ROME (CNS) -- The Vatican has told communities of the Neocatechumenal Way to join their entire parish at least once a month for Mass and to phase out their practice of receiving Communion seated around a table.
The instructions were contained in a Dec. 1 letter from Cardinal Francis Arinze, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, published in late December by an Italian newspaper and an Italian magazine.
Officials of the congregation and the Neocatechumenal Way were not available for comment Dec. 28.
The letter said Cardinal Arinze met Nov. 11 with the leaders of the international parish-based faith formation program -- Kiko Arguello and Carmen Hernandez, who founded the Way, and Father Mario Pezzi -- to discuss the liturgy.
According to the letter, Pope Benedict XVI requested that the changes be made.
"In the celebration of the holy Mass, the Neocatechumenal Way will accept and follow the liturgical books approved by the church without omitting or adding anything," the letter said.
Because the celebration of Sunday Mass is so important in the life of a parish, the letter said, the Neocatechumenal communities in each parish must join the rest of the parish at least once a month for Sunday Mass.
The statutes of the Neocatechumenal Way, approved by Pope John Paul II in 2002, allow the communities to celebrate their own regular weekly Mass on Saturday evenings.
For more than 30 years, members of the Neocatechumenal Way have prepared their liturgies by baking their own loaves of unleavened bread, and they have received the consecrated bread and wine while seated around a table.
However, the letter said, the practice should not continue.
"The Neocatechumenal Way will be given a transition period of not more than two years to pass from the common method of receiving holy Communion in its communities -- seated, using a decorated table placed at the center of the church instead of the dedicated altar in the sanctuary -- to the manner normal to the entire church for receiving holy Communion," the letter said.
"This means that the Neocatechumenal Way must move toward the manner foreseen in the liturgical books for the distribution of the body and blood of Christ," it said.
Cardinal Arinze's letter also emphasized a point made in the Neocatechumenal Way's 2002 statutes: Only a priest or deacon may give the homily at Mass.
The cardinal told the communities to be very careful to ensure that any readings or comments meant to reinforce the Gospel message are brief and clearly different from a homily.
He also said that the communities should make use of all the eucharistic prayers contained in the Roman Missal, rather than using only the second eucharistic prayer.
Cardinal Arinze said the Vatican would allow the Neocatechumenal Way to continue one of its special practices, exchanging the sign of peace just before the offertory rather than just before Communion.
At the October Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist, an archbishop from Guam said he had seen a remarkable growth in faith in parishes where the Neocatechumenal Way was operating.
Archbishop Anthony Apuron of Agana, Guam, said the entire church should consider adopting some of the Way's liturgical practices, including restoring "the 'breadness' of the bread," by using the "unleavened bread used in the ancient and primitive church rather than the wafer-thin, mass-produced bread we use as hosts for our people today."
And, he said, when a priest carries the Eucharist to people who are seated, it fosters more of a sense of community.
"What sort of a banquet does one go to which requires you to stand rather than sit?" Archbishop Apuron asked.
- Copyright (c) 2005 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops