The Vatican’s most senior liturgical official says the practice of receiving communion on the hand is part of a “diabolical attack” on the Church which diminishes reverence to God.
Cardinal Robert Sarah, Prefect for the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, is now calling for Catholics to start receiving the host kneeling and on the tongue which he says is “more suited” to the sacrament.
“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,” the Guinean Prelate, 72, writes in a forward to a book by Fr Federico Bortoli, “La Distribuzione della Comunione sulla Mano: Profili Storici, Giuridici e Pastorali” (“The distribution of Communion in the hand: a historical, juridical, and pastoral overview”).
“Why do we insist on communicating standing in the hand? Why this attitude of lack of submission to the signs of God? [Receiving kneeling and on the tongue] is much more suited to the sacrament itself. I hope there can be a rediscovery and promotion of the beauty and pastoral value of this manner. In my opinion and judgement, this is an important question on which the Church today must reflect.”
Receiving communion in the hand was practised by the early Christians and re-emerged in the years following the Second Vatican Council, the 1962-65 gathering of the world’s bishops which voted for a changes in the liturgy including the use of vernacular languages.
For centuries, however, it was the practice for Catholics to receive the host during Mass on the tongue while kneeling, and there have been moves for this to once again become the norm. During the papacy of Benedict XVI it was ruled that the Pope would give communion on the tongue during papal masses.
Nevertheless, the Holy See has allowed a large number of countries across the world to allow communion to be given in the hand, and in those places it has become the widespread practice. Some of these include: the United States, England and Wales, Canada, Scotland, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Ireland, Pakistan and Malaysia and Singapore.
Throughout his time as divine worship prefect, Cardinal Sarah has indicated his support for liturgical traditionalists by speaking out for priests to turn east and celebrate Mass ad orientem - with their backs to the people - while he also sought to undermine a papal directive giving more power to local bishops on liturgical traditionalists.
In response the Pope has taken the unusual move of issuing the cardinal with two public corrections.
Conservative sceptics of Francis’ papacy are coalescing around Cardinal Sarah, who was just 34 when he was appointed Archbishop of Conakry and was praised for his fearless leadership while his country was under a dictatorship. He was called to Rome in 2001 to work at the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples before being named President of the now defunct Cor Unum council in 2010. In 2014 the Pope surprised many by choosing Sarah to become his liturgy prefect.
During the synod of bishops gathering on the family in 2015 he stirred controversy by saying that what “Nazi-Fascism and Communism were in the 20th century” are what “Western homosexual and abortion ideologies and Islamic Fanaticism are today,” but has also written a number of popular books, including one titled “God or Nothing.”
His austere, prayerful spirituality has helped win him a number of admirers, particularly in the Francophone Catholic world and in the United States.
Watch Christopher Lamb discuss this story and more in his latest Facebook live from Rome, this time with Delia Gallagher of CNN.