The Liturgy of the Neo-Catechumenal Way
This paper has been written due to curiosity concerning the Neo-Catechumenal Way among traditional Catholics. It contains my experience of the Neocatechumenate and is not intended to be an authoritative statement concerning this ever-growing phenomenon within the Catholic Church. I have begun with an explanation of certain aspects of the Neo-Catechumenal Way and followed this with a thorough description of the liturgy of the Eucharist as celebrated by Neo-Catechumenal communities. This particular element of the Neo-Catechumenate has not been covered in commentaries on the Internet and has been described here in some depth because it is thought to be of interest to Catholics who are closely associated with the treasure of the traditional Roman rite of Mass. It is hoped that the following material will provide the Christian Order reader with a clearer understanding of a group within the Church which is being accepted by an ever-increasing number of Catholics who are only too willing to forfeit their liturgical birthright for a bowlfull of lentil stew.
Aims of the Neocatechumenal
of the Neocatechumenate in a Parish
NC communities are never established within a diocese without the approval of the local ordinary. With his permission, the itinerant catechists approach priests, often by simply knocking on parish presbytery doors, and preach the Kerygma to them. They will often be given an opportunity to describe their own experiences of the Risen Lord through the NC Way and priests may be invited to have this same experience in their own parishes. Those priests who accept this invitation are told of some of the practical aspects of the NC and a catechesis is arranged for a suitable time. The catechesis itself is usually given on two nights of the week for approximately eight weeks. Details of this can be found on the Internet. At the end of this period, those present are asked to attend a weekend away, called a 'convivence.' Further catecheses on certain aspects of faith are provided at the convivence to prepare those in attendance for what is in stall. On the Saturday morning the catechists describe at some length the development of the Mass from patristic times to the present day. The primitive liturgy is presented in a positive light, whereby the catechists emphasise the Passover aspect of the sacred meal. The addition of different elements of the Mass throughout the centuries up until the Second Vatican Council are viewed by the catechists as things which detract from the essence of the Eucharist. They go on to state that the new order of Mass promulgated since the Council is more in line with primitive liturgical practice and that the NC liturgy (which is celebrated on the Saturday evening), itself a derivative of the new Mass, allows the Eucharist to shine in all its glory once again. At the conclusion of the convivence, the catechists ask whether anyone would like to continue this way of conversion they have already begun with the catechesis itself. Although most do not know exactly what this may entail, many do take up the offer and, if the catechesis has been particularly successful, a community will have been established. This being so, 'responsibles' are elected for the community who will be left to organise practical matters within the community itself and provide a link between the community and the catechists, who are forever vigilant to ensure that the new community is faithful to the 'spirit of the Way.'
of the Eucharist
The Sunday liturgy is celebrated on the Saturday night because, we were told, the Jewish Passover was always celebrated from the evening before the Sabbath. In addition, the NC liturgy is rarely celebrated in the normal place of Catholic worship because most churches, being built prior to the Vatican Council, do not necessarily accommodate the communal nature of the celebration. Community members are arranged in a horse-shoe shape around three sides of a large central 'altar' (which often consists of a number of tables joined together, covered with altar cloths and adorned with side candles, a candelabra and flowers). Behind the altar is a lectern from which introductions are made, certain songs are sung and the Word of God is proclaimed. The celebrant sits behind the lectern and may be flanked by an acolyte. The credence table is normally located to one side of the celebrant. The celebration of the Eucharist is prepared in a similar manner to that described above for the celebration of the Word, with the exception that the readings used are taken directly from the Missal.
Entrance Song. A cantor moves to the lectern to begin the song. The instruments used in the NC liturgy may include the following: classical guitars, charangos, mandolins, bongos, congos, tambourines, violins, flutes and brass. If the song is of a particularly joyous nature, the community will clap their hands in time with the rhythm of the song.
The priest (with servers) process into the room and, under normal circumstances, reverences the altar and then proceeds to his chair. In the case of a solemn Mass in which a number of priests and servers are in attendance, the procession begins with the thurifer, followed by the cross bearer, candle bearers, other servers, priests, a priest (or deacon) wearing a humeral veil and carrying the book of Gospels above his head, and the main celebrant. The altar is incensed and the main celebrant takes his place at the president's chair. At the completion of the song(s), the Bible is placed on the altar.
