Official recognition of the liturgical practices of the Neocatechumenal Way

Source: FSSPX News

On January 20, 2012, the Vatican announced that they have validated the non-liturgical celebrations of the Neocatechumenal Way, “that are not already regulated by the liturgical books of the Church.”  Shortly before, during an audience given by Benedict XVI to 7,000 members of the Way, the Secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, Bishop Josef Clemens, read the Decree of Approval for the celebrations contained in the Catechetical Directory of the community.

The Decree occurs after the 2002 approval of the Statutes of the Neocatechumenal Way ad experimentum for a period of five years.  The Statutes received final approval in 2008, two years before the validation of the Catechetical Directory at the end of 2010.

Dated December 30, 2011, the Decree of Approval specifically concerns the liturgical celebrations and other types of celebrations.  The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments emphasized the distinction between the two types of celebrations, making a clear distinction between the Mass and other types of gatherings.  This validation comes six years after Cardinal Francis Arinze, then president of the Pontifical Council, sent a letter addressed to the leaders of the Way, on behalf of Benedict XVI.  In that document the prelate evaluated the situation of “the celebration of Mass in the Way communities,” after completing an analysis with its leaders.  He asked them to accept and follow the liturgical books approved by the Church during Mass, “without omitting or adding anything”—notably by reinstating the Creed and the Agnus Dei.

Among other things, Cardinal Arinze asked for the communities to regularly participate in parish Masses, and that they also take care to reserve preaching to priests or deacons.  He also expressed reservations about the manner in which the neo-catechumens received communion, asking them to do so while standing and not sitting.  His letter authorized the exchange of Christ's peace before the offertory and the admonitions and sharing on the readings by the faithful, provided they are brief.  Finally, Cardinal Arinze prescribed a series of modification of practices, providing two years to the neo-catechumens to change their practices.

The Neocatechumenal Way describes itself as an “itinerary of Christian formation” begun in the 1960s, in a working-class suburb of Madrid. Its founder, Kiko Argüello (on the picture), was joined by another lay person, Carmen Hernandez, as well as an Italian priest, Mario Pezzi, and now form the international leadership team.  The Way is currently present on all continents, in over 900 dioceses and includes about 40,000 communities.  It has also more than 70 Redemptoris Mater seminaries.

During the January 20th audience, Benedict XVI asked the members of “Camino” (the Way) for greater communion with the Pope, Rome and the bishops.  “In your valuable work, always look for a deep communion with the Apostolic See and with the pastors of the churches in which you are inserted.”  The Pope again wished for “unity and harmony in the ecclesial body,” in reference to the sometime difficult insertion of the Neocatechumenal Way in certain dioceses.

Citing the statutes of the Way, which emphasize the centrality of the Eucharist as part of their “post-baptismal-lived-in-small-communities” itinerary, Benedict XVI affirmed that every Eucharistic celebration must be “open to all those who belong to this Church,” emphasizing the public nature of the Mass.  He asked the neo-catechumens not to separate themselves from the parish community on that occasion.  If he recognized certain peculiarities as being approved in their statutes, he asked that the liturgical books be faithfully followed in the celebration of Mass.

This official recognition comes despite the approach of three Japanese bishops received in audience, January 12, 2012, by Benedict XVI.  "One of the major topics of the visit was the issue of neo-catechumens," John Eijiro Suwa, Bishop of Takamatsu confided to the Roman news agency I. Media, before referring in a general manner to “many types of problems.”  “These problems are the same as before,” simply added the Japanese prelate whose diocese has long hosted a Neocatechumenal Way seminary which was closed in 2008 at the request of his predecessor.  He was accompanied by Paul Sueo Hamaguchi, Bishop of Oita, and Thomas Aquino Manyo Maeda, Bishop of Hiroshima since June 2011, after having been the secretary general of the Bishops' Conference of Japan.

In 2007 and 2010, the Pope had already granted an audience to the Japanese bishops who came to confide their difficulties with the Neocatechumenal Way.  The last audience, in December 2010, was attended by heads of departments of the Roman Curia, did not elicit a response to the request of the Japanese bishops to suspend the presence of the Neocatechumenal Way in Japan for a period of five years.  Instead they proposed that the bishops develop a dialogue between the community and the Episcopate and appoint a delegate in charge of this dialogue.

In 2007, before the Pope, the then president of the Bishops' Conference of Japan did not hesitate to speak of the “grave problem,” referring to the activities of members of the Way.  “Within the small community that represents the Catholic Church in Japan,” he said, “the activities of members of the Way, powerful and similar to those of a sect, are a cause of division and conflict.  They are the cause of deep and painful suffering in the bosom of the Church.” Its mode of operation, more than the vitality of the Neocatechumenal Way, is what poses a problem for the Japanese bishops.

Four years later, Bishop John Eijiro Suwa brought up “similar problems” but expressed confidence in the approaching meeting with the local leaders of the Way.  “In the near future, the Japanese bishops will meet with the leaders of the Neocatechumenal Way in Japan,” he says, adding: “We must forgive each other, but at the same time, we must also solve the problems.” (Sources: Apic / Imedia - DICI No. 249 of 02/03/12)