Cardinal Sarah: Receiving Communion in the hand part of a “diabolical attack” on the faith

Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, is pictured at the Vatican in this Oct. 9, 2012, file photo. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, is pictured at the Vatican in this Oct. 9, 2012, file photo. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Cardinal Robert Sarah, the Vatican’s most senior liturgy official who has in the past been reprimanded by Pope Francis for his views on liturgy, is raising eyebrows again after expressing his opposition to the widely accepted practice of receiving Communion in the hand.

In an introduction to a new book about Communion practices, the cardinal writes, “We can understand how the most insidious diabolical attack consists in trying to extinguish faith in the Eucharist, sowing errors and favoring an unsuitable manner of receiving it,” according to a translation published by PrayTellBlog. “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.”

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Cardinal Sarah questions why Catholics stand—rather than kneel—and receive Communion in the hand and asks, “Why this attitude of lack of submission to the signs of God?”

Cardinal Sarah questions why Catholics stand—rather than kneel—and receive Communion in the hand.

The Vatican allows the faithful to receive Communion in the hand in nations around the world and the practice has become nearly universal in many countries, including in the United States.

Timothy Johnston, a former diocesan liturgy director who now writes for the Chicago-based Liturgy Training Publications, told America that “to equate standing and receiving in the hand to Satan is irresponsible and continues to polarize the Christian community.”

“However one chooses to receive holy Communion, it must be done with great reverence. Such reverence is something which we can all agree to seek more fully, no matter our posture,” he said, adding that the cardinal’s words “deny a valid practice inherited from the early church.”

“In a world riven by so many divisions, it is not helpful for Cardinal Sarah to divide Catholics even further.”

John F. Baldovin, S.J., a professor of historical and liturgical theology at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry, said in an email to America that Cardinal Sarah’s remarks “betray a fundamental disagreement with a theology and piety of the Eucharist that understand the act of Communion as an act of a loving Savior who wishes to make us a part of his body—both in receiving the sacrament itself and in becoming more a part of his body which is the church.”

“Catholics are perfectly free to receive Communion on the tongue,” Father Baldovin said. “In a world riven by so many divisions, it is not helpful for Cardinal Sarah to divide Catholics even further.”

According to the Vatican’s own website, the “most ancient practice of distributing Holy Communion was, with all probability, to give Communion to the faithful in the palm of the hand.”

Many commentators have pointed to words written in the early fifth century by St. Cyril of Jerusalem that say when receiving Communion, the faithful should “make your left hand a throne for the right, as for that which is to receive a King.”

But over the centuries, liturgical practice evolved to distributing Communion to the faithful on the tongue. Following the Second Vatican Council, receiving Communion in the hand became the norm in many places.

Cardinal Sarah, who was appointed prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship by Pope Francis in 2014, has also advocated for ad orientem worship, the practice of having the priest face the same way as the congregation during parts of the Mass, which means his back is to the worshippers. Last year, he seemed to disagree with a directive issued by Francis meant to give local bishops more control over Mass translations. In both instances, the Vatican took the unusual step of publicly rebuking the 72-year-old curial official.

The Guinea-born cardinal has won fans in some circles for his arguments in favor of contemplative spirituality and full-throated defense of traditional moral values.

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Vincent Gaglione
5 months 3 weeks ago

It was at a Passover Seder that Christ instituted the Eucharist. Having had the good fortune, on numerous occasions, to be invited to participate at Orthodox Jewish Seders, after the blessings are said over the bread and the wine, they are distributed and taken in the hands of participants before they are consumed. I can only imagine that Christ did likewise.

The emphasis given to royalist types of behaviors, practices, and regulations in Catholic rituals, as Cardinal Sarah would have them, betrays Christ’s own attitude at the very same meal where He literally washed the feet of those with Him at the meal. Mass is a Eucharistic meal. It is that Eucharist with which Christ reaches out to touch us. Certainly, respectful behaviors and attentive attitudes during worship are important. I am of the firm opinion that Christ would find Himself rather uncomfortable in an environment with people more concerned about bowing and genuflecting but unwilling to reciprocate and reach out and touch Him.

Christopher Meehan
5 months 3 weeks ago

Very well said Vincent!

