KRAKÓW, Poland (ChurchMilitant.com) - A bishop is denouncing communism while lifting his voice in defense of the holy Faith.
In a recent interview, published by the Polish newpaper Polonia Christiana, Bp. Athanasius Schneider of Kazakhstan comments on the communist terror, the reverence due the giving and reception of Holy Communion as well as the definition of a holy priest.
The bishop has been compared to his namesake, the sainted Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, who defended Church doctrine against heresy in the early centuries of the Church.
Bishop Schneider's family's twists and turns across Central Europe to Central Asia to the Ural mountains and back during Stalin's communist terror inform his theological backbone and beliefs in this interview.
Referencing his childhood marked by communist persecution of the Faith, the bishop said: "The goal of the communist regime was to establish a society without God. Any public religious gesture or public worship was therefore prohibited." Bishop Schneider received his first Holy Communion in secret because the Catholic faith was outlawed in what is now Kyrgyzstan where he was born in 1961.
But the Faith survived, he said, being passed down through families, describing "the Catholic family as a domestic Church."
He described the "great privilege and great luck to come into the world in a very Catholic family," adding he "imbibed the Catholic faith with his mother's milk." In the absence of priests — which he said, sometimes lasted for several years — his parents sanctified Sunday by saying ordinary prayers in the morning.
When his family moved to Estonia, "we had a priest and a church about 100 kilometers away," adding, "We thought that this [was] a very short distance" for the faith.
The bishop recalls his family knowing "two holy priests" during this time who suffered — one of whom died — in the Gulag in Karaganda, part of the chain of gulags Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote about in The Gulag Archipelago, which documented Soviet regime's systematic use of terror against its own peoples.
Escape to a less communist but more secularized West in the 1970s brought its own set of challenges. The then-teenage bishop and his family were shocked by the lack of reverence and sense of sacred in the liturgy of the Holy Mass. In the persecuted Church, he said, "We lived deep faith, keeping great reverence for all holy reality, for the priest, the liturgy and, above all, for Holy Communion." But in a post-conciliar Germany "we watched the unimaginable scene of distributing Holy Communion on hand. It seemed to us something as banal and as common as giving away cakes."
As to the spiritual dangers of giving and receiving Holy Communion in the hand, the prelate said: "The biggest risk ... is the enormous loss of Eucharist particles" with the particles then being "trampled by human feet in our churches."
"The next serious risk is the great ease of stealing consecrated Hosts."
In addition, kneeling for reception of the Holy Eucharist position is "typically Christian," and used "in the adoration of God, Christ, the Incarnate God," he points out. "Our Lord Himself prayed on his knees, so did the apostles and women on the morning of the Resurrection."
"A kneeling attitude is seen in heavenly Jerusalem, in which angels, together with redeemed humanity, fall on their knees and even on their faces to adore Christ, the Lamb of God."
As to laity distributing Communion, the bishop said it is "contrary to the entire tradition of the universal Church — both Eastern and Western Catholic Churches — and has never been practiced. He ceded that during times of persecution [laymen and] hermits in the desert could give Holy Communion to the faithful, but this always happened outside of Mass. "It is an absolute novelty and a real break with Tradition," he said, adding that novelties should only be introduced when the true and undoubted good of the Church so requires with the proviso that new forms will grow organically from existing forms.
The law of the Church is very clear: No priest or bishop has the right to refuse the Holy Communion if the faithful want to receive it in a kneeling position and into the mouth. This right is written in Redemptionis Sacramentum (91).
Furthermore, he points out that the Church treats violation of this norm as a "serious offense" (173):
Every holy steward should also seriously ask whether he respected the rights of lay faithful, who trust him and their children with confidence, convinced that they all correctly perform the tasks for the good of the faithful, which the Church wishes to fulfill the mandate of Christ by celebrating the sacred liturgy. Everyone should remember that he is a servant of the sacred liturgy (186).
The bishop noted that the piety of Catholics in Kazakhstan despite lingering the effects of the atheist and communist regime:
Catholics in Kazakhstan have retained a valuable heritage from the time of persecution, that is: deep faith, great worship for the liturgy, and above all for the Holy Eucharist; they kept a clear awareness of sin, which is why the faithful often use the sacrament of penance; great love of prayer, especially eucharistic adoration; love and worship for priests and bishops; deep sense and worship for the sacred.
But the bishop gave practical tips on how to remain strong during the current times:
We must also comfort our Lord because of the huge and numerous acts of sacrilege and disrespect and offer in a spirit of penance, through the hands of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Eucharistic Woman, acts of penance and remuneration following the example of the angel who appeared to the children of Fatima, he said.
And for recognizing a "holy priest," the bishop says, such a man "does not care for his own gain, but only for the glory of God and for the spiritual good of souls. And he will gain the greatest help in this process if he celebrates the Holy Mass with more and more faith and love every day."
Bishop Schneider is the author of Dominus Est - It is the Lord! in which the bishop cites the reverence and prominence that popes, saints and Church Fathers give the Holy Eucharist.