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Q & A

What is Liturgical Abuse?

Liturgical abuse is when someone adds, removes or changes anything in the liturgy without the authority to do so. This definition is based on Vatican II’s Sacrosanctum Concilium, section 22, 3: "...No other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority." The definition is also based on Canon 846 §1: "In celebrating the sacraments the liturgical books approved by competent authority are to be observed faithfully; accordingly, no one is to add, omit, or alter anything in them on one’s own authority." It is also included in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), 24: "...the Priest will remember that he is the servant of the Sacred Liturgy and that he himself is not permitted, on his own initiative, to add, to remove, or to change anything in the celebration of Mass."

Despite the fact that Church documents use the term abuse in regards to the liturgy, there is no official definition of liturgical abuse. In articles, blogs and conversation, the term liturgical abuse can be controversial. Laypeople often refer to anything they perceive as wrong in the Liturgy as liturgical abuse, since they don't know what else to call it. 


Members of the clergy may believe that only serious offenses against the Eucharist are liturgical abuse. Some believe that lay people who object to liturgical abuse are themselves the abusers, who should be "marginalized" and avoided. (Example here.) They may also believe that priests don't intentionally do things wrong in the liturgy, therefore, it is wrong to call almost anything abuse or to do anything about it. (Example here.) This blog post explains that "abuse" is a mistranslation and misunderstanding of the Latin for things that are "errors, misuses, not gross crimes." There have also been those in the Church who have found devious ways around simple and direct interpretations of liturgical laws. Because of these various perceptions of liturgical abuse/error/misuse, problems in the liturgy can be difficult to correct. 


Seeing something as objectively wrong in the Liturgy, can be confused with condemning priests. A layperson cannot know if priests' actions or omissions are mistakes, misunderstandings or willful disobedience. We cannot determine culpability. However, we can, and should, strive for faithful liturgies by acknowledging when something is wrong and trying to understand, from the Church's point of view, why it is wrong. When we can identify the Church's position on the words and actions of the Liturgy, we may be able to persuade others to do what is right. 

The Liturgy is defined by the Church in the Roman Missal and other church documents. Saint John Paul II wrote in this encyclical letter, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, par. 52, "Liturgy is never anyone's private property, be it of the celebrant or of the community in which the mysteries are celebrated." The words and actions of the Liturgy are given to priests by their Spouse, the Church and out of humility, obedience and love for God and for the Faithful, they should use them. Priests should also use the words and actions in the Church's liturgical texts to remain in unity with the Universal Church, "which is a part of every Eucharist." It is the right of the Faithful that the liturgy be as the Church defines it. For more on the rights of the Faithful, see Quotes

The Church has described and defined, some -- but not all -- types of liturgical abuse. Pope Saint John Paul II first defined some liturgical abuses in Inaestimabile Donum. The most recent document on liturgical abuse is the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacrament's Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum

A summary of the document, published by the Liturgy Office of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England & Wales, has a list of grave abuse, or "grave matter." (See pages 3 - 4.) The numbers on the left, and in brackets, refer to paragraph numbers in Redemptionis Sacramentum. For a fuller understanding of the abuses listed, it is good to read the paragraphs in the document itself. (We can use this summery in the USA because Redemptionis Sacramentum is a Vatican document and applies to the whole Roman Church.)

Note that Redemptionis Sacramentum acknowledges that there are other abuses in the document, and other abuses not covered in the document, which should all be avoided and corrected. This would indicate, that liturgical abuses are not only offenses against the Eucharist, but offenses against the larger Church and Her Liturgy. 

"[...] let everyone do all that is in their power to ensure that the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist will be protected from any and every irreverence or distortion and that all abuses be thoroughly corrected. This is a most serious duty incumbent upon each and every one, and all are bound to carry it out without any favouritism." 

Redemptionis Sacramentum, par. 183.


"Is ______ liturgical abuse?" Search the relevant Church documents (links here) and other sources (links here). 

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