute, the next step has been the study of the liturgical adaptations present in this liturgical-catechetical reality, a process which has concluded with this letter.