‘We have to realize that the Church’s spiritual mission, in its most fundamental aspects, for instance in the hearing of Confessions, in the bringing of Holy Communion to the faithful, and above all to the sick and the dying and to bring the sacraments to those who are seriously ill,’ said the American cardinal.
Cardinal Raymond Burke has said that Catholics being unable to attend Mass, receive Holy Communion, or go to Confession “is not an acceptable situation” and has called on the Church throughout the world to “do better” in response to the coronavirus crisis.
In an interview with the U.S.-based Catholic Action group, Burke stressed that the Church must continue the “most fundamental aspects” of its spiritual mission, namely bringing the sacraments to the faithful, most especially to the sick and the dying. Burke is the former Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, the Vatican’s highest court, and is known around the world for his defense of Catholic orthodoxy.
“We have to realize that the Church’s spiritual mission, in its most fundamental aspects, for instance in the hearing of Confessions, in the bringing of Holy Communion to the faithful, and above all to the sick and the dying and to bring the sacraments to those who are seriously ill. We need to know that we have to find a way to continue these services,” he said.
“It’s interesting that the secular world finds ways, for instance that people can continue to provide food for their homes and other necessities, which of course they should be able to. Well, we need too to find the ways in which we can provide the spiritual care of the faithful,” he continued.
Burke explained that in Italy, where he currently lives, Catholics have been dying on their own and are subsequently being buried with no family members or even a priest present at the graveside. Reflecting on such a situation, he said: “we have to be able to do better than that.”
The cardinal also said that the Church’s response to the crisis has been “quite different from the response that She has made in other times through such situations.”
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“There are people who haven’t been able to assist at Holy Mass for weeks and who haven’t received Holy Communion or who haven’t been able to go to Confession and this is not an acceptable situation for us,” he said.
“In the past the Church would have, even in an heroic way – especially priests who by their very celibate way of life are prepared for these kind of sacrificial acts – [gone] out to minister to to the faithful,” he continued.
Burke highlighted the example of priests, who despite the current difficulties in visiting sick and dying patients, have found ways to minister to those most in need.
“I’ve read some stories about priests who were so committed to helping a poor dying person they went to the hospital, and of course the hospitals in the beginning are going to discourage anything because they have a lot on their plate. But he worked in a very kind and positive way with the hospital staff and so he was able to put on whatever protective dress he needed and so forth and go in and assist the poor dying person,” the cardinal explained.
Burke said that it was our duty to insist to secular officials on the importance of priests and ministers to assist sick and dying Christians, and said that he thought that many officials would understand if this was explained to them.
“The frame of mind we ought to have is that, ‘yes, our Lord is depending on us to do all that we can to fight a very great evil,’” he said.
“We are co-workers with the Lord, we’re co-operators with His grace and therefore we need to seek the most creative solutions in order that what people most need at a time like this, namely the sacraments…that they would have that.”
The cardinal said that he found the idea that being without the sacraments had helped some to develop their prayer lives “a bit disturbing.” He insisted rather this was a time to develop a greater respect and understanding of Our Lord’s presence in the sacraments of the Church.
“We do all of these devotions, we say these prayers with the profound longing to meet our Lord in the sacraments,” he explained.
“Something we’ve discovered in all of this is that we need to deepen very much our appreciation of our Lord’s presence, His action with us in a very particular and extraordinary way through the sacraments.”
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