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Cardinal Robert Sarah: ‘We must return to the Eucharist’

States that bishops should be certain that civil authorities not subordinate the Mass to a place of priority below “recreational activities” or regard the Mass as only a “gathering” comparable to other public activities, and reminded bishops that civic authorities cannot regulate liturgical norms.

Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, leaves a session of the Synod of Bishops on young people, the faith and vocational discernment at the Vatican Oct. 5, 2018. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

CNA Staff, Sep 12, 2020 / 11:35 am (CNA).- In a letter to the leaders of the world’s episcopal conferences, the head of the Vatican’s office for worship and sacraments said that Catholic communities should return to Mass as soon as it can be done safely, and that the Christian life cannot be sustained without the Sacrifice of the Mass and the Christian community of the Church.

The letter, sent to bishops this week, said that, while the Church should cooperate with civic authorities and be attentive to safety protocols amid the coronavirus pandemic, “liturgical norms are not matters on which civil authorities can legislate, but only the competent ecclesiastical authorities.” It also emphasized that bishops can make provisional changes to liturgical rubrics in order to accommodate public health concerns, and urged obedience to those temporary changes.

“In listening to and collaborating with civil authorities and experts,” bishops and episcopal conferences “were prompt to make difficult and painful decisions, even to the point of suspending the participation of the faithful in the celebration of the Eucharist for a long period. This Congregation is deeply grateful to the Bishops for their commitment and effort in trying to respond in the best possible way to an unforeseen and complex situation,” Cardinal Robert Sarah wrote in Let us return to the Eucharist with joy, dated Aug. 15 and approved by Pope Francis Sept. 3.

“As soon as circumstances permit, however, it is necessary and urgent to return to the normality of Christian life, which has the church building as its home and the celebration of the liturgy, especially the Eucharist, as ‘the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; and at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows’ (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 10).”

Sarah noted that “as soon as is possible… we must return to the Eucharist with a purified heart, with a renewed amazement, with an increased desire to meet the Lord, to be with Him, to receive Him and to bring Him to our brothers and sisters with the witness of a life full of faith, love and hope.”

“We cannot be without the banquet of the Eucharist, the table of the Lord to which we are invited as sons and daughters, brothers and sisters to receive the Risen Christ himself, present in body, blood, soul and divinity in that Bread of Heaven which sustains us in the joys and labours of this earthly pilgrimage.”

We “cannot be without the Christian community,” Sarah added, “cannot be without the house of the Lord,” “cannot be without the Lord’s Day.”

“We cannot live as Christians without participating in the Sacrifice of the Cross in the which the Lord Jesus gave himself unreservedly to save, by his death, humanity which had died because of sin…in the embrace of the Crucified One all human suffering finds light and comfort.”

The cardinal explained that while streamed or televised Masses “have performed a great service…at a time when there was no possibility of community celebration, no broadcast is comparable to personal communication or can replace it. On the contrary, these broadcasts alone risk distancing us from a personal and intimate encounter with the incarnate God who gave himself to us not in a virtual way,” but in the Eucharist.

“One the concrete measures that can be taken to reduce the spread of the virus to a minimum have been identified and adopted, it is necessary that all resume their place in the assembly of brothers and sisters…and encourage again those brothers and sisters who have been discouraged, frightened, absent, or uninvolved for too long.”

Sarah’s letter made some concrete suggestions for the resumption of Mass amid the coronavirus pandemic, which is expected to continue to spread in the United States in the fall and winter months, with some models predicting a doubling of the death count by the end of 2020.

The cardinal said that bishops should give “due attention” to “hygiene and safety regulations” while avoiding the “sterilisation of gestures and rites” or “instilling, even unconsciously, fear and insecurity in the faithful.”

He added that bishops should be certain that civil authorities not subordinate the Mass to a place of priority below “recreational activities” or regard the Mass as only a “gathering” comparable to other public activities, and reminded bishops that civic authorities cannot regulate liturgical norms.

Sarah said that pastors should “insist on the necessity of adoration,” work to ensure the dignity of the liturgy and its setting, and ensure that “the faithful should be recognized as having the right to receive the Body of Christ and to worship the Lord present in the Eucharist,” without “limitations that go even beyond what is provided for by the norms of hygiene issued by public authorities.”

The cardinal also seemed to address, indirectly, an issue that has been a matter of some controversy in the United States — prohibitions on reception of Holy Communion on the tongue amid the pandemic, which seem to contravene a right established by universal liturgical law to receive the Eucharist in that manner.

Sarah did not specifically mention the issue, but he affirmed that bishops can give temporary norms during the pandemic, in order to assure safe sacramental ministry. Bishops in the U.S. and other parts of the world have temporarily suspended distribution of Holy Communion on the tongue.

