Edward Pentin blogs from Rome – The anti-coronavirus rules jointly signed by Italy’s bishops and government in early May that led to the resumption of public Masses in the country were not universally well received, with at least one major protest and accusations that some measures are sacrilegious.
Of particular concern was the instruction that priests distribute Holy Communion with disposable gloves and masks — a reflection, liturgists and others argue, of poor formation and the extent of the crisis of faith in today’s post-conciliar Church.
Article 3.4 of the protocol, signed by the head of Italy’s bishops, Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti and Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on May 7 after lengthy talks, ruled that the distribution of Communion must take place after the celebrant or extraordinary minister “have taken care of the hygiene of their hands and worn disposable gloves.”
“The same person,” it added, must “take care to cover their nose and mouth” with a mask and maintain “an adequate safety distance,” being careful to “offer the host without coming into contact with the hands of the faithful.” Further measures individual dioceses put out advised the faithful not to say “Amen” when receiving the Eucharist, and to receive Communion in the hand.
Salvatore Porro, a member of the Brothers of Italy political party in Trieste, northern Italy, wrote that as soon as the accord between the Italian bishops and the government was signed, he was inundated with “phone calls, including many from holy priests, all imbued with great bitterness about the drastic measures.”
In his comments, made in a letter to the Italian Vatican journalist Marco Tosatti, Porro noted other aspects which critics argue displays a lack of understanding of the need for reverence at Mass, and ultimately, the reality of the Real Presence.
“In addition to not being able to receive Communion on the tongue, the dutiful gesture of respect and veneration of kneeling at the moment of consecration is also limited, because in several churches they removed the pews and replaced them with chairs,” he said, adding that as the priest is wearing a mask, it is not possible to “hear him say the ‘Body of Christ’” when distributing Holy Communion “and we can’t answer Amen.”
“Such Eucharistic sacrilege is diabolical and no longer a matter of precaution!” Porro wrote. A group of faithful recited the Holy Rosary in a central piazza in Trieste in reparation for the new protocols on May 23, with particular concern expressed over the use of disposable gloves in distributing Holy Communion.
Reasons for Opposition
The measures and the strength of reaction have led to a number of questions, namely why were the measures deemed so inappropriate by so many, why was the protocol signed, and how did the Church in Italy come to this point.
“There are many difficulties with the practice of priests distributing Holy Communion while wearing a mask and covering their hands with gloves,” Cardinal Raymond Burke said.
“Our faith tells us that the priest acts, in virtue of sacramental grace, in the person of Christ Head and Shepherd of the flock. The priest fulfills his divinely-given mission most fully and perfectly in the offering of the Eucharistic Sacrifice and the in the distribution of Holy Communion, the sublime fruit of the Eucharistic Sacrifice.
“Wearing a mask and gloves, while fulfilling his most important service of the faithful is a countersign,” Cardinal Burke continued. “It gives the impression that the priest is a mere functionary carrying out the action of the Holy Mass and distributing the Sacred Hosts, instead of Christ Himself Who comes to give Himself – Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity – to His faithful.”
Referring to concerns about what happens to the particles of the sacred Host when using disposable gloves, Cardinal Burke said: “From the moment that the priest consecrates the bread and wine, transforming their substance into the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ, he exercises the greatest caution that no particle of the Sacred Host, the Body of Christ, and no smallest drop of the Precious Blood be lost, that is, fail to be received in Holy Communion, and thus be subject to lack of due respect and care.”
A Rome priest speaking on condition of anonymity noted that after Christ multiplied bread for the crowds, he commanded his apostles, “Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost” (Jn 6:12). “Catholics therefore have always striven to ensure that no particle of the Consecrated Host may remain on the linen, or any drop of the Precious Blood remain in a chalice: which is why the rules for purification of linen and vessels are so precise,” he explained. “Using gloves to distribute Holy Communion will result in profanation, for the particles of the hosts that will cling to the gloves that will be thrown away.”
Cardinal Burke stressed that “from the moment of the consecration, the priest does not touch any profane, that is non-sacred, object until he has purified his hands after Holy Communion.” For this reason, he explained, for a priest to use gloves to touch the Body of Christ and to give the Body of Christ to the faithful “is to treat Holy Communion as a kind of agent of disease.”
Cardinal Burke added that “the gloves themselves will have particles of the host inside from the hands of the priest and on the outside from contact with the Sacred Host. This is completely unacceptable.”
Father Nicola Bux, a former consultor to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and for the Congregation of Saints, said that priests “perhaps have no intention of desecrating the sacrament, but they do not know what it means to treat the Eucharist worthily, that is, in relation to the intrinsic value of the reality in question.”
He asked: “Who would bring a plate of soup with latex gloves to the table? It would end up arousing suspicion in diners.” Father Bux therefore believes it is “no wonder” the faithful are “indignant at this treatment of the Eucharist” and he puts the profanation down to “a lack of human and Christian formation in this regard.”