Greeting. As per Novus Ordo Missae or with priest's own variation. If the celebration is one in which numerous communities have gathered for a particular occasion, the celebrant may be interrupted at this point by one of the catechists so that introductions may be made.
Penitential Rite. The celebrant normally uses his own (often ad-libbed) version of that in the Novus Ordo Missae. The Confiteor and Kyrie are said but the Gloria is seldom used outside the Easter season. The Opening Prayer is taken from the Missal.
LITURGY OF THE WORD
Responsorial Psalm. One of the cantors moves to the lectern with guitar in hand. The response to the Psalm is sung and the assembly responds before the cantor sings the first verse. A number of the Psalms have been placed into the official song book of the NC Way. If the Psalm for the particular Mass is included in this song book, the NC form of the Psalm is often sung in its place.
Second Reading. The second reading is introduced in the same way as the first. The Word of God is proclaimed, followed by the introduction to the Gospel.
Alleluia. A cantor rises from his/her seat and the Alleluia is sung at the lectern. At solemn Mass, candle bearers, thurifer and deacon (wearing humeral veil) move in procession to the main celebrant who places incense into the thurible. They process between the lectern and altar where the deacon takes the Bible from the altar and returns to the celebrant's side of the lectern. The Bible is incensed and the Gospel is sung. The Bible is then lifted by the priest who makes the sign of the cross with it in a similar manner as done during benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.
Time of Resonance. The celebrant invites those present to respond to the Word of God in the same way as explained earlier in the Celebration of the Word.
Homily. Given by celebrant following a suitable time of resonance. The Kerygma, or Good News, is the main emphasis of the homily.
Creed. The Profession of Faith is never said because of an antiquarian approach towards the liturgy. The Creed, being a later addition to the Mass, has been removed because the NC liturgy was devised in an attempt to return to primitive liturgical practice.
Prayers of the Faithful. One of the members of the preparation group moves to the lectern and prays for the needs of the Church, for the world, for those oppressed by suffering, and for the community. The latter category of prayer mainly includes prays for the NC communities in the parish, in the country and around the world, as well as prayers for the founders of the NC and blessings to God for 'the Way'. The assembly is then invited to pray aloud for their own intentions. The celebrant finishes the prayers of the faithful with his own prayer.
LITURGY OF THE EUCHARIST
Offertory. The beginning of the Peace Song marks the end of the Sign of Peace and, while people return to their places and sit down, the acolyte or head responsible of the community moves to the credence table and brings forward the gifts to the celebrant (or, in the case of a solemn celebration, a concelebrating priest) who has made his way to the altar. The priest places a large corporal on the altar, receives the bread (contained on a large, flat plate) from the server and, raising it slightly, says 'Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation...' as per Novus Ordo.
The bread used is unleavened and is prepared by a member of the community. It is roughly 20 to 30 cm in diameter and 7 to 10 mm thick with a cruciform design on both upper and lower surfaces. The priest then receives the chalice (already filled with wine) from the server and adds a small quantity of water to the chalice. In a similar manner, the priest raises the chalice and gives a short blessing. The chalice is usually a vessel with a capacity of about 1.5 litres so that Communion may be given under both kinds and so that everyone present may drink a reasonable volume of our Lord's Precious Blood. At celebrations in which more than one piece of bread and more than one chalice is required, additional plates and chalices are arranged around the large altar, the celebrant censes the altar and the gifts. The altar and gifts are incensed at this point of a solemn celebration.
Washing of hands. The Lavabo, an expression of the priest's desire to be cleansed within, has been omitted, probably because it is viewed that there is no longer a practical reason for this rite.
Orate fratres. This prayer has also been omitted, presumably because of the mention of sacrifice. This may have been done for ecumenical reasons. However, a priest long associated with the NC Way once told me that the sacrificial nature of the Mass was a pre-Vatican II notion and not of particular concern today!
Prayer over the gifts. The celebrant returns to his place. A server brings the Sacramentary (or Sunday Missal) to the priest who says the prayer before moving again to the altar to begin the Eucharistic Prayer.
Preface. Although I may be mistaken, I can only recall three Prefaces being used - those hose of Easter, Advent and ordinary time.
Sanctus. This is sung but the words used often differ considerably from the official text. The assembly remains standing for the duration of the Eucharistic Prayer.