“In times of difficulty (e.g. wars, pandemics), Bishops and Episcopal Conferences can give provisional norms which must be obeyed. Obedience safeguards the treasure entrusted to the Church. These measures given by the Bishops and Episcopal Conferences expire when the situation returns to normal.”

“A sure principle in order not to err is obedience. Obedience to the norms of the Church, obedience to the Bishops,” Sarah wrote.

The cardinal urged Catholics to “cherish the human person as a whole.”

The Church, he wrote, “bears witness to hope, invites us to trust in God, recalls that earthly existence is important, but much more important is eternal life: sharing the same life with God for eternity is our goal, our vocation. This is the faith of the Church, witnessed over the centuries by hosts of martyrs and saints.”

Urging Catholics to entrust themselves and those afflicted by the pandemic to God’s mercy and the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Sarah urged bishops to “renew our intention to to be witnesses of the Risen One and heralds of a sure hope, which transcends the limits of this world.”

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  1. ” Provisional norms which must be obeyed” Says WHO????? Lost me right there. There are some things which we cannot compromise, or we risk losing everything of meaning.Closing churches and forbidding the faithful to congregate to celebrate Mass, bans on singing, govt officials “inspecting” churches during services like the KGB and then trying to levy fines. . banning funerals, baptism, weddings, etc has done enormous damage to the church. Likely more damage than the covid might have done. The Bishop’s too soft eagerness to “Obey” unreasonable govt mandates based on hysteria and false data is what has gotten us isolated congregations who are too afraid to return to Mass.The result will be closed parishes and schools, and permanently lost congregations.

    • Provisional norms are appropriate for certain periods and situations but not indefinitely and not when the triggering circumstances have changed.

      Back in the spring the pandemic looked very different and churches were closed as they were in 1918. We’re in another phase now so it’s fair to reassess things but looking backwards from the advantage of five months makes us all feel like we could have made better decisions last March had we been in charge.

    • Only slightly off-topic. First: I could not see how to make a COMMENT so I do it through your REPLY IJ – to Cdl Sarah. My question to you, Cdl Sarah. Are you aware that in order for the laity to RETURN to the Eucharist it would help if priests would set an example. I mean the chances of finding a catholic priest praying privately before the Blessed Sacrament, both in Ireland and the US, are very slim – if ever. I have asked priests everywhere I go ” How come I never see any of you priests in Adoration before the Blessed Scarament? ”
      Here are some of their answers:
      ” That does not mean I don’t pray.”
      “We have our own chapel in the rectory.”
      “I pray walking in the church grounds every day.”.
      ” God is here in my heart.”
      ” Oh, if I did not that I would never get any peace with people interrupting me.”
      AND worst of all:
      “God is everywhere, one does not need to be in church to talk to God.”
      If you are reading this and do not see what is wrong with all these answers ( reference giving good priestly example then you too are someone who rarely visits God in the Blessed Sacrament- the Real living breathing Jesus himself. As Pope Benedict explained: ” Adoration of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament consoles the soul more than anything the world can offer.”


  2. When the Government ordered the closure of all non essential businesses, the church duly complied.
    The leadership of the church have shown every catholic custom is negotiable

  3. From the trenches. If we must return to the Eucharist obedience must favor return, rather than further obeisance to transient external conditions and prohibitions. Laity are rapidly finding comfort in stay at home TV Mass. And quickly categorizing faith among a variety of recreational activities. I’m reminded of a Chris Wallace interview of Kayleigh McEnany, the Cardinal seriously probed the outcome dicey. How long O Lord. Catholics who still take their faith seriously are not seriously interested in all the liturgically correct piety [and extreme Traditionalists who continue to decry communion in the hand sacrilege]. Their scandal is that, except in minority instances priests are not showing up, many bishops languid when they’re most needed. Pandemic and fear of death. How long O Lord must we fearfully dither. Sarah’s bottom line is the correct one. That we all must show up. We priests must risk, perhaps even literally give our lives during this faith crisis for Christ’s sheep, or we lose our lives. It’s as serious and simple as that.

  4. Good points. There needs to be a robust push back against the Stalinist tactics of the left. The go along to get along indicates that Bishops are pushovers in depending the faith. The quishy response to the anti Catholic left ban of masses is concerning to say the least.

  5. I am very disappointed in Cardinal Sarah and can’t help but wonder how much of that verbiage was actually imposed on him from elsewhere in the Vatican. I know I sound like a broken record, but we have a deeply, badly broken culture right now, and it needs to be repeated: As long as they keep saying, “as long as it is safe,” we’ll get nowhere. The false gospel of safety is what needs to be confronted and repudiated by every bishop and priest, right now. If I had anything to say about it, I’d write up an Oath Against the Gospel of Safety and require every bishop to sign it and preach it repeatedly and forcefully.

