Writing for Commonweal, Rita Ferrone sums up the despair I feel at the recently published remarks of Cardinal Robert Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, on the subject on how Holy Communion should be received. I don’t have a problem with individuals preferring to receive Communion on the tongue (though I do wish more would understand it’s about receiving on the tongue, rather than in the mouth), and my only concern about those who prefer to receiving Communion kneeling is about ensuring that those behind them in the Communion procession do not fall over (particularly those for whom such a fall could have catastrophic consequences), but I do personally prefer the practice – and the awesome privilege – of being able to receive Communion in the hand.
To have that compared to diabolical practice and the work of Lucifer is, to be blunt, quite offensive. The good Cardinal cannot know the way in which I dare to approach the reception of Communion, since he does not know me, and to be adjudged by him to be in league with Lucifer on the sole basis of my external actions is just wrong. As Ferrone points out:
…he is not just inveighing against thoughtlessness or sloppy parish practices today (which may well need improvement). By implication, he is disparaging the faith of many centuries of Christians. Consider the fathers of the church, who wrote extensively about the mystery of the Eucharist. Were Ambrose and Augustine and Chrysostom lacking in reverence or Eucharistic faith? Or go back further, to apostolic times. Were the Apostles lacking in reverence for the Eucharist? There were people in the early church who held to their faith under persecution, and even gave their lives rather than profane or give up the Eucharist. Were they in league with the devil?
If they were – which possibility I cannot even begin to fathom – than surely the Church would not have survived this long!
Cardinal Sarah’s intervention is unhelpful and only sows further seeds of division within the Church, something which might be closer to the reality that he claims of those who receive Communion standing and in the hand. Is there something more to this intervention? Perhaps there is, as Ferrone suggests:
One must reluctantly conclude that Cardinal Sarah—despite holding a mainstream office—really does not speak for the mainstream of the church. He is a reform-of-the-reform partisan, who believes that things went badly wrong in the implementation of the Vatican II reform of the liturgy. If one evaluates his words according to the agenda of the reform-of-the-reform movement, they are dramatic in style but unsurprising in content. Indeed, the denigration of communion in the hand is boilerplate. The supposed superiority of receiving communion on the tongue, while kneeling, has long been a contention of traditionalists and of those who would rewrite the reform. Sarah is simply saying it once again, only this time couched in extreme rhetoric. If we frame it within this context, it all becomes clear. He is preaching to the choir of those who desire a style in keeping with traditionalist liturgical practices, and whipping them up in their fight against the ressourcement of Vatican II. He is playing to his base.
And if that is the case, then his authority as Prefect of the curial congregation responsible for this central aspect of Church life has been surrendered.