Card Sako: More solidarity should come from COVID-19 emergency, not only changes in the liturgy

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The Chaldean patriarch speaks out amid a controversy among Chaldean clergy and believers following an interview with Card Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, who criticised streamed Masses with priests looking at the camera, not God. These changes are temporary and should not upset anyone. Bread and wine, the body and blood of Christ, remain at the centre of the liturgical service. 

By Louis Raphael Sako
Bishops and priests must not be upset by what has been said against the temporary changes to the liturgy adopted by the Church to counter the novel coronavirus pandemic, notes Card Louis Raphael Sako in a message to the faithful.

In his statement, the Chaldean Patriarch looks at what Card Robert Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, said in an interview, which sparked a debate among the Chaldean clergy, in particular over certain practices in streamed Masses, like priests “looking at the camera” rather than God.

The African prelate is also critical of the “take away” communion and priests wearing gloves and masks. Muslims too have had to change old rituals, notes Card Sako, especially during Ramadan and the Eid al-Fitr. The pandemic has strengthened “human solidarity” and Masses online and on social media are a source of “consolation” amid fears.

Patriarch Sako’s message follows:

The Arabic translation of an interview attributed to Cardinal Robert Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship of the Catholic Church, published on the Daily Compass website, has had a wide echo among our priests.

Unable to ascertain the accuracy of this interview, and given that its content has spread among our clergy causing some confusion, I would like to clarify the following:

1. The changes that have now been put in place are temporary, imposed by the spread of the coronavirus pandemic: suspension of community prayer and Mass because of “home confinement” and “social distancing” measures. In such a situation, people work at home with the computer, students continue studying at home with the computer, and the faithful pray at home. This is the case for all religions. Islamic authorities put on hold community prayers in mosques even during the month of Ramadan and the feast that marked the end of the fast.

2. The coronavirus pandemic has created a positive environment for human solidarity, and people are ready to fight pain and its causes in their own lives and in the life of society. This is what we see in the dedication of doctors, priests, volunteers and service staff.

3. Live streaming the Mass (audio/video) or broadcasting it via TV from churches helps the faithful participate and fills them with consolation and trust amid their fears. This should be respected; this is what we see from the faithful’s comments. Believers wish to come to their parish churches and receive holy communion. But they find in this exceptional experience an opportunity that helps them to be closer to Christ and the spirit of the Gospel. The necessary changes during the coronavirus crisis are not comparable to going to supermarkets. We follow our priests and take care of the connection with them and their guide.

4. In the chapel of the Patriarchate we celebrate Mass with four sisters, two coadjutor bishops, a priest and myself. In truth this Mass is the centre of our daily life. We look forward to its celebration. It fills our hearts with faith, trust and joy. We do not look at the camera nor the screen; we look at the bread and the wine transformed by the Holy Spirit, through our faith and our prayer, into the body and blood of Christ. The faithful who follow us on screen pray devoutly with us, recite the prayers and sing with us, and repeatedly affirm that they wish to receive communion. It is a very positive spirituality. The Church must take advantage of it and review the way it celebrates the sacraments. Nobody denies that the Eucharist is a gift of God for us, but taking advantage of this gift is shaped by the difficult circumstances imposed by the coronavirus pandemic. This has led to a life of prayer for the faithful!

5. Christ’s presence is a sacramental presence, which is accomplished through the faith of the Church and the power of the Holy Spirit. It is not a biological presence.

6. The identity of the priest and his spirituality are not pre-packaged magic, but are faith and conviction that mature and grow continuously through ongoing education. This is the task of the bishops.

7. Giving communion in the hand is not a novelty, but an ancient church tradition. Many Fathers, like Saint Ephrem, speak of it. Most Orthodox Churches follow this practice. Undoubtedly, the desire of those who ask for communion must be respected, but priests must observe certain preventive measures. Explaining these measures superficially is neither bold nor heroic.

On the basis of these elements, I call on our bishops and our priests not to pay attention to views opposed to these measures, which are temporary. Once the coronavirus pandemic over, the Church will review these issues with confidence, willingness and a clear vision, to help the faithful remove doubts and understand the various views, assimilate them, make them their own and live their faith in daily life.–Asia News