    One could almost imagine a game show where a bishop has to speak thirty seconds without using the words “safe” or “safety” in order to win a $100,000 prize– and even after giving him ten or twenty tries, he just can’t do it. I can further imagine a long parade of bishops and cardinals vainly trying to win the prize to no avail. Every time those two words are used in the letter, it undermines everything else that they might be trying to promote and makes me wonder if they really mean it or not. When others use the words, they mean “lockdowns” and “tyranny” and that is what most of the general population accepts these days when those words are used.

  6. I switched parishes last month because I want to receive Communion on the tongue, which my previous parish banned, and because I don’t want to jump through hoops every time just to attend Mass. I hold no ill will against my previous parish and priest, who are very good people (and I do miss them); I just want to receive Our Lord in the way that the Church has taught for two thousand years, and not have to treat going to worship like some bureaucratic exercise (I get more than enough of that during my working week or even going shopping, and I need an escape from that).

  7. “. . .Catholic communities should return to Mass as soon as it can be done safely . . .”
    I wonder what the Christians under the reign of Nero would think of that statement.

  8. The letter of Cardinal Sarah should have come long ago, when the Pandemic started

    An unfortunate development in the liturgical life of the Church is the preponderance of social and electronic media on liturgy. It has been observed that the experts in the IT field and the media personnel have took control of the Liturgy all over the world with or without the permission of the Church authorities. Liturgy is mechanized and digitalized and the faithful are asked to be passive spectators of liturgy which is presented as a ‘project’ or ‘stage performance’ under the pretext of the ‘fantastic’ and ‘novel’ idea of bringing liturgy ‘to the people’. In the name of bringing liturgy to the people, it is brought to the kitchen, family entertainment halls, dining rooms and bed rooms as a time-pass.
    We are aware of the positive and negative impact, influence and use of the social media, like websites, audio-visual channels, blogs etc. besides the print media which offer free ‘spiritual’ materials for the clergy, preachers and those in need. It is a fact that the over dependence of the clergy and the preachers on the readymade homilies, sermons and reflections available in abundance online and the impersonal utterance from the pulpit have reduced the ‘faith sharing’ and ‘breaking of the Word’ dimension, to the level of a stage performance. The pastors seem to become lazy and have no time for personal reflection on the word of God to be ‘broken’.
    Similarly the streaming and broadcasting of the sacred liturgy and devotions through T.V, Radio and Online, damage the sacred and sacramental character of the liturgical services which are intended for divine human encounter and communion, followed by a spirit-filled and spirit-guided life. It was heartening to note in the media reports that certain religious priests (Poojaris) of Hindu temples in Kerala (India) run by Government controlled Devasom Boards, had the courage of conviction to oppose the streaming of religious rites performed within the Holy of Holies, for they argued that such activities would destroy the sacredness of the Rites. This is also true of the Christian liturgies for liturgy is a sacred action.
    While emphasising the pre-eminence and the importance of physical participation in the Eucharistic celebrations again and again, the present author cannot but disagree with the present day excess use of the social media and internet by everyone who indulges in streaming and broadcasting liturgical services. Instead of participating actively, generously and whole heartedly in the liturgy with the earnest desire for communion with God, it has been observed that the few who participate in the liturgy with restrictions seem to be more interested in and busy with streaming the liturgy.
    Due to the lack of mature and balanced approach in the use of the electronic and social media, it has become a fashion during this interim period of the spread of Covid-19. Without imbibing the real spirit of the liturgy and sacredness of the liturgical mysteries, everyone indulges in streaming and broadcasting the ‘private’ celebrations of the sacraments, rituals and ceremonies. Instead of making the celebrations more meaningful, experiential, personal and intimate and thus making the divine-man communion more real through the celebration of the paschal mysteries, some are tempted to stream his liturgy or the liturgy celebrated by his/her friend-priests or bishops to tell the world that they too are experts, equipped and updated with the latest IT and digital technologies. Lonappan Arangassery, “The Impact of Covid-19 on the spiritual and liturgical life” in Lonappan Arangassery, Covid-19: A Theological Response Towards a New World order. Ujjain 2020 pages. 115-117

  9. Jesus tells us the truth that we have no life in us unless we eat His Flesh & drink His Blood.
    Jesus said they will know we are His disciples by our love.
    The kind of Love that forgives & prays for us from The Cross and has compassion on us, so much so that He gives us His Mother to love us and show us the Way. We ask Mary to pray for us in these difficult times. Have faith, Jesus is in the boat with us
    Stop worshipping opinions, accept the circumstances follow Truth and do what has to be done. The circumstances are multifaceted and our Priests are doing what they have to do in order to protect the vulnerable. Those of us who are able and who can, must realise that we risk our life by not receiving Our Lord Sacramentally. Let’s pray for each other.

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