Last week, Archbishop Cyprian Kizito Lwanga decreed that it is “forbidden to distribute or to receive Holy Communion in the hands.”
The Archdiocese of Kampala is home to more than 1.5 million Ugandan Catholics served by 324 priests, yet many gather for Mass in homes rather than in parishes, leading to widespread liturgical abuses.
Archbishop Lwanga noted in his decree that “many reported instances of dishonoring the Eucharist” were in various ways associated with irreverent forms of in-hand reception. As a corrective to irreverent reception, the Archbishop also decreed that “it is fitting to return to the more reverent method of receiving the Eucharist on the tongue.”
Several other aspects of Archbishop Lwanga’s decree reveal the depth of the problem he is trying to correct. It seems that the problem is not only that the Eucharist is being celebrated in homes rather than designated parishes throughout the Archdiocese, but also because it is being celebrated in polygamous homes. “It must be reaffirmed that those living in illicit marital co-habitation and those who persist in any grave and manifest sin, cannot be admitted to Holy Communion,” the Archbishop wrote. “Moreover, to avoid scandal, the Eucharist is not to be celebrated in the homes of people in such a situation.”
Lwanga adds that priests also must increase their reverence “in celebrating and administering the Eucharist” through properly prescribed liturgical vestments, and that any priest who is not wearing the proper sacred vestments prescribed by the rubrics should never celebrate, concelebrate, or even sit in the sanctuary, but should rather sit among the faithful in the congregation. From such decrees can be inferred a certain clerical laxity in liturgical reverence corresponding to that of the lay faithful.
Yet the clear thrust of the decree is that there is a disconnect between the faithful and the Faith which matters for both priests and laity alike. Some will see similarities to Cardinal Sarah’s 2016 rejected ad orientem proposal, but Lwanga’s decree is different in that he is not directing the Universal Church but correcting liturgical abuses within the Archdiocese of Kampala according to his proper authority and jurisdiction. What similarity Archbishop Lwanga’s decree shares with Cardinal Sarah’s proposal is a common intention to ensure that our worship unite us to God rather than to celebrate what we have done or who we are. Archbishop Lwanga is a pastor who rightly wants to move the souls of his people to celebrate the Eucharist in a way which conforms to the reality of Christ Crucified, and he wants to move them to see how our lives must be conformed to this sacrament of the altar.
While German bishops advocate for accommodations to the new gnostic redefinitions of family, African bishops have been facing difficult pastoral questions about how to move their people away from troubling cultural attachments to polygamy which run counter to the Church’s teaching that marriage is between one man and one woman. Rightly, Archbishop Lwanga sees that these questions must be faced in light of the honor due to the Most Holy Eucharist.
In the West, the decline of Eucharistic reverence has gone hand in hand with a rise in sexual sin within the priesthood as well as the laity. One does not have to make a causal connection between these to see that the only cure for sin in the Church will come by clinging properly and reverently to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.
Archbishop Lwanga knows the power of conforming yourself to true sacrifice very well. He takes his name from the most famous of the Ugandan Martyrs, St Charles Lwanga, who was martyred by King Mwanga of Uganda who sexually preyed on young teenage men in the 1880s. King Mwanga had beheaded his head page, Joseph Mukasa, for catechizing teenage boys in the Catholic faith and protecting them from the king’s disordered passions.
After beheading Mukasa, the king chose 25-year old Charles Lwanga to be his chief page. Knowing very well the high cost of not accommodating himself to the culture of the court, Charles Lwanga secretly carried on the work of his predecessor. He taught the young men the Catholic Faith, and protected them from the king’s lustful advances. Eventually, the sexually wicked King Mwanga found out that they were all following Christ. He gave them a choice. They could give up their faith, or their lives. The Ugandan Martyrs chose to unite their lives to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ rather than to be conformed to the lusts of a king. Indeed, their Eucharistic reverence had so perfectly conformed to Christ that they could not choose to be conformed to this world.
Archbishop Lwanga is calling the faithful in his diocese to live their lives in liturgically reverent conformity to Christ Crucified in the sacrament of the altar. From the vestments of the priest to our posture before the divine fire, our best catechesis is in and through reverent liturgical action. While Archbishop Lwanga’s decree is specifically for Ugandan Catholics, his decree teaches every Catholic that our hope is not in accommodating ourselves to the world, but in reverently conforming ourselves to true God and true Man in the Most Holy Eucharist.