Francisco “Kiko” Argüello, the founder of the Neocatechumenal Way, thanked the Vatican for approving special “celebrations” or non-liturgical prayers within the movement’s catechesis.
The gesture was “a huge consolation” and “an immense grace after so many years of suffering and work,” Argüello told CNA.
Pope Benedict XVI met with around 7,000 members of the movement in the Vatican’s Paul VI audience hall on Jan. 20 for an annual event to send families to mission destinations worldwide.
The invitation issued by the movement to bishops for the event said that the purpose of the meeting was for the Pope to “sign a Decree from the Congregation of Divine Worship recognizing the full approval of the liturgies of the Neocatechumenal Way.”
Instead, approval for the non-liturgical practices of the group came by way of another source. It was Pontifical Council for the Laity that issued a decree of approval – after having consulted the Congregation for Divine Worship – for those “celebrations” present in their Catechetical Directory.
A Vatican official who requested anonymity clarified to CNA on Jan. 21 that approval of the Neocatechumenal Way’s forms of “celebration” only applies to non-liturgical prayers within their catechesis and not to the Mass or other liturgies of the Church.
In this process “the Neocatechumenal Way obtained no new permissions whatsoever,” said the official, who is familiar with the approval process for prayers and liturgies.
“Essentially, the Pontifical Council is only approving these things that are found in the Catechetical Directory of the Neocatechumenal Way, and in no way touches those things contained in the liturgical books.”
He said that the decree served merely as an assurance that “there is nothing erroneous to the prayers that they use in the context of their catechetical sessions.”
The Neocatechumenal Way was founded in 1964 in Spain by Argüello and Carmen Hernández. It draws its inspiration from the practices of the early Catholic Church, providing “post-baptismal” Christian formation in small, parish-based communities. The movement is present all over the world, and has an estimated membership of more than 1 million people.
Since its foundation, however, the group has been cautioned by the Vatican for inserting various novel practices into Masses organized by the movement. These include lay preaching, standing during Eucharistic Prayer, the reception of Holy Communion while sitting down, as well as the passing of the Most Precious Blood from person to person.
Argüello stressed that the Neocatechumenal Way has no distinct liturgy of its own but uses the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite as approved by the Church.
“It’s the Mass of the Church. On the basis of catechesis, we insist on what the Council underscored, that we should celebrate with both species. This is very difficult in large parishes or in large celebrations for logistical reasons, because of the wine, because of other things, it becomes very difficult,” he said.
“It is clear to us that the Pope,” he added, “who has a special charism as we have seen, realizes that the future of the new evangelization passes through the Christian community, through families, and the Christian community saves families, and families save society and save the Church.”
He reflected on the history of the Neocatechumenal Way, noting that the group has “been around for more than 40 years, and we continue working with the same spirit.”
The movement is “still on fire, just like in the beginning, with the desire to evangelize in Asia and in China,” he said.
The Neocatechumenal Way currently has five seminaries in China and hopes to carry out further mission work in Thailand and Vietnam.
“I have told young people that we need 20,000 priests for China and five thousand young people have come forward. We have five thousand young people preparing themselves, finding out how much studies they have completed, how they can prepare themselves, how they can receive formation.”
During the Jan. 20 meeting with the Pope, the movement also sent out 18 mission groups “to the aborigines in Australia as well.”
The “state doesn’t know what to do with them because they are psychologically destroyed,” he explained. “Many drink and commit suicide. All they know how to do is give them money.”
“And yet,” he added, “we have sent an ad gentes mission there to evangelize them and bring them Jesus Christ, and we have already seen wonderful results.”
Argüello on called on the members of the Neocatechumenal Way throughout the world to join together in their communities and parishes at “a Marian shrine in order to give thanks” for the papal approval. “She is interceding for us. We sense her closeness to us,” he said.