Chris Lochner
5 months 3 weeks ago

I agree completely. On another note, I recall how upset the late Monsignor of my old parish would become when people, at daily Mass, would receive the Eucharist on their tongue with great reverence then return to their seats and stare at their watches until the one hour period had passed before swallowing and sometimes this included well after the final Blessing...something about the laws and not the meaning thereof. Sheesh!

rose-ellen caminer
5 months 3 weeks ago

Jesus Christ IS a king, of my soul ,so I have no problem with royalist types of behavior. Like Leonard Cohen said "the soul longs for its king". We are creatures after all. To me it's a matter of ones perspective, ones spirituality .The act of taking the host in ones hand ,is very banal, very natural. "like above so below" goes the cliché, and perhaps too ;like the voluntary actions of the body, so the internal movements of ones soul. So perhaps taking the Host on the tongue, being quite unnatural, shakes us out of our every day complacency to the presence of Jesus Christ. Its an encounter with the awesome claim of our faith ; God is real and Jesus Christ, the son of God, is here and now. Like a buddist Koan, which takes one out of the mundane to facilitate an experience of the awesome mystery of Being ,so too the Host on the tongue can awaken an experience of the sublime; Jesus Christ is with us!. So too genuflecting and the priest praying facing the alter can have the same effect.

It is not essential to knowing and loving Jesus how one takes the Host or where the priest faces, whether one stands of kneels but neither is it invalid to prefer one over the other. We are a resurrection people; for us Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. He's one of us and he is the creator/ king of the universe too. The alpha and the omega with us in the beginning of our lives and at the end, and for eternity.

The world is full of communities of people who are bounded by love and good will and good deeds. That community of good people ,is not the essence of our faith; you don't have to believe in God or in Jesus Christ as the lover/savior of humanity to have good communities.Our belief in the reality of God, the goodness of God , so good that he becomes one of us in suffering and death and transforms our broken mortal condition to become inheritors of His divine life, is the essence of our faith. The community is therefore all humanity, whether professed Christians or not. The Church [community] is a gift for us Christians that should make us grateful to be part of. Being Christians should humble us as all humanity is loved and saved by Jesus Christ, though all may not have the gift of faith in God or of being Christians. The host on the tongue like the Ash Wednesday ashes, can a tune one to open ones heart and mind to God.It should humble us Catholics, we're not a clique.

Richard Wells
4 months 4 weeks ago

Thanks, I would have said the same, although not as kindly.

Robert Klahn
5 months 3 weeks ago

"According to the Vatican’s own website, the “most ancient practice of distributing Holy Communion was, with all probability, to give Communion to the faithful in the palm of the hand.”"

I believe this to be true.

Mike McDermott
5 months 3 weeks ago

Cardinal Sarah is truly a disciple of Christ and a voice which needs to be heard in our church.

That said I do disagree with him on this one point. The hands do not desecrate the body of Christ. To the contrary, the body of Christ consecrates the hands! It is the hands that either do the work of Christ in this world or do evil.

john abrahams
5 months 3 weeks ago

Now at 78 yrs age, of course I remember pre-Vatican ll Liturgy and do I pine away for the 'good old days'? Not exactly
but in certain instances I discern a loss of what the Cardinal is citing: The Real Presence of The Eucharist and the Reality of The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Not to offend sensibilities, I will use the older words: The Unbloody Sacrifice of the Mass. I part company with the Cdl. crying "Satanic" in the pastoral emphasis permeating Vatican ll. Doing so however gets press. Prophets cry out. Prophets are stoned or diplomatically removed from the scene. Still, stick with The Church, i.e., with the foregoing (episcopal) comment by the friend of mine whose pastoral intent I know to be entirely sincere as evidenced in his published article appearing in these pages advocating & celebrating the text used in the New Sacramentary. Not all of the Faithful however prescribe to the translation nor to the liturgical approach to the Holy Sacrifice of The Mass as Cdl. Sarah decries. Some of us also have recognized a certain negative stance taken by "America" toward the current prefect of of Divine Worship. Just take a look at the photo used here and in earlier issues decrying the Cardinal who may be out the door soon enough. The photo shows him almost like a devil dressed in cardinal crimson. No thanks.

Reyanna Rice
5 months 3 weeks ago

I have never seen a photo of Crd Sarah where he is not scowling like this. He seems to always be a very unhappy looking man.

Patrick Murtha
5 months 3 weeks ago

Photos are carefully chosen to impose a certain character on the individual. There are plenty of photos of the Cardinal looking pleasant and happy, but you will not find them where the Jesuits are trying to denigrate the Cardinal's stance. Photographs in media are strong communications. They set the stage for the article.

rose-ellen caminer
5 months 3 weeks ago

I think its a beautiful picture. It shows character .He looks like he know what he believes ,feels strongly about it and is principled.

