diabolical is not a nice word!

Cardinal Robert Sarah

Cardinal Robert Sarah, of Guinea is known for his traditionalist views of liturgy. His words often make headlines in church news circles. For example, he tried to re-install the rule that priests say Mass facing east, with their backs to the people. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, of course,  but Cardinal Sarah is also the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship. His liturgical leanings are often in stark contrast to those of his current boss.

The latest headline concerns a new book about reception of Holy Communion. Cardinal Sarah wrote the preface for the book.

“The most insidious diabolical attack consists in trying to extinguish faith in the Eucharist, sowing errors and favouring an unsuitable manner of receiving it,” the cardinal wrote.

“Truly the war between Michael and his Angels on one side, and Lucifer on the other, continues in the heart of the faithful: Satan’s target is the Sacrifice of the Mass and the Real Presence of Jesus in the consecrated host.

“Why do we insist on communicating standing in the hand? Why this attitude of lack of submission to the signs of God?

Let’s put aside, for the moment, the inane nature of the “kneeling and on the tongue” vs “standing and in the hand” debate. Both methods are approved by the Vatican. One is not holier than the other. Kneeling piously does not guarantee reverence in the heart, as standing does not connote irreverence.

Instead, let’s look at the Cardinal’s choice of language.


church lady

This choice of words scream of judgment. Calling the simple gesture of receiving Holy Communion on the hand as “diabolical” hearkens to the days of inquisitions, when the smallest acts or words were twisted, magnified, and used as evidence of heresy. Prosecutable accusations. Yes, accusations.  A simple accusation was often all that was needed for a tortured confession and inevitable punishment.

Thankfully the bonfires are no longer. Some bishops still swing the hammer of excommunication, but their threats fall mostly on sceptical minds and hearts. More and more, these episcopal bullies are being ignored by the faithful; as so they should be. Still, it saddens me to see the outliers in the hierarchy who continue to peddle an angry, judgmental God  rather than a loving God of mercy.

Cardinal Sarah’s choice of words simply feed the divisions in our church. Instead of building bridges between progressives and traditionalists, the Cardinal fires up his followers with language of diabolical attacks on what is, in reality, a liturgical custom or tradition that has evolved over the centuries and continues to do so. In my local parish, we have some folks who kneel and receive the Eucharist on the tongue. They have the freedom to do so, while the rest of us stand and receive in the hand. No biggie!

The ultimate irony, of course, is the use of  the sacrament of COMMUNION as a weapon of division.

For more reading…

Cardinal Sarah: Communion in the hand part of ‘diabolical attack’ on Eucharist (Catholic Herald, UK)

Cardinal Sarah: Receiving Communion in the hand part of a “diabolical attack” on the faith America: the Jesuit Review



12 thoughts on “diabolical is not a nice word!

  1. God bless real conservatives. They are hiding further and further in the back, attempting to avoid being seen in the shadow let alone the company of radical fundamentalists. People – clerical or otherwise – do a terrible disservice to the sane, reasonable cautionary faithful. All live in relationship of come sort, and not all complementary. One such is the dialogue relationship that sees a need for change and opts for it and the alternate that cautions as to the consequences and sees the value in not. People like Sarah should be denied the responsible privilege of leadership.

  2. Like the groundhog who supposedly predicts future weather based on seeing or not seeing his shadow ( side?) ,most people think it’s a cute,quaint tradition but largely ignore his prognostication. For most Catholics, especially those who came of age after Vatican II, the idea that one’s posture can demean the Eucharist is simply another archaic ideology. To resurrect it as the norm, will only drive the wedge of difference even deeper.

  3. If a judge declared an accused a “murderer” before the case came before a jury he would be fired. Similarly, if Sarah is still “employed” today someone should also wonder about his “employer” as well as “himself”.

    • Hmmm. Of course I might be wrong but I perceive that Cardinal Sarah has not been employed in such a way as to demonstrate endorsement of his opinions by his employer. Neither, unless I am mistaken, have his opinions been given the authority of dogma or doctrine such that they are required to be obeyed by the faithful. He is, however, properly free to express his opinions which we faithful are free to hear, – and then behave according to our non-judgemental, charitable, faithful consciences within the present decrees. Such decrees don’t seem to me to be threatened by Cardinal Sarah. Our protest, if any, should surely be no more than quietly hearing him and, respectful of his freedom to speak, ignoring him, albeit grateful for such holy goodness that, by the Grace of God, he has done in other places in other ways. (Opinion submitted faithfully and prayerfully.)

      • Welcome to the dialogue, Bettie! I think the reason Cardinal Sarah’s words made the headlines, is because of his role as “Liturgical Chief” in the church. Thankfully, Pope Francis has made his opinion well known…and it is often in contrast with Sarah’s.

        I have a personal experience with “liturgy police” in our local diocese. A few years ago, the powers-that-be decided on a “liturgical renewal” in order to educate us ignorant faithful on the mystery and meaning of the liturgy. This consisted of a list of bizarre DO’s and DON’Ts…DO bow before receiving the Eucharist…DON’T use a long-handled offertory basket DO pass it person to person (awkward in an almost empty church)…DON’T sing an entrance song, DO sing a chant….DO kneel at the consecration….DON’T kneel after receiving communion, but remain standing until all have received. Seriously! The obsessive compulsive nature of these “rules” were mind-boggling. And, hard to ignore if your pastor was determined that HIS parish would be a model of obedience. Sigh.

      • Aaawww. you have my sympathy for your torment and prayers for your forbearance, Isabella. I’ve learned the hard way (and after many very painful but blessed failures) that under these circumstances we offer a good sacrifice to God if we simply suffer our exasperation completely silently so long as no blasphemy or sacrilegious activity is being ordered. One puts up with it In remembrance perhaps of how Jesus quietly and without comment suffered many rude indignities. (Next Sunday is Laetare Sunday. Wheeee! Enjoy! Have fun!)

    • Hi Perpetua! Yes, the dialogue is open to all. WordPress gives you a lot of control over readership and discussion boards. For catholic dialogue, the first comment needs to be approved before posting (to weed out the trolls 😉 ). If approved, further comments are automatically posted. Thanks so much for joining us…and enriching the dialogue! 🙂

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