The Vatican’s 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.
“With respect to the celebrations of the Holy Mass and the other liturgies of the Church,” communities of the Neocatechumenal Way must “follow the norms of the Church as indicated in the liturgical books – to do otherwise must be understood to be a liturgical abuse,” a Vatican official who requested anonymity told CNA on Jan. 21.
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 yesterday’s event stated that “the purpose of this meeting is that His Holiness will 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.
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 Francisco “Kiko” 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.
“The Neocatechumenal Way has no such permission for any of these kinds of things,” said the Vatican official. He claimed that the Vatican still receives complaints about the group’s “non-compliance with the universal norms of liturgy.”
He added that it should be clear that “yesterday’s decree has nothing to do with the widely seen liturgical innovations of the Neocatechumenal Way,” which “should be stopped immediately because they don't correspond to the law about the way the Mass and the sacraments are to be celebrated.”
The only exceptions are two permissions granted which allow the group to move the sign of peace to before the presentation of the gifts and also to have communion under both kinds. Even these changes, though, still require the permission of the local bishop.
“The Church’s liturgy is narrowly defined as the public worship of the Church” such as Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours, the official explained to CNA. Church norms for the liturgy, he said, are “found in the approved liturgical books and the Neocatechumenal Way is bound to observe these no differently than any other group within the Catholic Church.”
What yesterday’s decree approved are “those things in the Directory not included in liturgical books,” which is “the equivalent of approving the prayers of, for example, the meetings of the Knights of Columbus or of a confraternity or perhaps of the prayers that a group like the Missionaries of Charity pray after Mass.”
During Pope Benedict's meeting with the movement on Jan. 20, he praised them for helping “those who have already been baptized to rediscover the beauty of the life of faith, the joy of being Christian.”
He also cited their statutes as he gave them guidelines for the celebration of the liturgy, saying that for members of the Neocatechumenal Way, “the progressive growth in faith of the individual and of the small community should promote their integration into the life of the greater ecclesial community, which finds its ordinary form in the liturgical celebration of the parish, in which and for which the Neocatechumenate is implemented.
“But also during the way, it is important not to separate oneself from the parish community, and particularly in the celebration of the Eucharist which is the true place of universal unity, where the Lord embraces us in our various states of spiritual maturity and unites us in the one bread that makes us one body.”
The Statutes of the Neocatechumenal Way were given approval by the Vatican in 2008, while its Catechetical Directory was approved two years later, after consultation with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.