The head of the conservative Roman Catholic movement Opus Dei suggested today the Catholic Church should consider not giving out Communion during huge Masses because it cannot be done “in a dignified way".
Monsignor Javier Echevarria Rodriguez also criticised Masses that have an excessive number of priests celebrating together, saying it can confuse the faithful and diminish the link between the priest and the altar.
His comments to the Synod of Bishops, the meeting of the world’s Catholic bishops, appeared to be an indirect criticism of the enormous outdoor Masses favoured by the late Pope John Paul II.
During those Masses, which took place at the Vatican and during John Paul II’s many travels abroad, tens of thousands of people would line up to receive Communion and dozens, sometimes hundreds of priests would concelebrate.
One of the largest such gatherings at the Vatican came in 2002, when the Opus Dei founder, Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, was canonised. During that Mass in St. Peter’s Square, priests walked down as far as the Tiber river to distribute Communion to the estimated 300,000 people who attended.
Echevarria said he asked himself whether such large Masses were being celebrated correctly, and said the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, had expressed a similar question in his book “Look at the Crucifix.”
“I ask myself if ... maybe it would be convenient to avoid the general distribution of Communion, in such a case where this cannot be realised in a dignified way,” Echevarria said, according to Rev. John Bartunek, a synod spokesman who read from Echevarria’s speech.
The Opus Dei prelate also complained about Masses with a large number of priests concelebrating, saying that they sometimes are so far from the altar they cannot even see it. When some priests are seated in the pews, “a certain confusion” can arise among the faithful, he said, according to Bartunek.
During the Sunday Mass to open the synod, 325 prelates, including the synod participants, gathered around the main altar in St. Peter’s Basilica and concelebrated with the Pope.
John Paul II championed Opus Dei’s mission – to give lay people a dynamic role in spreading the word of God – as a means of confronting the secularisation of society and reinforcing his conservative doctrine. Opus Dei – Latin for God’s work – is also accused of secretive, cult-like practices.
Echevarria’s comments were delivered on the fourth working day of the synod, which is designed to let bishops from around the world voice concerns about the Eucharist, or Mass, and make recommendations to the Pope.
After several bishops complained that their comments were being released to the media, the Vatican clamped down on the information flow yesterday, saying it would no longer divulge details of the “free discussion” hour at the end of each day, when bishops can raise issues of particular concern.
Today, the synod spokesmen announced a new policy of giving out details from the “free discussion” period, but not identify the speakers.
Bartunek did, however, elaborate on some of the prepared speeches, summaries of which are given to journalists. The summaries sometimes do not include key information.
For example, Bartunek said Monsignor Arnold Orowae of Papua New Guinea told the synod today there was a great “difficulty with celibacy” among priests in his part of the world and that “this will certainly affect the life of the church.”
The shortage of priests has been a major theme of the synod. Many church reform groups say the shortage could be addressed by removing the church’s celibacy rule for priests.
The official summary of Orowae’s speech, however, made no mention of his celibacy remarks.