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Dispensations, diktats or a grounded faith?

Is protecting the power of the clergy more important than protecting people?
A Catholic receives the Holy Eucharist during an Ash Wednesday service at St. Mary's Basilica in Secunderabad, the twin city of Hyderabad

A Catholic receives the Holy Eucharist during an Ash Wednesday service at St. Mary's Basilica in Secunderabad, the twin city of Hyderabad. (Photo: AFP/UCAN files)

Published: September 12, 2023 04:15 AM GMT
Updated: October 04, 2023 06:03 AM GMT

The Sept. 8 feast of the Nativity of Mary, mother of God, is a landmark event for Catholics in Mumbai, attracting large crowds to Marian shrines, as in the rest of the Catholic world.

Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai took this opportunity to not just greet his people but also to inform them that since the Covid-19 pandemic is over, the dispensation to attend Sunday Mass online, given during the pandemic, was officially being withdrawn.

Obviously, many Catholics have got so used to attending online Mass and continue to do so from the convenience of their homes. It was also convenient to request a Eucharistic Minister to bring them Communion at home, a service offered during the pandemic.

Many people have told me they loved the online Masses because of the choice it offered, mostly of the Sunday homily.  Many share these with friends on WhatsApp too. Being an online Catholic is fast catching up.  You can find online retreats as well.

Is Mass for ‘attending’ or is it about community? A short catechesis on that would have been more helpful.

Another announcement from Cardinal Oswald Gracias was that Communion could again be served to people on the tongue.

"Priests distributing Communion, sometimes to hundreds, are not always careful"

Back in the 1990s when Communion on the hand was first introduced, there were several conservative Catholics who protested.  They felt that receiving Communion on the tongue was more devout than receiving it in their hand. 

A big discussion ensued in the archdiocesan weekly Examiner.  One of the most important reasons for making the change was hygiene.  Priests distributing Communion, sometimes to hundreds, are not always careful about avoiding touching people’s tongues and getting infected with any bug that the person may carry.  This infection can easily be transmitted to several others.

Most found it a sensible option to receive Communion in their hands.  Some persisted on receiving on the tongue and they were accommodated.

Astrid Lobo-Gajiwala, recalls how when Communion in the hand was introduced, she was secretary of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council and a diocesan campaign was launched through media, talks and homilies, to make it more acceptable to Catholics. “Now why are we going back?” she questions.

For almost 30 years people had adapted to the practice of taking Communion in their hand. This could have been reinforced and become a teaching moment for the cardinal to inform about the deeper meaning of the Eucharist and reinforce the need for good hygienic practices to avoid diseases.

He could also point to the more important aspects of reverence to Jesus, who is also present in every human person.

One would think that 30 years later, progress would make more people opt for the sensible change to taking Communion in their hand.  Covid forced the change.  The transmission of the viral disease was too risky.  But now Cardinal Gracias has declared that Covid is over because the surge in infections that was expected did not happen. 

We all know that viruses continue to develop and spread.  If the Covid pandemic is over, are all respiratory and mouth-transmitted infections over?  Many others with me are perturbed at this decision coming from our Church leader in this day and age when we are aware of the health risks of transmissible diseases. 

But sadly some priests encourage the reception of Communion on the tongue, arguing it as more reverential. 

“Jesus did not spoon-feed his disciples. Why go back to this unhygienic practice?  In my view it is part of a control system,” says St. Pail Sister Pauline Chakalakal, who holds a doctorate in theology.

 "Most young people are rejecting the diktats of the hierarchy as meaningless"

“Surely, this is an expression of wanting everything under clerical control.  They issue dispensation/obligations and the ‘dumb sheep’ follow orders,” asserted Kochurani Abraham, another woman theologian.

Why are the clergy not educating people about the real meaning of Communion?

Shefale Karanjikar, a young Sunday school teacher asks, “Why are people not made aware that Communion is more about ‘us’ rather than about me?  That when we receive Jesus it is an intimate Communion with him and with all those around me.”

“When we receive Communion and make Jesus a part of us, we take on a huge responsibility to change the world by breaking ourselves for others as Jesus commanded his disciples at the Last Supper.”

She said she grew up indoctrinated about the sacredness of the host, being told not to touch it, not to bite it, it is a sin. “I thank God I developed my faith by reading scripture for myself and reading books that helped me understand my faith better,” she said.

The 21st century is of virtual learning.  Most young people are rejecting the diktats of the hierarchy as meaningless.  Will our Churches fill up again after Cardinal Gracias’ official withdrawal of the dispensation of attending Sunday Mass? 

People are thinking for themselves. Our leaders should focus on more important issues at hand, such as the violence and abuse of children and women going on around us.

I wonder what Jesus would say to the Church leaders of today, who address inconsequential issues and avoid attending to the more important ones where human lives are being affected and even destroyed.

Is protecting the power of the clergy more important than protecting people?

