The practices of the Neocatechumenal Way in Guam have drawn attention from the island's coadjutor archbishop, who has said its members are to stop forming new communities for a year, in the interest of healing divisions in the archdiocese.
Coadjutor Archbishop Michael Byrnes of Agaña cited “a growing sense of distress about the multiplication of small communities in some parishes and about some of the differences in the way the Mass is celebrated among the small communities of the Neocatechumenal Way.”
The movement must celebrate Mass at a consecrated altar and members of the congregation who receive the Blessed Sacrament must consume it as soon as they receive it, the archbishop said in a March 15 pastoral letter to his flock on the northwestern Pacific island, a U.S. territory.
The Neocatechumenal Way is a new ecclesial movement that focuses on post-baptismal adult formation in small parish-based groups. It is estimated that the movement contains about 1 million members, in some 40,000 parish-based communities around the world.
Archbishop Byrnes was appointed as Coadjutor Archbishop of Agaña in October 2016 to replace Archbishop Anthony Apuron, who was relieved of his pastoral and administrative authority in June 2016 after allegations surfaced that he had sexually abused minors.
Archbishop Apuron is a member of the Neocatechumenal Way. He has also been accused of mishandling control over Guam's seminary, reportedly using it as a Neocatechumenal seminary rather than a diocesan seminary, which led to the withdrawal of all Samoan students.
At his appointment, Archbishop Byrnes was given all the faculties, rights, and obligations of the Archbishop of Agaña.
“In the conversation with Pope Francis last October, he appealed to me in a particular way to do what I can to bring some healing to the divisions existing in the Archdiocese of Agaña,” he wrote in his pastoral letter.
“I realize that a number of factors have contributed toward the divisions. I cannot deal with them all at once hence what I outline below represents a beginning.”
He presented his decisions regarding the Neocatechumenal Way “in the context of the pastoral change entrusted to me by the Holy Father.”
Archbishop Byrnes will appoint a priest delegate to to review the Neocatechumenal Way's catechetical directory and to ensure its catechists are sufficiently formed.
He is also regulating the liturgies of the Neocatechumenal Way in his local Church, to foster clarity and unity.
“The sooner we have unity and universal adherence as an archdiocese to the norms established by the Church in celebrating the body of Christ during the sacred celebration of the Mass, the sooner we shall be on the path to reconciling with one another and bring healing to our divided diocese,” Archbishop Byrnes said.
Since the Neocatechumenal Way says Mass on Saturday evenings, the coadjutor archbishop stipulated that all Masses on Saturday evenings be said at a consecrated altar. This norm will go into effect April 2.
He also directed that if the Neocatechumenal Way's Mass is one of a parish's regularly scheduled Masses, its special character be noted in the bulletin; if the Mass is in addition to a regularly scheduled Mass on Saturday evening, a portion of its collection should go to the parish; and that the pastor has the authority to direct how many additional Masses may be said.
Archbishop Byrnes also directed that, in accord with the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, the celebrant of a Mass must consume the Body and Blood of Christ prior to distributing Communion, and that communicants are to consume the Body and Blood as soon as they receive the host or chalice, without any delay. These norms take effect March 26.
The archbishop recognized the good that the movement has brought to many people’s lives and he noted that it is recognized and approved by the Holy See.
However, it is imperative that it adhere to liturgical norms, he said, and this adherence “will only enrich the fruits of the Neocatechumenal movement.”
Fr. Paul A.M. Gofigan, rector of Dulce Nombre De Maria Cathedral-Basilica, told the Pacific Daily News that when the movement aims to start a new community, it offers testimonials at churches.
“Many have been very offended that the non-Neos have become a captive audience because these testimonials have been inserted into the Mass,” he said.
Since the Neocatechumenal Way was founded, the group has sometimes been cautioned by the Vatican for inserting various novel practices into the Masses it organizes. These include practices such as lay preaching, the reception of Holy Communion while sitting, and the passing of the Most Precious Blood from person to person.