A German bishop has criticsed the “whining” and “belligerent” demands of some Catholics for Mass in the time of coronavirus restrictions.
– “Aren’t our cancellations of worship services almost luxury problems?”
Bishop of Magdeburg Gerhard Feige wrote an opinion piece published April 20 on katholisch.de, a news website of the German Bishops’ Conference, in which he said, in the context of the coronavirus bans on public Masses and other social gatherings, that “religious freedom is also close to my heart and it hurts to still have to do without public services”.
However, Feige confessed to feeling “increasingly irritated” by the “self-pitying or combative resentment” expressed by some Catholics frustrated with being denied access to the sacraments.
“Shouldn’t we as Christians rather take care responsibly and in solidarity to contain the life-threatening danger of infection with the coronavirus and to prevent a medical overtaxing of our society, than, comparable to various lobbyists, try to push through our particular interests?”, the bishop asked.
“And in the face of the hardships and suffering of those who have to fear for their own lives or the lives of relatives, who hardly see an economic perspective for themselves or who are professionally on the front lines in the fight against the pandemic, aren’t our cancellations of worship services almost luxury problems? It is important to weigh the goods accordingly”.
– To faithful: Keep “fantasies of self-realisation at any price” in check
Some in the world, Catholics and others, are speaking these days of a “health dictatorship”, accusing public authorities of using any means necessary – including the suspension of public Masses – to justify the end of public health.
Feige, however, had no truck with Catholics pushing such a conspiracy theory, insisting that while “certainly, from a Christian perspective, [health] is not regarded as the highest value… it should not be lightly jeopardised either”.
“And there are also considerable differences between an authoritarian dictatorship that suppresses freedom rights for ideological reasons and a democratic state that at times restricts some things for the sake of the common good”, the bishop explained.
Feige encouraged citizens to remember that “all freedom is not limitless, but ends where the freedom of the other begins”.
To that end, he specifically urged Catholics to keep in check their “fantasies of self-realisation at any price”, such as their desire for Mass and the sacraments at this challenging time, when what is needed instead is “many a sacrifice and many a renunciation to make successful coexistence possible”.
– “Shouldn’t we just wait a little longer?”
Feige’s comments on Catholics’ demands for Mass during coronavirus are especially interesting given the negotiations currently taking place between the German government and the country’s Bishops for a return to public sacramental life.
German chancellor Angela Merkel announced April 15 that the country would take some small steps on the road back to relative social normalcy, including the reopening of smaller shops and schools but not yet that of bars, restaurants and worship spaces.
But German Bishops’ President Georg Bätzing, of the Limburg diocese, shot back on the continuing veto of public religious celebrations, alleging in a statement that “the suspension of public religious services encroaches massively on people’s right to practise their religion freely”.
In the wake of a subsequent April 17 follow-up meeting between representatives of the religions and representatives of the Federal Republic and the different German states, Fr Karl Jüsten, the German Bishops’ point-man for relations with the state, said discussions now are centering on proposals to ensure public health at communion services.
“Several suggestions have been made such as using toast tongs or laying the Eucharist out on the altar and allowing the faithful to take a host, or for the priest to use disposable gloves”, Jüsten explained.
In his piece for katholisch.de, however, Feige didn’t take at all kindly to those liturgical proposals, saying that “I can hardly imagine how services with restricted access, an attendance list, keeping a safe distance, mouth protection, gloves, a disinfection rite before preparing the gifts and the distribution of communion using still to be invented liturgical tongs could be godly and salvific”.
The bishop warned about the danger of the health restrictions “creat[ing] new problems and increas[ing] frustration”, and asked:
“Shouldn’t we wait a little longer and only then celebrate services together again when it can happen more naturally and in a more humane way?”
– Not even Catholics in favour of returning to Mass at this time: poll
Feige’s scepticism about an over-eager return to public Mass and the sacraments would seem to be the feeling among an overwhelming majority of the German population, Catholics included, judging by an INSA Consulare opinion poll published in the Tagespost newspaper.
According to that survey of over 2,000 adults between April 10-13, just 12% of Germans favour a return to worship during the pandemic, while 70% consider services at this time to be unnecessary.
Among Catholics, the percentage in favour of returning to public Masses as an integral part of “primary care” during the outbreak was just 15% compared to 69% against.