Carolyn Disco
5 months 3 weeks ago

Is it too unkind to mutter, please grow up and grow beyond the narrow, brittle outlook that does nothing to advance reverence for the Real Presence and meaning of the Mass? Sarah's embrace of pre-Vatican II thinking leaves my eyes rolling and my mind roiling in exhaustion at the ineffective solution.

I wish I could remember Pope Francis' writing in the last year or so on the point that there is no going back. We need new, insightful approaches that speak to the modern world, that go deeper than the technicalities (transubstantiation) of the past. And God will provide.

Jerry Peters
5 months 1 week ago

Yes, let's go modern, let's go Protestant.

Charles Erlinger
5 months 3 weeks ago

The externalities of current liturgical ritual and behavior seem, insofar as a lay person who has not specialized in the subject can determine, to derive from one of possibly several variations of basically the same devout sequence of actions practiced elsewhere and at other times in the past. So far as can be determined, no one of these variations was practiced with insufficient reverence from God’s point of view. Nor is it possible without divine revelation to know which sequence of actions the Archangel Michael prefers. And even if we knew, there is no accounting for taste.

William Bannon
5 months 3 weeks ago

Cardinal Sarah is missing the friendship closeness of God in this matter. Let's hope he is not missing it in his everyday experience....Christ, "I have not called you servants but friends"...John 15:15.

rose-ellen caminer
5 months 3 weeks ago

Your stated "hope" for him is uncharitable, and your stated belief that he is missing the friendship closeness to God is presumptuous. Advocating for Host on the tongue does not make you less likely to be a friend of Jesus then advocating for Host in the hand makes you more likely to be a friend of Jesus. Jesus knows the cardinal's heart.

Patrick Murtha
5 months 3 weeks ago

It is interesting how "antiquity" is used as an argument for Communion in the hands, but antiquity may not be used for arguments against women priests, refusal of communion for divorcees who remarry, etc. It seems, like many bad defenses, antiquity is a fallacy that will only come back and bite the user.

Dick Clark
5 months 3 weeks ago

Oh yes! That's all Christ talked about - how to take communion. LOL!

Karen Olson
5 months 3 weeks ago

A requirement to kneel creates issues for persons with serious physical disabilities who are able to walk but are not able to kneel. It is awkward for them to be on display as being different and to potentially be perceived as less reverent when they approach but cannot kneel. A person with disabilities may find it distracting and embarrassing, because their disability is otherwise "invisible" and therefore not known and understood (unless they have a visible limp or unless their limitation is known by others in the Parish). I have severe knee arthritis requiring two total knee replacements in the future, with a genetic predisposition to this. I have been in this situation when receiving communion in a different Parish than my own, where the practice (of others) was to kneel at the altar and scoot down to make room for others while kneeling. I also think that Parishes should take a look at their pews and ensure that some of the seats do NOT have kneelers in front of them so as to accommodate people with knee and feet injuries. It is awkward to sit next to kids who, at a transition point, want to rapidly put the kneeler up; people with disabilities need a little time to carefully move their leg out of the way when the kneeler goes up, after they've been sitting forward while praying. People without such disabilities may be kind, but rarely think about these things. They assume that the seats at the end of the pew are all for people with baby strollers; they then ask the person with disabilities to move to the center of the pew where the problem with the kneelers going up quickly is more difficult. People with such disabilities know how to sit forward to pray with reverence -- they just need the furniture to include an accommodation for their situation and for others to understand that there are Parishioners with "invisible" disabilities.

Brack Guthrie
5 months 3 weeks ago

Is there any limit to Cardinal Sarah's inward anger? Does this man have any joy in the faith?

Lisa Weber
5 months 3 weeks ago

We really don't need Cardinal Sarah stirring up trouble. He seems to want to bring back the forms of the pre-Vatican II church, but what we really need to do is move forward. I wish Pope Francis would fire him.

rose-ellen caminer
5 months 3 weeks ago

Calling the reforms "diabolical" is rather over the top, but how old is the cardinal? There already is polarization on this issue as there are many old people who believe as he does, and he and they will die soon. Firing him would be over the top too.

Mike Theman
5 months 3 weeks ago

Is the mass meant to be a re-staging of historical events or is it meant to promote reverence and stability of faith? I know, it's perhaps a false dichotomy, but it seems to me that the way to best preserve the teachings of Christ is through a religion that focuses on Christ being God. There have been plenty of humans who have claimed to have all of the answers to life; but only one of them was also God.

Rudolph Koser
5 months 3 weeks ago

What the hell is wrong with this man? Francis needs to admit the mistake of appointing him and remove him. Associate chaplain of the Knights of Malta perhaps?