Precautions Already Exist
And yet he explained that precautions for distributing the Blessed Sacrament in such circumstances “already exist” and it would “suffice to implement them carefully or restore them” because they are “confirmed or not denied” by the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (2004). These already have the necessary rubrics, dating back to ancient times, for treating “the sacred vessels with sacred dignity, which also implies the hygienic purification of the hands,” he said.
Father Bux said, for example, that in the extraordinary form of the Roman rite, after having consecrated the species, “the priest keeps his thumbs and index fingers together, so as not to touch anything else until the Communion of the faithful has ended.” He also pointed out that incense has “sanitizing power” which is why “the Orientals use it, in many moments of the rite,” incensing not only the sacred place but also people and objects.
He also said “in the Roman and Ambrosian rites,” the covering of the sacred vessels and the purification of hands with water (Father Bux said sanitizer could be added) ensure Communion is distributed hygienically. He also said the Missal instructs the priest to purify his fingers in the chalice “in order to dissolve any consecrated fragments” and to dry his hands “with the purificator.”
“If these norms were put into practice, the Blessed Sacrament would be treated as it should be and the faithful would be reassured of it in spirit and in body,” Father Bux said.
The Italian bishops have also allowed pincers or tweezers to be used to distribute Holy Communion, a point also noted by Cardinal Burke. But the cardinal also said it was “noteworthy” that those who have imposed the practice of using disposable gloves “give no instruction regarding the reverent care for the many particles of the Sacred Host attached to the gloves, especially if they are made of plastic, both inside and outside.”
He added: “It seems to me that such a practice is inspired by an irrational fear of the coronavirus COVID-19, which is propagated among the clergy and faithful by various agents.” Such fear, he said, “seems to have obscured the Catholic faith in the Holy Eucharist, which, while observing usually means of good hygiene, manifests, first and foremost, the truth that the Sacred Host is substantially the Body of Christ and the truth that the priest who gives Holy Communion to the faithful is acting in the person of Christ, by the grace of priestly ordination.”
So how did the bishops ever come to accept such a controversial instruction? “For more than 50 years, there has been a progressive desacralization of the Mass,” said Father Alberto Secci, a priest of Novara in northern Italy, who made a video urging the faithful not to concede to some of the Church-state measures.
“The Church had always surrounded the Holy Sacrifice with a whole series of gestures — genuflections, silence, etc. — done to remind everyone that God is present there,” he said.
Consequence of Liturgical Reforms
But he added that the liturgical reforms “opened the phase of desecration” with the “excuse of simplifying, thus producing a loss of consciousness in the Real Presence.” He argued that when certain gestures are no longer made, “you are slowly changing your faith,” and thus leading to “the worst Protestantization that leads to agnosticism.”
“The disaster is old and everyone can see it,” he said, and added that the latest hygiene regulations “are only the final phase of this disaster.”
But he also stressed “that the cause is in the post-conciliar reform” and has not just happened now. “The bishops simply apply the new criteria of a faith reduced to agnostic naturalism,” he said, adding that “conservatives deceive themselves into stopping the drift, but they won’t succeed until they judge the evil of this reform of the Mass that began in 1965, which is strikingly detached from the faith of [Council of] Trent, from the Catholic faith.”
Similarly, Father Bux observed that “many bishops and priests have not received formation in the Sacred, despite the prefix ‘sacer’ in the word ‘priest’ recalls it, therefore they have no idea what the Sacred is.
“Some then believe that the Sacred no longer exists, since the incarnation of the Word would have abolished the distinction between Sacred and Profane, but they forget that there is a whole part of the world that resists the Sacred and is waiting to be consecrated by the Divine Presence,” he said.
To achieve this goal, “the courage of the Sacred must be rediscovered,” Father Bux said, quoting Joseph Ratzinger.
Asked how these protocols came into being and whether any advice was sought from both liturgists and Catholic medical professionals before they were signed, Italy’s bishops Vincenzo Corrado, spokesman for the Italy’s bishops’ conference, said he did not “intend to enter into a sterile controversy that feeds opposition and division at a time” when public Masses are resuming.
Referring to the fact that individual dioceses have considerable leeway in how to implement the protocols, he said it is up to them how they go about this, and as for accusations of sacrilege, he referred to a quote from Saint John Chrysostom: “What advantage can Christ have if his table [the altar] is covered with golden vessels, while he himself dies of hunger in the person of the poor? Begin to satiate him who is hungry, and then, if you still have money left, decorate his altar as well. Do you offer him a golden chalice and not give him a glass of fresh water? What good does that do? You provide gold woven veils for the altar and you do not offer him necessary clothes … God has never condemned anyone because he has not given his temples rich ornaments: but he also threatens hell if you neglect to help the poor.”
Corrado argued that care for the Eucharist “does not put in second place care for men and women who approach it.”
“Priests will certainly know how to combine respect for liturgical and health care norms with serene and responsible commitment,” he added.