A German bishop and a German Church reform movement have hit out at what they see as “premature” restart to public Masses after the coronavirus.

– “A Pyrrhic victory?”

In the face of plans in the state of Saxony-Anhalt to recommence public services for the beginning of May, “I will not hold back my concerns, especially since it does not seem possible in various places in our diocese to implement the required hygiene requirements”, Bishop of Magdeburg Gerhard Feige told KNA April 27.

Bishop Feige made headlines last week when he criticised the “whining” and “belligerent” demands of some Catholics for Mass during the coronavirus pandemic, and wondered out loud whether now is the right time to return to public Masses, not least of all given the distortions to the liturgy that the observance of the necessary health regulations would produce.

The Magdeburg bishop returned to those reservations Monday when he asked whether the return to public sacramental life in the context of the easing of coronavirus restrictions wouldn’t be a “Pyrrhic victory”.

“What is gained? For whom? And with what consequences?”, Feige asked.

– Services “not really public”

The “public” Masses under the coronavirus ‘new normal’ wouldn’t be “really public”, the bishop warned.

“Only a small number of believers are admitted… the sick and the weak may not come, only the strong and healthy. Even those with a weak bladder have to stay away, because the toilets have to be closed. And then it is necessary to register” to avoid overcrowding, Feige recalled.

The bishop also asked: “Who or what decides on participation? The speed or contacts? Will it be fair somehow or not? And how should one envisage the ushers that regulate entry? What skills are expected from them?”

Feige said all these were “questions on top of questions to which I have no satisfactory answers”.

He cautioned that “considering our many small churches [in the diocese], only a few people could claim the privilege of attending a service. So many would be excluded. Can you welcome that as a positive intermediate step?”

– “Does anyone really believe that such sterile services can raise the heart?”

Speaking to KNA, Feige also reiterated his earlier criticisms of the liturgical innovations that would be necessary to comply with the COVID-19 public health guidelines.

“Whether with disinfectant, gloves or tongs [for the distribution of communion], none of these questionable methods can completely rule out the risk of infection”, the Magdeburg bishop warned.

“Does anyone really believe that such sterile services can raise the heart and comfort the soul or address children and adolescents in the least? How should fellowship with the risen Lord and with each other be experienced?”, he asked.

Instead of rushing back to public Masses, Feige encouraged Catholics to use this time of forced Eucharistic fasting to enter into solidarity with “the many Catholic believers in the world who celebrate the Eucharist and receive communion only a few times a year due to the great shortage of priests”.

Both that, and also Catholics “could continue to pray individually in our churches, but – as I have noticed on-and-off – that [option] is not used very often”, Feige said.

“Now we have the opportunity to understand this Eucharistic fasting in solidarity and to have a more intensive discussion about what else supports us spiritually and what might need to change in the Church”, the bishop explained, lamenting that instead of making the most of that “we try to get back to what is supposed to be normal as soon as possible”.

On top of that missed opportunity to empathise with Catholics experiencing a lack of priests, “if we as the Church now exclude a large number of believers from our services and celebrate liturgy with only a few, then we shouldn’t be surprised that we’re gradually in danger of ‘wasting away'”, Feige denounced.

– A less-than-solidary message

For its part, German Church reform and gender equality movement ‘Maria 2.0’ also criticsed the Mass restarts beginning in all German dioceses from May at the latest, warning that the resumption of services goes against the commandment of charity.

“We are convinced that the core of our faith is expressed in Jesus’ double commandment of love” of God and of neighbour, Maria 2.0 wrote in a letter to the German Bishops Sunday.

The group insisted that one’s love for God shows itself in care of and responsibility for one’s neighbor, “and for many of us at the moment that means renouncing”.

A great effort to protect especially high-risk groups from infection is required right now on the part of all members of society, Maria 2.0 went on, adding that the recommencement of public services sends a contradictory signal, and means “that the Catholic Church is not doing justice to its responsibilities on several levels”.

When Church services resume, not only will the at-risk group of over-65s be disproportionately represented in the pews – leading to an increased risk of contagion – but limits on capacity will lead to the exclusion of some of the faithful and the Church, by worshipping semi-publicly, will send a less-than-solidary message, Maria 2.0 cautioned.

“A Church that is symbolic and in solidarity endures alongside the people and together with them endures this time of renunciation”, the movement told the German prelates, suggesting that “instead of using rulers to measure the churches because of the distancing rules”, priests and bishops might like to say Mass with microphones and loudspeakers in the courtyards and carparks of old peoples’ homes, for example.

More on Novena from the German Church:

Coronavirus won’t stop German ‘synodal path’ reform process: organisers

Coronavirus: German bishop Feige criticises “whining”, “belligerent” demands for Mass

“Too much ‘me’”: German bishop hits out at egotism in Church

German cardinal warns Church “in crisis”, changes “inevitable”

Coronavirus: German bishop Wilmer blasts Catholics’ “obsession” with Eucharist

Cardinal Marx: “God is greater than the Church and the sacraments”


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