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May 4, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — Someone in the Italian bishops’ conference has had the bright idea that people could be given Holy Communion not on the tongue, not in the hand, but in a plastic bag. There may be some logic to what is being called “take-out” communion from perhaps a hygienic point of view, but Cardinal Robert Sarah, the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, was quick to point out that it is, well, “insane.”

Cardinal Sarah said, accord to Crux:

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 Italian bishops’ proposal is extreme, but it is a useful test of an idea which is widespread: that ultimately, it just doesn’t matter, or matters very little, how we receive Holy Communion, or how Mass is celebrated (as long as it is valid). Those who share Cardinal Sarah’s instinct are challenged: would you refuse to receive Holy Communion if you could not do so in a way you personally regarded as adequately respectful? Where is your love of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament if you reject Him on the basis of such trivial inconveniences?

The argument is supposed to parallel this thought: if your only chance to see your beloved were in some annoying, inconvenient, or humiliating context, then you’d bite the bullet and go. But receiving Holy Communion is not like that. It is not our only chance to meet Christ. It is a privileged opportunity to meet Christ: in the liturgy and in Holy Communion we meet Christ in a special way. The point of receiving is to receive spiritual fruits. If the reception of Holy Communion is to take place in circumstances in which we are subjectively not able to participate so as to receive abundant graces, then it makes perfect sense not to receive.

This looks as though I am pleading guilty to the charge of Cardinal Sarah’s opponents. I’m admitting that purely subjective considerations can prevent us from participating fruitfully in the sacraments. But this isn’t the shameful secret of liturgical conservatives. Everyone knows that this is true. The people who complain that they can’t fruitfully participate in the Mass when it is done in some conservative way they don’t like (with Latin, say, or Gregorian Chant) are saying the same thing. The next thing to notice is that our subjective sensitivity to what is going on may correspond to an objective reality about the worthiness or otherwise of the way the liturgy is being celebrated.

This is obviously true when it comes to liturgical abuses. As the Congregation for Divine Worship noted long before Cardinal Sarah was put in charge of it, abuses “contribute to the obscuring of the Catholic faith and doctrine concerning this wonderful sacrament.” “[T]hey also hinder the faithful from “re-living in a certain way the experience of the two disciples of Emmaus: ‘and their eyes were opened, and they recognized him’” (Redemptoris Sacramentum [2004] 4–6).

Liturgical abuses are bad because they make obscure the theological truths that should be reflected by the liturgy, and so they prevent these truths contributing to the liturgical experience of the worshiper. If the worshiper hates to see the truth that Jesus is really present in the Blessed Sacrament being suggested by the way Mass is being celebrated, that is the worshiper’s problem. If the worshiper hates to see the falsehood that Jesus is not really present in the Blessed Sacrament being suggested by the way the Mass is being celebrated, that is the celebrant’s problem.

The theological appropriateness and the reverence and worthiness of the details of the celebration are something we should be sensitive to: we should feel pained when our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament is not given the respect that is his due. If offered Holy Communion in a plastic bag, we should not receive Him, because that would not be conducive to a reception giving us abundant graces.

We should work to make our subjective response to the liturgy correspond to the objective reality: we should be sensitive to the reality. That way we will actually notice, at some level (not everything has to be thought out loud), the theological truths that the liturgy is showing us. But sensitivity cuts both ways. If we are sensitive to the good, we will be sensitive to the bad. If you are pained by acts of disrespect toward the Blessed Sacrament, that is not you allowing your tastes and preferences to prevent your fruitful participation in the liturgy. It is a recognition of reality.

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Dr Joseph Shaw has a Doctorate in Philosophy from Oxford University, where he also gained a first degree in Politics and Philosophy and a graduate Diploma in Theology. He has published on Ethics and Philosophy of Religion and is the editor of The Case for Liturgical Restoration: Una Voce Position Papers on the Extraordinary Form (Angelico Press). He is the Chairman of the Latin Mass Society of England and Wales and Secretary of Una Voce International. He teaches Philosophy in Oxford University and lives nearby with his wife and nine children.


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