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Church group's leader eyes Communion limits

Cites confusion of large Masses

VATICAN CITY -- The head of the conservative Roman Catholic movement Opus Dei suggested yesterday that the church consider not giving out Holy Communion during huge Masses because it cannot be done ''in a dignified way."

Bishop Javier Echevarria Rodriguez also criticized Masses that have what he called an excessive number of priests celebrating together, saying it can confuse the faithful and diminish the link between the priest and the altar.

His comments to the Synod of Bishops, the Oct. 2-23 meeting of the world's bishops, appeared to be an indirect criticism of the enormous outdoor Masses favored by the late Pope John Paul II.

During those Masses -- held at the Vatican, during World Youth Day events and during John Paul's many world travels -- tens of thousands of people would line up to receive Communion and dozens, sometimes hundreds, of priests would concelebrate.

One of the largest such gatherings at the Vatican occurred in 2002, when the Opus Dei founder, Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, was canonized. During that Mass in St. Peter's Square, priests walked down as far as the River Tiber to distribute Communion to about 300,000 people.

Echevarria said he wondered whether such large Masses were being celebrated correctly, and he also said Pope Benedict XVI, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, expressed a similar question in his book ''Look at the Crucifix."

''I ask myself if . . . maybe it would be convenient to avoid the general distribution of Communion, in such a case where this cannot be realized in a dignified way," Echevarria said, according to the Rev. John Bartunek, a spokesman for the synod who was reading from his speech.

Echevarria suggested that perhaps some new church norms were necessary to deal with the issue ''because experience has shown that it is not sufficient to simply make reference to the current norms."

The Opus Dei prelate also complained about Masses with a large number of priests concelebrating, saying that many times they are too far away from the altar. When some priests are seated in the pews, ''a certain confusion" can arise among the faithful, he said, according to Bartunek.

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