A missionary has warned that the cancellations of public Masses all over the world due to the coronavirus threat will soon become a permanent reality, thanks to the lack of priests.

– “The challenge and opportunity is to see how this deprivation might deepen our faith”

Maryknoll father Bill Grimm reflected March 9 in La Croix on the Covid-19-related ban on the celebrations of public Masses, not only in Italy, for example, but in many places, such as in Grimm’s particular case in Japan.

“In various parts of the world, especially perhaps in Asia, bishops have cancelled Sunday Masses and other gatherings as a preventative measure against the spread of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19, a potentially fatal infection that seems headed to becoming a pandemic”, Grimm wrote Monday.

The World Health Organisation ended up, indeed, declaring the coronavirus spread a pandemic this Wednesday.

“We Catholics in virus-affected areas have in effect been forced to give up Mass for a major and not-yet-clear duration during Lent”, Grimm observed.

“The challenge and opportunity for us is to see how this deprivation might deepen our faith, hope and love in preparation for renewing our baptismal commitment at Easter whether we are able to gather then or not”.

– “Sisters and brothers must do without Eucharistic celebrations for years at a time because there are no priests”

Grimm observed, in his column for La Croix, that the mass cancellation of parish liturgies doesn’t mean Catholics can’t devote time Sundays, in their homes, to reflecting on the readings and prayers of the day, and to set aside the money they’d normally put in the collection plate to give to their church at a later date.

During the cancellation of public Masses, the faithful even take the chance to “to develop better personal ‘homilies’ than those we may endure in normal circumstances”, Grimm said.

But the priest also recalled that “our Lenten fasts and sacrifices are meant in part to increase our awareness of the situation of our brothers and sisters who must do without not by choice, nor for a limited time, but because of enduring poverty, famine, oppression or lack of opportunity”.

“Might not our ‘fasting’ from Sunday Mass give us a closer communion with our sisters and brothers who must do without Eucharistic celebrations for months or even years at a time because there are no priests available to join their gatherings?”

– “The epidemic of priestlessness will spread”

As examples of communities forced to do without Masses for sustained periods of time, Grimm cited the churches of the Amazon region, whose bishops at last October’s Amazon Synod – the priest recalled – “declared that ordaining married men should be considered as a means of alleviating that enforced ‘fast’ from the Eucharist”.

“Pope Francis is apparently waiting for one or more of those bishops to say he will take that step”, Grimm hinted.

But, in the meantime, the Maryknoll priest warned that what is true of the Amazon now, with its acute shortage of priests, “is going to be true of the rest of the Church as well”.

“The epidemic of priestlessness will spread. In much of the world, most of the leaders of Eucharistic celebrations are white-haired if they have hair. That is not a good augury for the future”.

“Perhaps the temporary Eucharistic fast imposed by the coronavirus will give us all a sense of urgency in preparing to head off Eucharistic poverty”, Grimm suggested.

“Then, if we – all of us – search out creative answers to the problem, we may find that just as fasting can improve our physical as well as spiritual health, our giving up Mass for Lent will have improved our Church’s health”.

Next on Novena:

11/3: Following footsteps of Pius XII against Nazis, Rome Church, Pope implore divine aid against coronavirus

11/3: Vatican urges “international solidarity” in coronavirus fight, decries “stigmatisation” of victims

11/3: Pope pleads for coronavirus “epidemic” not to obscure plight of “poor Syrians” on Greek-Turkish border

10/3: Pope sends “caress” to Italian communities hit by virus outbreak as Vatican shuts down St. Peter’s Square and Basilica

10/3: Pope asks priests for “courage” to visit, accompany, bring Eucharist to coronavirus ill

9/3: Cardinal praises “care for every life” in coronavirus response; Italian Bishops cancel public Masses until April

9/3: Pope offers live Santa Marta Mass for coronavirus sick, caregivers as Vatican ups preventative measures

“True vocations crisis” in Poland but country still home to one-in-four new priests in Europe

Irish Primate, on married priests: “I am very much open to the idea, and I think Pope Francis is too”


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