A bishop has rapped French Catholics for their insistence on public Masses during COVID-19, calling their demands for the Eucharist a “fixation” that “does not seem healthy to me” and even “a little immature”.

– “What is two weeks more or less?”

“God is speaking to us in this desert that is being prolonged”, Emmanuel Lafont, the 74-year-old Tours-born Bishop of Cayene in French Guyana told La Croix May 4.

“Remember the Babylonian exile, when the Israelites lost the Temple, the sacrifices and the work of the priests”, was the message the Scripture scholar and missionary of many years’ experience said he wanted to transmit to those Catholics in France angling for the return of public Masses before public authorities deem it safe.

Just as the Israelites during the exile “had only the Word and the prophets”, so we too during the COVID-19 lockdown have the chance “to enter more deeply into the Scriptures”, Lafont continued.

“So it’s an opportunity. And, in any case, what is two weeks more or less?”, he asked.

The deprivation of Masses during confinement also gives Catholics in the West the chance to experience “what 150 million Christians – of all confessions – usually live through because they are persecuted”, a situation “which does not prevent them from living their faith”, the bishop recalled.

Quoting St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Lafont said: “No doubt it is a great grace to receive the sacraments; but when God does not permit it, it is good nonetheless, everything is a grace!”

While warning that the “risks of a second wave of infection are very possible, and we will have to live with this virus for many more months”, the bishop again insisted Catholics turn to the Bible during confinement, since “without the bread of the Word, the Eucharistic bread is incomprehensible”.

– Nanterre bishop accuses president of encouraging “anticlerical” and “anti-Catholic” sentiment

Bishop Lafont was speaking to the controversy currently raging in France thanks to the government’s April 28 announcement to hold off on allowing churches to resume public Masses until June 2 while permitting schools, small businesses, libraries and the like to reopen from May 11.

The French Bishops’ Conference as a body responded to that announcement “with regret”.

But one prelate – Bishop Matthieu Rougé of Nanterre – went further than his colleagues and blasted French President Emmanuel Macron for encouraging an “anticlerical tropism in general, and for being anti-Catholic in particular”.

On the day of the government’s announcement, too, a group of French intellectuals, jurists and historians warned that by continuing restrictions on public Masses after May 11, “the public authorities would run the risk of disproportionately undermining freedom of worship and adding the incomprehension of believers to the tensions of confinement”.

– Other Catholics look on bright side: “What if we used the lockdown to rediscover what it truly means to worship God?”

In the midst of the tensions in France over when to resume public sacramental life, another group of Catholics led by former president of the CCFD-Terre solidaire (The Catholic Committee against Hunger and for Development), Guy Aurenche, weighed into the debate to ask: “Why should the continued constraint be seen only as an obstacle to Christian life?”

“What if we used this prolonged lockdown to rediscover what it truly means to worship God, and re-experience the profound meaning of the Eucharist, as bread that is shared?”, that group proposed.

“Being in community is constitutive to our faith. But for what sort of worship and to what sort of God?”, the thinkers also challenged their fellow Catholics.

They suggested that the COVID-19 isolation become a time for the Church to examine why “much of our Catholic discourse seems foreign to our contemporaries”, and the “even more serious” fact of the Church’s “silence over [the] sexual abuse of minors and the slowness of the Church’s process of reform”.

The group insisted that the constraints of COVID-19 social distancing must serve the Church to overcome its “old theological and pastoral approaches” by which it remains “enclosed behind our walls”.

“Let us set out on the roads of our wounded world and make our churches, not storehouses of customs or fortresses of truth, but places of openness and freedom. Places that are truly freed from lockdown”, the group invited Catholics.

More on Novena on the debate over public Masses during COVID-19:

COVID-19: Spanish cardinal denounces “orchestrated campaigns” for hasty return to public Masses

COVID-19: French bishop proposes priests celebrate home Masses in face of “severe confinement” of public liturgical life

On COVID-19, German prelate reminds Church: “Not every occasion needs the Eucharist”

COVID-19: German bishop, Church reform movement hit out at “premature” Mass restart

COVID-19: German bishop criticises “whining”, “belligerent” demands for Mass

COVID-19: German bishop blasts Catholics’ “obsession” with Eucharist


PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.