The Ten Most Common Liturgical Abuses
And Why They're Wrong (Part 2)
4. Replacing or omitting the homily.
A priest may omit the homily only on weekdays that are not holy days.
On Sundays and holy days he must give a homily (Sacrosanctum Concilium; CIC 767); it should relate the readings to one another and indicate how their message can be applied to the lives of his parishioners (Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntianidi; Inter Oecumenici).
No priest can substitute announcements, financial reports, or pleas in place of the homily, nor add such things to it.
Of course the Holy See isn't going to make a fuss if he takes a couple of sentences at the end of the homily to make an announcement, tell how much is in the building fund, or mention a second collection.
Nobody who is not a priest, deacon, or bishop can give the homily at Mass; nobody who is not ordained can give a "talk" or "reflection" in place of the homily (CIC 766-768).
Although some few groups like the Society for the Propagation of the Faith have a dispensation to speak on behalf of an order or mission at the time appointed for the homily, it is never permitted without that dispensation — not even if he (or, worse, she) gives a short homily before launching into the appeal. An ordained minister gives a homily structured on certain guidelines; that's it.
Incidentally, he may not leave the sanctuary during the homily (GIRM 97).
5. Dictating posture.
There are parishes where the ushers will ask you to stand when you're kneeling.
Many churches are being built now without kneelers to discourage you from kneeling at all.
This violates the law and does no honor to Christ nor to the martyrs who died rather than compromise the outward signs of their faith.
But if the celebrant and his ushers can't mandate your posture, the law can, and it does.
Everybody at Mass is supposed to be uniform in standing, sitting, and kneeling (GIRM 20), and there are universal rules about it.
In this country you are still required to kneel during the Consecration, from after the end of the Sanctus until the Great Amen, even if there aren't any kneelers (GIRM 21; Appendix to the General Instruction 21).
You are required to bow or kneel at the words "by the power of the Holy Spirit" in the Creed (GIRM 98).
You are required to genuflect whenever you pass the Eucharist, whether it's in the tabernacle or publicly exposed except when in procession (GIRM 233; CB 71). And contrary to what you might see these days, the Eucharist's tabernacle can't be tucked out of the way.
It should be "placed in a part of the church that is prominent, conspicuous, beautifully decorated, and suitable for prayer" (CIC 938).
After Communion, though, you're free to stand, sit, or kneel as you choose.
6. Dictating the manner of reception of the Eucharist.
Vatican II never mentioned receiving the host in hand.
But when some countries introduced the practice illicitly Pope Paul VI surveyed the world's bishops to see if it should be allowed where it already existed.
Rather than suddenly suppressing reception in the hand, the pope granted an indult intended to let the practice continue for a time in those areas where it already existed.
Oddly enough, the bishops of the United States — where the practice did not exist — asked permission of the Holy See to introduce it here.
Even more amazingly, they got it.
Still, universal Church law does not permit reception of the Sacrament in the hand, and John Paul II disapproves of the practice.
The indult that allowed it specified that reception in the hand "must not be imposed" (CSDW, En réponse, 1969).
Absolutely no priest or extraordinary minister of Holy Communion may refuse to administer the Eucharist on the tongue.
Your right to determine which lawful manner you use is stated in the GIRM (Appendix for the United States, 240b).
The chalice cannot be left on the altar for people to pick up and drink from, not even during lightly attended Masses.
The celebrant must distribute the Sacrament (United States Bishops' Directory on Communion Under Both Species, 47).
In fact, you're not allowed to dip your host into the chalice; you have to take the cup and drink from it (DCUBS 45).
By the way, as to Eucharistic ministers, it's important to note that they're not supposed to help distribute the Sacrament routinely; only if there's an unusually large number of people at Mass or if they're sent to distribute extraordinarily outside of Mass, as to the sick.
They are not supposed to assist at all when a priest is in attendance.
Their office has nothing whatever to do with increased participation by the laity.
7. Ignoring rules for reception of the Eucharist.
The official statement of the rules for reception has recently been rewritten by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, and unfortunately it's pretty vague.
But it still says clearly that "in order to be properly disposed to receive communion, participants . . . normally should have fasted for one hour," abstaining from food and drink except water or medicine.
