ROSARIO, Argentina – As Catholic bishops across Europe and in the United States discuss reopening Mass to the faithful and ponder what to do about the distribution of communion, considered a “high risk of contagion” moment, Cardinal Robert Sarah of Ghana, head of the Vatican’s liturgical office, warned that the answer cannot be the “desecration of the Eucharist.”
The cardinal said that “no one can be denied confession and communion,” so even if the faithful cannot attend Mass, if a priest is asked to give either they must oblige.
In present days, the Italian bishops conference and the government of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte continued their negotiations after the recently announced “stage 2” of the quarantine, meaning a gradual easing of quarantine restrictions, though no date yet has been announced for the resumption of Mass.
According to La Stampa, an Italian daily, one of the solutions being considered is a “take-out” communion, because the distribution of the Eucharist is considered to have a “high contagion risk.” This proposal would see hosts placed in plastic bags to be consecrated by the priests and left on shelves for people to take.
“No, no, no,” Sarah told Nuova Bussola Quotidiana, an Italian conservative site, in an interview published Saturday. “It’s absolutely not possible, God deserves respect, you can’t put him in a bag. I don’t know who thought this absurdity, but if it is true that the deprivation of the Eucharist is certainly a suffering, one cannot negotiate how to receive communion. We receive communion in a dignified way, worthy of God who comes to us.”
“The Eucharist must be treated with faith, we cannot treat it as a trivial object, we are not in the supermarket,” Sarah said. “It’s totally insane. ”
When the reporter asked the prelate, who’s sometimes been seen as out of sync with Pope Francis, about the fact that this method is already being used in some churches in Germany, the prelate said that “unfortunately, many things are done in Germany that are not Catholic, but this doesn’t mean that we must imitate them.”
Sarah then said that he’d recently heard a bishop say that in the future, there would be no more Eucharistic assemblies — the Mass with the Eucharist — but the Liturgy of the Word: “But this is Protestantism,” he said, without naming the prelate.
The Guinean cardinal, who was appointed by Pope Francis as the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in 2014, also said that the Eucharist is not a “right or a duty” but a gift freely given by God that must be welcomed with “veneration and love.”
Catholics believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist after the hosts are consecrated by the priest. According to Sarah, in the Eucharistic form God is a person, and “no one would welcome a person they love in a bag or in an unworthy way.”
“The response to the privation of the Eucharist cannot be desecration,” he said. “This really is a matter of faith, if we believe it we cannot treat it unworthily.”
Regarding Masses being streamed or on TV during the pandemic, Sarah said that Catholics cannot “get used to this” because “God is incarnated, he is flesh and blood, he is not a virtual reality.” Furthermore, he said, it’s misleading for priests, who should be looking at God during the Mass and not the camera, as if the liturgy was a “show.”
Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma