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Q & A

What are the remedies for liturgical abuse? 

Redemptionis Sacramentum, Chapter 4 is titled "Remedies." The chapter calls for abuses to be "avoided and corrected." Paragraph 170 implies that a remedy requires "biblical and liturgical formation of the people of God, both pastors and faithful." Inaestimabile Donum also calls for such a formation.

 

Paragraph 170 goes on to say that where abuses persist, "proceedings should be undertaken . . . employing all legitimate means." The proceedings and legitimate means, according to Chapter 4, section 4, would be taken by the diocesan Bishop since he is responsible for the liturgy.  He is to do the following things:

  • Issue norms on liturgical matters (par. 176)

  • Promote common discipline (par. 177)

  • "Insist upon the observance of all ecclesiastical laws" (par. 177)

  • "be watchful lest abuses encroach upon ecclesiastical discipline"(par 177)

  • Investigate "concerning the facts and the circumstances as well as the imputability" when he receives "at least a plausible notice of a delict or abuse concerning the Most Holy Eucharist" (par. 178)

  • Refer without delay to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, any "delicts against the faith as well as graviora delicta committed in the celebration of the Eucharist and the other Sacraments" (par. 179)

  • Proceed "according the norms of the sacred canons" (par. 180)

  • Impose canonical penalties, if necessary (par. 180)

 

Do lay people have responsibility to remedy or correct liturgical abuse?

 

According to Redemptionis Sacramentum, Section 6, everyone should "do all that is in their power" to protect the Eucharist "from any and every irreverence or distortion and that all abuses be thoroughly corrected" (par. 183). The paragraph goes on to say, "This is a most serious duty incumbent upon each and every one, and all are bound to carry it out without any favouritism." What is within the power of lay people?
 

It is a common recommendation that if laypeople have a concern about liturgical abuse, they should speak privately to the priest. This recommendation is based on Jesus' instructions in Matthew 18: 15 - 17:

If your brother sins [against you], go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.

 

It is a very hard thing to tell someone about his fault, especially when he is your priest. However, it is an important step. The abuse you see may be a mistake or a misunderstanding. See Sirach 19: 13-17

Admonish your friend—he may not have done it; and if he did, that he may not do it again.

Admonish your neighbor—he may not have said it; and if he did, that he may not say it again.

Admonish your friend—often it may be slander; do not believe every story.

Then, too, a person can slip and not mean it; who has not sinned with his tongue?

Admonish your neighbor before you break with him; and give due place to the Law of the Most High.

 

The only recommendation for lay people in Redemptionis Sacramentum is in paragraph 184: 

Any Catholic, whether Priest or Deacon or lay member of Christ’s faithful, has the right to lodge a complaint regarding a liturgical abuse to the diocesan Bishop or the competent Ordinary equivalent to him in law, or to the Apostolic See on account of the primacy of the Roman Pontiff. It is fitting, however, insofar as possible, that the report or complaint be submitted first to the diocesan Bishop. This is naturally to be done in truth and charity.

Lodging a complaint with the Bishop is a lay person's right and, possibly, a duty. However, one should be aware, that a copy of the letter or communication will be shared with the priest, as this is the policy in many Chancelleries. In addition, many priests and Bishops are offended by the term "liturgical abuse" and have made the decision to marginalize and avoid those who try to address it. (See What is liturgical abuse? for more on this challenge.) Contacting the Bishop is not a way to avoid damaging your relationship with your priest. It is a difficult step to take, and might be best done with "two or three witnesses". 

 

So, the answer to the question -- what are the remedies for liturgical abuse? -- is complicated and depends on the specific situation and personalities involved. You can only do the best you can to research, pray and discern what is best to do -- keeping in mind, that God comes first. No "favouritism".

For resources and other recommendations on how to correct liturgical abuse, how to write to priests and Bishops, and educational opportunities toward "biblical and liturgical formation," see Remedies.

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