Eucharistic Prayer The second Eucharistic Prayer or, more accurately, a derivative of the official text, is used at all times, most probably because this prayer is most acceptable to Protestants. I cannot remember the Roman Canon ever being used. The entire Eucharistic Prayer, including the Consecration, is sung by the priest with the accompaniment of a guitar (although some priests prefer to sing the words of Consecration without accompaniment). Immediately following each of the Consecrations, the priest elevates the sacred species to all present in a circular manner and, as the Body and Blood are passed in front of them, the assembly bows in reverence. As the celebrant genuflects the assembly bows profoundly.
Mysterium Fidei. The Mystery of Faith is proclaimed in words other than those in the official Mass text: 'We announce your death, 0 Lord. We proclaim your resurrection. Maranatha, Maranatha, Maranatha, Maranatha.' (i.e. Come Lord Jesus).
Fractio Panis. The large piece of bread is broken into two pieces and again elevated. The assembly bows, sits down and the Communion song begins as the priest continues to break the bread into smaller pieces to be distributed to Communicants. The cruciform shape made on the upper and lower surfaces of the bread is meant to assist the priest in the breaking of bread. However, on many occasions the bread has not been cooked properly and the priest has to either use brute force to break the bread or, conversely, the bread shatters into a number of pieces. On more than one occasion have I had to clean up crumbs left on the altar cloths and the floor at the end of a celebration.
Agnus Dei. Has been omitted.
Communion. One of the more peculiar elements of the NC liturgy is that the community remains seated to receive Communion on the hand only. On one occasion I saw a member of a young community who, kneeling to receive Communion on the tongue, was told to be seated and to place his hands out in front of him if he wished to Communicate! After receiving the Body of Christ on the hand, all Communicants refrain from eating until the priest returns to his place.
Ecce Agnus Dei. The priest returns to his seat and says 'This is the Lamb of God .... called to his supper. May the Body of Christ bring us to everlasting life.' At this point all Communicants begin to eat their portions.
Domine, non sum dignus... et sanabitur anima mea. This response has also been omitted from the celebration. I can not comment on why this omission has taken place but the attitude of the catechists seems to be that, no matter how sinful we are, if we have been invited to a meal we should eat. Hence, Spiritual Communion is not encouraged.
The priest is given the chalice (either by an acolyte or the responsible) and says 'May the Blood of Christ bring us to everlasting life.' He then distributes the Precious Blood, starting with any concelebrating priests and acolytes and then to the cantor, who begins the next Communion song as the priest moves around the assembly once again.
There are two points of interest here:
The first of these is that all of the bread that is consecrated must be consumed during the celebration. This is easily done if the community is large because there are sufficient numbers to consume any excess. However, I know of an instance in which less than a dozen people gathered for the Eucharist and were forced to consume quite large portions because someone had cooked enough bread to feed thirty or more people. Because of the 'slab' in front of each individual, the mainly young gathering giggled and laughed as they ate!
The second point of interest is the relatively high chance of spilling the Precious Blood in this method of distributing Communion. Under normal circumstances (i.e. at the community level), the priest has the task of simply navigating his way down stairs and between rows of chairs in order to distribute Communion. But, in a Mass celebrated in the Cathedral of Perth, Australia, on the feast of the Assumption, 1996, I witnessed something beyond ridiculous. The catechists insisted that Communion be given under both species in the normal NC manner, meaning that the priests and acolytes had to distribute, not only the Body of Christ, but the Precious Blood to people in their pews!
Another peculiarity of the NC is that it is not unusual, at least in the communities I have had association with, to see individuals chewing gum during the celebration of the Eucharist. I brought this disturbing fact to the attention of one of the priests who did nothing at all to rectify the problem.
During the distribution of the Blood of Christ, the acolyte (or responsible of the community) removes the plate and corporal from the altar and returns it to the credence table. When the celebrant has finished distributing Communion, he returns the chalice to the credence table, covers the chalice with the purifier and returns to his place. The sacred vessels are purified only at the completion of the celebration. The celebrant says the post-Communion prayer after the end of the Communion song.
I can only say that it appears that the founders of the NC Way have a great deal of influence in the Vatican. After a five year period in the NC, one of those being spent in a Redemptoris Mater Seminary in Australia, I firmly believe that one cannot possibly experience anything remotely Catholic within the NC Way, despite what is often advocated by catechists within the Neocatechumenate.
I am now convinced more than ever that an authentic Catholic life revolves around the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as celebrated in the traditional rites of the Catholic Church.