“God is greater than the Church and the sacraments”, German cardinal Reinhard Marx has said.

– “The substance of faith is faith itself”

In the context of the coronavirus bans on public Masses, “the renunciation of the communal Eucharist is bitter, and of course I hope that we can celebrate it again very soon. For [Catholics] it is the center of faith”, Marx, the Archbishop of Munich and Freising, reflected in an April 9 interview with German Catholic news agency KNA.

But, the prelate continued, while the authorities continue to impose bans on public gatherings due to COVID-19, in the meantime the faithful must remember that “the substance of faith is faith itself”, and not the external manifestations of the same.

Marx went on to express his conviction that going back again to celebrate the sacrament as a community “will be possible again in the near future”.

“We’re not talking about months and years, but about a few weeks”, the cardinal affirmed.

He added that now, in a situation of being deprived of the Mass, Catholics can “perhaps… feel especially clearly how we are all baptised together as a church, how we are connected in prayer and how much we lack the sacraments”.

– “Strange” the debate about restrictions on religious liberty during COVID-19

Marx’s comments supporting the German authorities’ ban on public Masses are significant not least of all because Christians in the country have taken governments to court – unsuccessfully – over what they see as undue restrictions on religious freedom during the pandemic.

The cardinal confessed in his interview with KNA that he finds “strange” the debate over whether Catholics should be allowed to attend Mass during the COVID-19 outbreak.

That’s because “regulations now exist worldwide” and in Germany, especially, “we have a very well-founded framework, [so] as bishops we have seen no reason not to follow these instructions”.

The authorities’ advice to avoid communal gatherings is something “the Holy Father also adheres to”, Marx recalled, before adding: “But of course anyone who wants to can complain”.

As for the argument that since supermarkets are open during the pandemic, so Churches should be too, Marx said simply: “The regulations affect all religious communities and all other groups. The supermarkets are open so that people can get the essentials. And with us, the churches remain open for personal prayer”.

– Amid the pandemic, “many people are becoming more open to our message”

On the subject of how the Church can learn from COVID-19, and make up in the short-term for the lack of public Masses, Marx insisted priests and bishops have “many other options” apart from in-person Eucharists.

“The digital media open up new opportunities, which we want to make greater use of, also for proclamation. There’s still a lot of potential here”, the cardinal explained.

“I even have the impression that many people are becoming more open to our message.

“Times of crisis like this make the fragility of human life felt. But they also encourage a search for hope that is stronger than despair and fear”, Marx affirmed.

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