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.

DIABOLICAL. Really? DIABOLICAL???

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

 

 

unity or uniformity?

The Archdiocese of Winnipeg has announced it’s first diocesan synod. One of the purposes of the synod is to build a “strong sense of diocesan unity”. It’s hard to argue against unity. After all, we are One Body in Christ. Sometimes “unity” becomes a thinly veiled attempt at uniformity, ignoring the reality that we are many and diverse members of One Body.

collegiality and subsidiarity

Promoting diocesan unity challenges us to go beyond a parochial mind-set, interested only in what directly involves us. After all, the root of the term “parochial” is found in the word “parish”. Vatican II has given us the the wonderful concept of “collegiality”. While initially referring to the bishops working together nationally and globally, it also describes the need to set our sights beyond our home base and embrace our baptismal vocation into the universal church.

The partner to collegiality is subsidiarity. Unity does not mean uniformity. Subsidiarity demands that, depending on the situation, decisions should not be imposed from above if they can be made more effectively at the local level. When uniformity is enforced, subsidiarity suffers.

enforced uniformity

An example of enforced uniformity is the New Roman Missal. Despite protests and verbalized frustrations at the clumsy and arcane language, the Vatican pronounced that the Missal was to be mandatory in all English language liturgies. The voices of pastors and the faithful were ignored and the Missal was steam-rollered into existence.

Our archdiocese was already in the midst of a “liturgical renewal” before the new missal appeared. The focus of the renewal was not on spirituality or prayer but on rubrics. Each week a new directive came from the diocesan offices on what to sing, when to sit and stand, when to bow and how to bow. We were even told how to pass the offertory basket! (Apparently the previous method of ushers holding the basket was not “liturgical”.) Watching people strain to pass the basket over several empty pews was comical, but also a good analogy of how out of touch the diocesan liturgists were with local realities. Rubrics and rules will not fill empty pews.

You do not build a church of communion by enforcing uniformity. A spirit of communion is not about superficial appearances but about seeking unity amid diversity; about respecting the unique needs, culture, and worship style of each community.

 

the big foot washing debate….really???

washing feet icon

One of the greatest barriers to true unity in our church is the propensity of Catholics to pick fights among themselves over seemingly trivial matters. The latest is the issue of whether priests should wash the feet of women during the Holy Thursday liturgy. Really? I don’t know whether to simply shake my head, or hang it in shame.

There is an old liturgical law that states only men should have their feet washed. The law was put in place at a time when women were excluded from the sanctuary. Some folks, of the more traditional mind-set, believe that this is still the right and just way to perform the ritual. For them, it is not so much a sign of service as a re-creation of the Last Supper. The disciples had their feet washed by Jesus. The disciples were men. Therefore priests should only wash the feet of men.

Enter, Pope Francis. Last year, during his first Holy Thursday as Pope, he trekked down to a Detention Centre for Youths and washed the feet of young people – including women and Muslims. The traditionalists were aghast. Progressive Catholics were over-joyed. Those who are sticklers of the law rationalized that, as pope, Francis has the right to over-ride the rules. But, the rules remain for the rest of us. Really???

This year Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison will wash the feet of twelve seminarians. He is also enforcing strict foot-washing guidelines in his diocese. Priests have two options: wash the feet of men, or dispense with the foot washing ritual all together.

What would Pope Francis do? Well, we already know what he is going to do. This year he is heading down to a centre for people with disabilities. The papal foot-washing will, again, be a concrete sign of compassion and service not merely a showy display of clericalism. And, it will be inclusive of women, men, and non-Christians.

Is this trivial? On the surface, yes. Yet, it is a sign of the deeper malaise in our Church. It shines a light on the idealogical divides that just won’t go away. Jesus had few kind words for legalistic pharisees in his day. I have even fewer for our own modern day pharisees.