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Official approval given to Neocatechumate celebrations

VATICAN (SE): After a long period of controversy, discussion and negotiation, the Vatican has given formal approval to the special celebrations that characterise the Neocatechumenal Way.

At a January 20 meeting with over 7,000 members of the lay movement, Pope Benedict XVI strongly endorsed its apostolic outreach.

However, he also acknowledged the controversy that has dogged the movement, especially in Japan, where it was expelled from the diocese of Takamatsu, after Bishop Peter Takeo Okada accused its members of refusing to cooperate with diocesan plans and being an obstruction to diocesan life and the local Church’s efforts at inculturation of the faith in Japanese society.

The Church in Nepal closed down the Neocatecumenate in August last year, citing its refusal to cooperate in diocesan affairs and accusing it of isolating itself from mainstream Church life.

The highly respected New Zealand Church sociologist, Marist Father Gerry Arbuckle, has also warned religious communities and dioceses in his country against encouraging the formation of what is often simply referred to as The Way, saying that it often acts as a sect and is resistant to the inculturation of the faith.

In his January 20 meeting with members of The Way, Pope Benedict XVI issued a caution, saying that its members should work closely with local bishops and communities, and ensure that they participate in ordinary parish celebrations, especially the big bone of contention, liturgies.

Nevertheless, he also gave his blessing to 17 groups sent out on mission assignments by the Neocatechumenate to spread the gospel in different communities in Europe, the Americas and Africa. reports that each of these teams, called ad gentes, is composed of three or four families and a priest. They are commissioned to rouse interest in the Church in areas where the faith has declined, or never been firmly established. 

Pope Benedict also praised members of The Way for their apostolic zeal, noting that their “firm commitment to proclaim the gospel of the risen Christ” has often entailed “abandoning personal and material security” for their mission work.

“May your commitment and witness be as a leaven, which—patiently, respecting times and with sensus Ecclesia—causes the dough to rise,” the pope said.

He called the work of the Neocatechumenate “a special gift, which the Holy Spirit has given to our times.”

The pope went on to explain that the movement has shown a special ability to “foment a renewal of the richness of sacramental life among people who have distanced themselves from the Church, or who have not received adequate formation.”

Pope Benedict said that in order to allow the movement to carry out this unique apostolic work, the Vatican has approved the special celebrations that the Neocatechumenate organises for its small communities.

However, his approval did carry a caution, as he noted that these celebrations must be oriented towards strengthening local Catholic parishes and he insisted that the members of The Way must “always seek profound communion with the Apostolic See and with the pastors of the particular Churches of which you are a part.”

Referring to the movement’s special celebrations, he said, “They must favour their insertion into the life of the ecclesial community as a whole, which has its ordinary form in the liturgical celebrations in parishes.”

The pope carefully made the point that the celebrations of the Neocatechumenate are not liturgical and that all liturgical celebrations must be conducted according to the Church’s existing rules. He reminded the group that local bishops have the authority to govern liturgical affairs within their dioceses. notes, “The Vatican’s formal approval for the Neocatechumenal Way does not extend to changes that members of the movement have made in celebrating Mass.”

The United States of America-based Catholic news agency adds, “The Pontifical Council for the Laity approved the ceremonies in the Catechetical Dictionary of the Neocatechumenal Way, specifying that this approval applies to those celebrations that are not, by their nature, already regulated by the liturgical books of the Church.”

The agency quoted Vatican officials as saying that in celebrating Mass, the members of The 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.”

The formal approval from the Vatican reflects the same distinction between the private prayer services of the Neocatechumenate and the formal liturgy of the Church.

In his own remarks during the papal audience, Kiko Arguello, the founder of the Neocatechumenal Way, said that the group specialises in providing a witness of Christian charity, which attracts people to the Church. “We have many experiences of people who have asked to be baptised by seeing how we relate to each other, how we love each other,” he said.

Arguello said that the lay movement has a special role to play in Europe, where “people are very lonely.” He reflected that the prevalence of suicide, of divorce, of alcoholism and of abortion all testify to a profound loneliness of spirit, which points to a need for spiritual revival.

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