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ROME (ChurchMilitant.com) - Cardinal Raymond Burke is issuing a wake-up call for the Church to get back to the business of saving souls after the historically unprecedented time of church closings.
"We're all living through a strange time, stranger than it had to be," the former prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura said in a video interview with president of Catholic Action for Faith and Family Thomas McKenna, alluding to, among other things, a prevailing notion that "even being in church somehow propagates disease."
The cardinal reiterated the spiritually painful litany of "dramatic" changes the current COVID-19 pandemic has wrought — the faithful being isolated from one another; prevented from attending Holy Mass; separated from the real, physical presence of Our Lord through the Holy Eucharist; deprived of forgiveness through confession as well as many other forms of spiritual nourishment.
To find a way through "the fog of war," as McKenna put it, the cardinal points to the need for "strong catechesis."
Burke said "strong catechesis" will determine whether Catholics return to the Church after an extended period of lockdown which has induced many into becoming complacent.
The cardinal posited that Catholics who have been "well-catechized" would be more apt to get back on course and come back to church and the holy sacraments after the worldwide church closings. "They will return wholeheartedly to fulfill Sunday obligation and attend daily Mass," he said.
But he feared "very much" that those who "are not so well catechized" may interpret the bishops' dispensations for so long a time as a sign that Sunday Mass is just one more negotiable practice in the Church. He referred to the Argentine archbishop of La Plata Víctor Manuel Fernández, who sees the Wuhan virus crisis as a way to reassess whether Sunday Mass is necessary.
Burke also corrected the notion that a bishop can't actually "dispense" the faithful from the obligation of Sunday Mass to begin with because "Sunday Mass is a response to the Third Commandment" which cannot be dispensed with. "This is divine law," he said.
"Strong catechesis" must focus on the "reality of the Holy Eucharist" and "the centrality of participation in Holy Mass" and "being present at Holy Mass in which Christ himself is acting." In other words, the belief that the priest is acting in the person as alter Christus, another Christ, is essential.
In this regard, His Emminence made a powerful appeal for the restoration of kneeling to receive Holy Communion and receiving it on the tongue, pointing out that this has been the most reverent practice since the 8th century.
He recommends a book by Bp. Athanasius Schneider of Kazakhstan, Corpus Christi: Holy Communion and the Renewal of the Church, to understand the tradition of reverence in administering and receiving the Eucharist. In the book, the bishop explains how before the 8th century, Christians received Communion on the tongue by cupping their hands and then using their tongue to take the host to avoid the desecration of particles falling to the ground.
The 71-year-old prelate added he "can't remember ever touching the skin" of a receiver of the sacrament as he administered it. "I am not at all convinced" that receiving Communion "is more safe on the hand than on the tongue," Burke said.
He added that the alter Christus status of a priest also prevents hospital workers, or any other layperson, from administering the last rites, as the priest, representing Christ Himself, must administer the sacrament.
McKenna steered the interview toward the suffering of fellow Catholics in China — those who have refused to sign Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA), which he estimates at 50% of the overall Chinese Catholic population — and the effects of the 2018 China-Vatican agreement.
That no published text of the agreement is available is problematic for Burke to begin with. But he adds, "You cannot make a compromise with the Chinese Communist Party — it is materialistic, atheistic." "The only acceptable religion in China is China," said Burke, quoting Chinese President Xi Jinping, to underscore the point.
He said the suffering of the Chinese Catholics who refuse to become part of CCPA "should be on the heart of every devout Catholic" and that they should "bond" with the faithful in China.
Burke recommends Cdl. Joseph Zen's book For Love of My People I Will Not Remain Silent: On the Situation of the Church in China to learn more about Chinese Catholics in the underground Church.
And he directs the U.S. faithful to the Cardinal Kung Foundation, situated in Connecticut, where they can learn more about the plight of Chinese faithful.
The foundation honors Ignatius Cdl. Kung Pinmei (1901–2000) who refused to renounce God and the Church despite persecution from the CCP. In defiance of the communist-created and sanctioned CCPA, then-Bp. Kung supervised the Legion of Mary, a religious organization of the laity dedicated to the veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Kung chose to remain in China, refusing to abandon his flock in spite of many offers of safe passage out of China.
Cardinal Kung once said: "If we renounce our faith, we will disappear and there will not be a resurrection. If we are faithful, we will still disappear, but there will be a resurrection."