“Not every occasion needs the Eucharist”, a German prelate has reminded the Church, speaking to the situation under coronavirus restrictions and beyond.
– Other forms of worship can also do
Bishop-elect of Augsburg Bertram Meier reflected with German Church news agency KNA April 26 on the panorama that awaits Catholics after the winding-back of restrictions on public liturgical events post-coronavirus.
The prelate, whose episcopal ordination was postponed because of the COVID-19 outbreak, questioned whether it would make sense after the resumption of public liturgical life for the Church to continue to celebrate Masses “on every appropriate or inappropriate occasion”.
“Not every occasion needs the Eucharist”, Meier insisted, explaining that alternative forms of worship are also suitable for many Catholics.
– The resumption of public Masses shouldn’t be “a battleground for religious freedom”
In the context of debates raging in many countries over when and how governments will lift the coronavirus restrictions on public gatherings, Meier reflected that, after almost 35 years in the priesthood, he saw it as beneath his dignity to turn the question of public Masses into “a battleground for religious freedom”.
There are many alternative ways for people, and Catholics, to be together, the German prelate recalled.
On the consequences of the coronavirus for the Church more broadly – beyond the question of the liturgy – Meier affirmed that Catholics should see in the crisis “a sign from above, a hint from God”.
Even if the world is beginning to see a light at the end of the coronavirus tunnel, the Church should not just continue as before, the bishop-elect stated, but instead should hear God saying:
“Put your heads together and move your hands and feet to blaze new ways to the get the Gospel to people – not only to those who are already there anyway”.
The divine invitation in the coronavirus pandemic could have particular relevance for the German Church’s ‘synodal path’, Meier added, for perhaps the COVID-19 crisis can bring to that reform process new talking points “that give the ship of the Church more spiritual depth without simply removing the others from the agenda”.
– Bishops warn of “painful” scaling-back of services thanks to drop in Church tax revenues
Though some dioceses in the east of the country have already begun to hold public services again, the German Catholic Church said last week that it expects the coronavirus restrictions on public liturgical celebrations to be fully lifted only by May 4.
To that end, it has prepared a detailed series of logistical and liturgical guidelines for the resumption of Masses, which include the compulsory wearing of face masks and the requirement for parishioners to keep a minimum distance of 1.5m from each other.
In the meantime, because of the COVID-19 recession the country’s bishops are warning of a plunge in revenues from the so-called Church tax by which self-declared Catholics donate a portion of their wages to ecclesiastical coffers.
“It is going to be a painful process”, German Bishops’ President Georg Bätzing cautioned April 27 in Bonn after a video meeting with his fellow prelates.
“The coronavirus pandemic is forcing us to enter a process in which we must weigh what we as a Church can still afford in the future and what we must say farewell to”, warned Bätzing, the Bishop of Limburg, adding that the consequences would likely be intensely felt in the financing of Church-run hospitals and social welfare facilities, for example.