Opus Dei bishop suggests not giving out Holy Communion at large Masses

Posted: Friday, October 07, 2005

VATICAN CITY — The head of the conservative Roman Catholic movement Opus Dei suggested Thursday that the church consider not giving out Holy Communion during huge Masses because it cannot be done ‘‘in a dignified way.’’

Monsignor Javier Echevarria Rodriguez also criticized Masses that have what he called 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 Oct. 2-23 meeting of the world’s bishops, appeared to be an indirect criticism of the enormous outdoor Masses favored by the late Pope John Paul II.

During those Masses — held at the Vatican, during World Youth Day events and during John Paul’s many world travels — 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 occurred in 2002, when the Opus Dei founder, Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, was canonized. During that Mass in St. Peter’s Square, priests walked down as far as the River Tiber to distribute Communion to the estimated 300,000 people attending.

Echevarria said he asked himself whether such large Masses were being celebrated correctly, and he also said Pope Benedict XVI, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, 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 realized in a dignified way,’’ Echevarria said, according to Rev. John Bartunek, a spokesman for the synod who was reading from his speech.

Echevarria suggested that perhaps some new church norms were necessary to deal with the issue ‘‘because experience has shown that it is not sufficient to simply make reference to the current norms.’’

The Opus Dei prelate also complained about Masses with a large number of priests concelebrating, saying that many times they are so far away 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 Mass on Sunday to open the synod, 325 prelates, including most of the synod participants, gathered around the main altar in St. Peter’s Basilica and concelebrated with the pope.

Opus Dei has more than 80,000 members worldwide, including bishops, priests and lay people.

Opus Dei’s mission — to give lay people a dynamic role in spreading the word of God — was backed by John Paul II, who championed the movement as a means of confronting the secularization of society and reinforcing his conservative doctrine. But Opus Dei — Latin for ‘‘God’s work’’ — also is accused of secretive, cult-like practices.

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