Mother Theresa of Calcutta, who will be canonized tomorrow, was quoted by Fr. George Rutler in a Good Friday sermon in 1989 as follows:
Not very long ago I said Mass and preached for their [the Missionary of Charity’s] Mother, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and after breakfast we spent quite a long time talking in a little room. Suddenly, I found myself asking her – I don’t know why – “Mother, what do you think is the worst problem in the world today?” She more than anyone could name any number of candidates: famine, plague, disease, the breakdown of the family, rebellion against God, the corruption of the media, world debt, nuclear threat, and so on. Without pausing a second she said, “Wherever I go in the whole world, the thing that makes me the saddest is watching people receive Communion in the hand.”
The Mother Theresa of Calcutta Center in California has issued this clarification:
Mother Teresa would not have contradicted the Church. On the mode of receiving Holy Communion, she wrote to her sisters: “This is like the permission of the Bishops given some years ago for receiving Holy Communion in the hand. It is allowed, but not an order, … as M.C.s, we have chosen to receive Holy Communion on the tongue. If questioned about [it], do not enter into discussion – “let every spirit praise the Lord” – but let us pray that all be done for the greater glory of God and the good of the Church.”
You quoted “Wherever I go in the whole world, the thing that makes me the saddest is watching people receive Communion in the hand.” This statement does not seem authentic to us. We have never heard Mother Teresa saying these words nor read them in her writings.
If the attributed quote was in fact an exaggeration, it would not have been entirely out of character for Mother Theresa’s deeply traditional liturgical piety. She had a deep devotion to the Eucharist, and connected it to the Passion of Jesus. She said:
“The Eucharist is connected with the Passion. If Jesus had not established the Eucharist we would have forgotten the crucifixion. It would have faded into the past and we would have forgotten that Jesus loved us. There is a saying that to be far away from the eyes is to be far away from the heart. To make sure that we do not forget, Jesus gave us the Eucharist as a memorial of his love … When you look at the Crucifix, you understand how much Jesus loved you then, when you look at the Sacred Host you understand how much Jesus loves you now.”
Mother Theresa was an advocate of Eucharistic adoration:
“Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration with exposition needs a great push. People ask me: ‘What will convert America and save the world?’ My answer is prayer. What we need is for every parish to come before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament in holy hours of prayer.”
She also said this about adoration:
“The time you spend with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is the best time that you will spend on earth. Each moment that you spend with Jesus will deepen your union with Him and make your soul everlastingly more glorious and beautiful in heaven, and will help bring about an everlasting peace on earth.”
Mother Theresa had a deep respect for the ordained priesthood, with a rather unreconstructed high view of the priest’s status. She even spoke of the priest “replacing” Jesus by acting in his role:
There is no comparison with the vocation of the priest. It is like a replacing of Jesus at the altar, at the confessional, and in all the other sacraments where he uses his own ‘I’, like Jesus. How completely the priest must be one with Jesus for Jesus to use him in his place, in his name, to utter his words, do his actions, take away the sins, and make ordinary bread and wine into the Living Bread of his own body and Blood.
She saw priests necessary for access to Jesus:
Without priests, we have no Jesus. Without priests, we have no absolution. Without priests, we cannot receive Holy Communion.
Mother Theresa also advocated strongly for priestly celibacy:
I think many, many priests are being called, even without their realizing it, to give themselves totally to the Lord. Yes, the world is in great need of priests, of holy priests, of priestly celibacy, for the world is in need of Christ. To doubt the value of one’s priesthood and one’s priestly celibacy in today’s world is to doubt the very value of Christ and his mission — for they are one. Christ’s mission is ours.
There is much to explore in the life work and writings of Mother Theresa. No doubt most attention will be focused on her service to the poorest of the poor, and that is as it should be. But readers of Pray Tell will also be interested in some of the things she said in connection to the liturgy.