*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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10 Comments on this Story
I think Ms Virginia got it wrong. As I understand, Cardinal's is not prohibiting communion on hand. He is making it clear that from now on we can receive communion on tongues (for those wishing so) and the existing practice (on hand) will continue. Communion on tongue was completely discouraged during covid.
Mrs Virginia is throwing her weight around and misleading just because is perfect because she is a theologian. The Cardinal has not banned receiving the communion on hand. She can use that option if she so wishes. But to ‘attend’ or ‘hear’ Mass on line and order the priest to send the communion home is preposterous. Exception: The home bound. Did Jesus go to Synagogue on Sabbath or read Tora at home? Stop misleading people. Receiving Communion on tongue is definitely more appropriate. If you have faith, don’t worry. Scorpion and snake can bite but nothing will happen. That is the promise of Jesus to the Apostles and to us!
I fully endorse Virginia's observations. Pope Francis has often spoken out against online Masses. That was just a via media during Covid times. We know how an inordinate number of bishops and priests died because they believed that no harm would befall them. This is exactly how Satan tempted Jesus. Also please revert to the Last Supper, the origin of the Holy Eucharist. Jesus didn't dispense the bread and wine, neither on the hand or the tongue. It was self service. The cardinal's tongue option is a retrograde step. He should resign as Archbishop of Mumbai and advisor to the Pope.
Thank you Virginia for your Article challenging those in power structures. - Those in leadership positions should instruct the faithful that they are not ' attending' the Mass, but participating & celebrating... Instead of promoting Clericalism, about which Pope Francis has often spoken, let Church leadership allow the Holy Spirit guide us towards a structural change !........... Jesus Christ- my Guru, our Saviour & Prophet-Liberator, brought a Godly revolution!
Virginia wants to hog the limelight! His Eminence is clearly giving us the option to receive Holy Communion on the tongue or on the hand. Do we have to necessarily find fault every time the hierarchy speaks? You may have your bone to pick but doing it for every thing reflects your bias.
Dear Virginia, thanks for your enlightening thoughts. The Church is evolving , moving forward . Pope Francis has spoken of rampant Clericalism in the Church; which has led him to initiate the Synodal Process.Holy Communion on the tongue or in the hand is in order. Let the faithful discern. Why this DIKTAT . Diktat from the Archbishop; We have Diktats from some Bishops , Parish Priests and Clergy . How different are we from the Scribes and Pharisees. They lived by the letter of the Law, not the Spirit of the Law. Jesus rebuked them saying : you brood of vipers “
Mathew 8:8 "The centurion answered, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed." Luke 8:46 " But Jesus said, “Someone touched me, for I noticed that power had gone out from me.”  John 1:14 "And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth." 1 Corinthians 11:27-30 "Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup.  For all who eat and drink without discerning the body eat and drink judgment against themselves. For this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died." I am no Theologian, I am just a sinner given another chance by The Divine Mercy to live in The Divine Will of God. Only this I believe that from whatever hands I receive the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ on my tongue, even if they are unclean or infected, I am forgiven, healed and saved. 2 Corinthians 5:7 "for we walk by faith, not by sight." What we receive is the Word of God that has become flesh and he continues to dwell in our hearts, when we receive him with sincere repentence and deep reverence.
Church is insisting on many rules around sacraments, rules differ from priest to priest, at times it's bureaucracy at its worst, ....Jesus healed on a so called forbidden day(Sabbath)...hope our leaders practice and preach...
Thank you Virginia for challenging us faithful to grow in our faith and take responsibility for it. We as you so tightly say, have access to information. Staying juvenile in our faith, we remain more like sheep led to the slaughter rather than followers of the one and only good shepherd. Sadly it is we who REFUSE to grow in our understanding & practising of our faith as adults who allow people like the erstwhile cardinal think they can come up with retrograde diktats to deflect from what they are guilty of doing &/or not doing... Clericalism, cover up of sexual and financial shenanigans, abuse, misuse of authority are all not addressed as faithful are made to focus on'individual salvation. There are none so blind as those who REFUSE to see what is right below our noses. Making those who challenge us is so much easier than challenging ourselves to grow. When will we ever learn that our God is much bigger than the limited way in which we perceive the divine.
the DIKTATS of the bishop/cardinals no longer hold value! STOP LISTENING TO THESE PHARISEES WHOSE CRIMES NEED INVESTIGATIONS AND JAIL. as we move forward in the christian/catholic world, we evolve. so receiving communion in the hand is better than on the tongue for hygienic purposes. both the hand (clean) and the tongue are part of the same body. for those who are still living in the 60's, please move on. about church attendance on sundays: this is a church DIKTAT! during covid, people were asked not to attend church as the disease was spreading fast. those who disobeyed the laws of the land and thought god would save the FOOLISH, died in the process. though many were tormented not to attend their faithful sunday mass, they slowly gave in and enjoyed the online masses and realised it was NO LONGER A SIN NOT TO ATTEND AND THE SKY DID NOT FALL DOWN! now the church as put out another DIKTAT to pressure their dumbed sheep to return. WHY? BECAUSE IF YOU DO NOT, THERE WILL BE NO DONATIONS, THE STRANGE EFFECT OF THE PRIESTLY SERMON WILL NOT BE THERE TO INTIMIDATE THE DUMBED SHEEP TO FALL INTO LINE WITH HIS/CHURCH DIKTATS AND NO PRIESTLY PROFESSION, BESIDES LIKE THOSE IN THE WEST, THE CHURCH BUILDINGS WILL BECOME VACANT AND SOLD TO REAL ESTATE!!! YES THE CHURCH LEADERS DESPERATELY WANT YOU BACK! IT IS NOT A SIN...A GREAT MORTAL SIN AS YOU WERE TOLD TO BELIEVE. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO TRUST MY WORD.....BUT BELIEVE IN JESUS, DEVELOP A PERSONAL RELATION WITH HIM LIKE A GOOD FRIEND, LORD , YOUR GOD (NOT THE PHARISEES IN THE CHURCH).
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