The rewrite also goes to great lengths to say that non-Christians and Christians not in communion with the Church are welcome to come to Mass, but it's not nearly so clear as it used to be on the fact that they may not receive the Eucharist.
The new phrase "ordinarily not admitted to holy communion" makes some Catholics — and too many priests — figure that it's all right for non-Catholics to take communion on special occasions like weddings or funerals, or if the non-Catholic is a prominent person like a government official or head of state.
Exceptions are so few and given in circumstances so rare that it might have been more helpful to write simply "not admitted to holy communion"; but that's for the bishops to say.
Naturally, you're also required to be free from "grave" sin — what we all used to call "mortal" sin — which means Reconciliation before reception if you have committed a grave offense.
And, no, the theology about what constitutes a grave sin has not changed, even if the terminology has.
8. Holding hands during the Our Father.
This is oddly widespread in the United States but it's an illicit addition to the liturgy.
The official publication of the Sacred Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship, Notitiae (11  226), states the practice "must be repudiated . . . it is a liturgical gesture introduced spontaneously but on a personal initiative; it is not in the rubrics."
And anything not in the rubrics is unlawful, again because "no other person . . . may add . . . anything [to] the liturgy on his own authority" (ibid).
Notitiae (17  186)) also reaffirms that the priest may never invite the congregation to stand around the altar and hold hands during the Consecration.
He stays in the sanctuary and we stay outside of it.
9. Performing liturgical dance.
Introducing dance into the liturgy in the United States would be to add "one of the most desacralized and desacralizing elements" leading to "an atmosphere of profanity, which would easily suggest to those present worldly places and profane situations.
Nor is it acceptable to introduce into the liturgy the so-called artistic ballet because it would reduce the liturgy to mere entertainment" (Notitiae 11  202-205).
10. Closing the holy water fonts at some seasons.
This is another innovation introduced spontaneously, and while holy water fonts are not integral parts of the Mass, emptying them during Lent or Advent is wrong no matter how you look at it.
It's not found anywhere in liturgical law, which is reason enough to suppose it to be forbidden.
And it makes absolutely no sense.
Holy water is a sacramental, so its right use carries with it a certain degree of forgiveness of sin and remission of punishment (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1668; CB 110-114). There is no positive spiritual benefit in depriving the faithful of this legitimate aid at any time.
In fact, removing it during penitential seasons is bizarre — that's when we need it most.
By the way, because the Penitential Rite of the Mass and reception of the Eucharist remit venial sins, there's no need to use holy water on the way out of Mass. Unless you've been up to some mischief in those few minutes.
As a postscript, I mention something that might be categorized as an abuse by the laity: parish-hopping.
The Code of Canon Law provides that "The precept of participating in the Mass is satisfied by assistance at a Mass which is celebrated anywhere in a Catholic rite either on the holy day or on the evening of the preceding day" (1248, para. 1).
Consequently, you can fulfill your Sunday obligation by going to a Mass anywhere.
While your legal membership still remains in your local parish, the only times you are required to check in there are when you want to receive a special sacrament (e.g., marriage, confirmation) for which the priest needs the jurisdiction to administer.
Nevertheless, if you flee your home parish when things get ugly, you are in a sense not living up to your responsibility as a lay person.
It is your duty to point out that liturgy is not entertainment.
The liturgy is reality, the primary reality of this world.
Christ is God, the reality on whom the secondary reality of creation depends ("through him all things were made," remember?).
And the liturgy is the sacrament by which he comes personally and physically among us.
The Mass is indisputably the single most important thing that human beings can do.
You have your part to fill in this great work.
In fact, that's what the liturgy is: the word is from the Greek meaning "the laity's job."
We are the Church itself, we are not the Church's customers.
Still less are we the Church's audience.
And we have a right to authentic liturgy (Inaestimabile Donum), liturgy exactly in line with all applicable rules and celebrated with a suitable sense of reverence (CIC 528).
So if your priest offers sloppy, illicit, or even inappropriate liturgies, guess whose job it should be to pitch in and fix the problem?
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Kevin Orlin Johnson, PhD, is the author of many books about the Catholic Church, including Why Do Catholics Do That? and Apparitions: Mystic Phenomena and What They Mean.