Bruce Snowden
5 months 3 weeks ago

Dear Cardinal Sarah, Thank you for all the good service you have given to the Church whom we are. As everyone knows no one is always 100% right, including you, of course, as clearly you are incorrect about Communion in the hand being diabolic. I hope you will publicly reverse your personal opinion. What you choose to privately feel is your business. But when speaking to the Church be more prudent. God bless you!

Douglas Fang
5 months 3 weeks ago

I see a deeper problem with Cardinal Sarah as it concerns with the very nature of humanity. We are utterly clueless in claiming that we have the truth objectively. I don’t have any doubt about his deep and sincere faith. But his faith completely fails to prevent him from proclaiming something that is so obviously wrong – receiving the Communion in the hand is a "diabolic" act! A hundred years ago, it might be reasonably considered as very correct. I remember that the late Cardinal of Milan, a potential candidate for Papacy a while back, once said something like this: “The Church is 200 years (??) behind the curve…”.

Rhett Segall
5 months 2 weeks ago

In his book "The Devastated Vineyard" Dietrich von Hilderbrand asserts that one of CS Lewis's devils would have definitely been proud to foster communion in the hand and reception standing up. He judged (c. 1970) that the spirit of reverence towards the sacred was radically undermined by such practices. I can see von Hildebrand's point when I see the all too casual approach in dress and general decorum so common at our Sunday liturgy. However, I also recall the up-tightness and lack of a sense of the "Familia Dei" so prevalent in pre-Vat.II worship.
Worship should be connected with both God's Transcendence and God's Immanence; for our part, awe and reverence for God's Transcendence and comfort and childlikeness, i.e. being at home in our Father's house, in God's Immanence. Hopefully the Spirit's guidance will enable Christ's bride to achieve that balance!

Steve D.
5 months 2 weeks ago

Hat's off to Cardinal Sarah for stressing the importance of pius reverence for the Blessed Sacrament. I'm willing to be the majority of Catholics who argue that, "God doesn't care how he is received," are the same "Catholics" who practice Yoga and know the profound spiritual significance of various postures. Perhaps we should all discern humbling ourselves before almighty God by dropping to our knees in His Divine Presence. An no, it's not done to draw attention to one self, but to give God His due.

Lex orandi, lex credendi!

Donald Rampolla
5 months 2 weeks ago

My comments are in this letter which I sent recently to Robert Cardinal Sarah at the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments

Dear Cardinal Sarah,

Regarding your preface to the book “La Distribuzione della Comunione sulla Mano: …”. where you equate receiving communion in the hand with a diabolical plot.

Patricia, my dear wife for 62 years, has borne six children and is grandmother to eight. Her hands - how many caresses have they bestowed, fevered brows soothed, skinned knees and elbows cleaned and dressed, tears wiped away, meals lovingly prepared, floors scrubbed. Think of your own mother, and all the mothers of all time who have lived lives of care and compassion. Why would you say that their hands are unworthy to touch the Body of our dear Lord Jesus, and indeed that He is saying “When you touch Me you are in league with Satan” ?

In the Eucharist our dear Lord Jesus shows how closely He wishes to be united with us - the very molecules and atoms of His Body become enmeshed in our cells - and at what price He accomplishes this - the unspeakable terror and anguish of crucifixion. Why do you imply that He now says “When you touch Me you are in league with Satan”?

Dear Cardinal Sarah, whatever we say or imagine about the compassion and love and desire for closeness that our dear Lord Jesus has for us, He is greater. The people of our troubled world need you to tell them how great is His love and compassion and His desire to be close to us, but you are telling them just the opposite. You have dedicated your life to serving our dear Lord Jesus, please do not grieve Him by portraying Him as insisting that we are in league with Satan unless we keep Him at a distance. I beg you to think about this.

I continue to pray for you. Please pray for me.

Sincerely with love,
Don Rampolla

John Viands
5 months 2 weeks ago

‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’
Isaiah 29:13

Then Jesus called to the crowd to come and hear. “Listen,” he said, “and try to understand. It’s not what goes into your mouth that defiles you; you are defiled by the words that come out of your mouth.”
Matthew 15:10-11

How appropriate is Jesus' discussion in Matthew 15:1-20.

Barry Lastname
5 months 2 weeks ago

What bible has the fallen angels story? Mine has no angels at all, no hell, satan, or lucifer either.

George Watson
5 months 1 week ago

Why the un-Charitable comments.
Yes you may disagre with Cardinal Sarah
but why the personal attacks ?

Fr. Sawyer, S.J. are you moderating the comments sections or not ?

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