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.
DIABOLICAL. Really? DIABOLICAL???
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