Vatican Corner 09-27-2020

On September 12, 2020, the Vatican said that it was “necessary and urgent” to return to in-person Masses as soon as anti-coronavirus measures permit. Cardinal Robert Sarah the head of the Vatican’s liturgy office said in a letter to bishop’s conferences worldwide that virtual liturgies, while useful, were no replacement for the physical presence by the faithful in churches, which is “vital, indispensable, irreplaceable.” The Cardinal’s letter was approved by Pope Francis and it makes clear that government authorities cannot dictate liturgical practices. Some Catholic priests have claimed the coronavirus lockdown is an infringement on religious liberties. Cardinal Sarah praised bishops for collaborating with the civil authorities, and who had to make “painful decision even to the point of suspending the participation of the faithful in the celebration of the Eucharist for a long period.” He said we “cannot be without the Christian community”, “cannot be without the house of the Lord”, “cannot be without the Lord’s Day.” He said when the only Masses available are through broadcast technologies, “these transmissions risk moving us away from a personal and intimate encounter with the incarnate God who gave himself to us not in a virtual way, but in a real way.” Cardinal Sarah said “as soon as is possible, we must return to the Eucharist with a purified heart, with a renewed amazement, with an increased desire to meet the Lord, to be with Him, to receive Him and to bring Him to our brothers and sisters with the witness of a life of faith, love and hope.” Chaplain and writer Rick Kirby addressed the question: is streaming church online as beneficial as attending in person? He said we must turn to the word of God to shed light on this issue. He found that the early church clearly put a high value on “togetherness”. Roughly 15 times in the book of Acts, the Bible speaks of believers coming together for the purpose of worship or prayer. The bible identifies fellowship – sharing (a common life together with others) as a way in which God intends to channel his grace to his people in a way that deepens faith and guides us to be like Jesus. This kind of fellowship “involves an intimate sharing of dreams, pains, grief, mission, and even possessions. This is the kind of community that the Holy Spirit invites us into when he adopts us into his family.” Yet Kirby says that “the Church has increasing become more and more oriented to those who prefer to remain spectators, and if church leaders are not careful, online streaming will only reinforce this false perception of the spectator mentality.” “If a person is physically hindered from public worship, then technology becomes a great instrument in the hand of God to extend whatever blessing he deems appropriate to that person. However, for those who are simply seeking to fit their Christianity and church life into their busy lifestyles, they are robbing themselves of a heavenly blessing that can only be received corporately.” “Those who are able to attend corporate worship, yet still embrace online streaming of the worship gathering as their preferred worship mode, may soon discover that the compromise will prove more costly than the perceived benefit.” In late May, Italy loosened its restrictions on public Masses. In recent weeks Francis has resumed public gathering and celebrated a few public Masses before limited, socially distanced groups. He loves plunging into crowds but he has tried to keep his distance and urged the crowd to stick to their seats to avoid contagion. He has been using hand sanitizer when he greets well-wishers and this week for the first time he was photographed wearing a mask.