A French bishop has proposed that priests be allowed to celebrate Masses in private homes in the face of what the country’s Episcopal Conference has called the ongoing “severe confinement” of liturgical life in the nation due to COVID-19.

– An exception to the rule

In those areas in France experiencing a lower incidence of COVID-19 infections, “priests should have the possibility of celebrating Mass in people’s homes”, Guy de Kérimel, the Bishop of Grenoble in France’s southeast, told La Croix April 29.

“Normally, there is never a private Mass, but in the homes of people in need, this should be possible, obviously taking all the necessary precautions”, de Kérimel went on.

The bishop added that such home Masses “cannot be made a principle, but it could be considered according to each area” in which the COVID-19 outbreak is gradually starting to come under control.

– Disappointment over continuing restrictions

The Bishop of Grenoble was speaking in the wake of French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe’s April 28 announcement that although schools and some businesses will be permitted to reopen from May 11, no religious ceremonies will be will be allowed before June 2, apart from funerals with a maximum of 20 attendees.

De Kérimel told La Croix that although the National Assembly’s decision was “logical and could be expected”, he still felt “disappointed, emotionally” with the ongoing ban on public Masses.

The bishop explained that he found it “a real and objective suffering” to have to hold off on public services until June, “all the more so since gathering for Eucharist is constitutive of Catholics and the Orthodox”.

It was a sentiment echoed by Archbishop of Toulouse Robert Le Gall, who denounced also to La Croix that “it is not normal to allow access to schools, shops and public transportation beginning on May 11th but not to allow small groups of people to have access to the sacraments”.

– A warning on possible “clandestine Masses”

Bishops de Kérimel and Le Gall both expressed, moreover, their concerns about how their priests and people will take the French government’s decision to postpone any loosening of Mass restrictions.

“This situation is completely abnormal for us, which is why some priests are expressing impatience and even negative reactions”, de Kérimel warned, stressing that he “understands” his priests’ frustrations.

Le Gall gave voice to his worry that “I don’t know how I’m going to hold up the morale of my troops”, and alerted even of the prospect that priests and laity might begin to celebrate “clandestine Masses”, an outcome that could conceivably send COVID-19 infections through the roof.

– Episcopal Conference reminds government: “Freedom of worship is a constitutive element of democratic life”

De Kérimel and Le Gall are hardly the only French bishops growing increasingly embittered by the government’s refusal to allow the opening up of public liturgical life.

The French Bishops’ Conference today published a statement on PM Philippe’s Tuesday announcement in which they pointedly “took note with regret” of the June 2 public Mass restart date “which is imposed on Catholics and on the religions of our country”.

Though the French Bishops promised that “Catholics have respected and will respect the Government’s instructions”, they also warned politicians that “freedom of worship is a constitutive element of democratic life”.

“The Feast of Pentecost [May 31] should mark – barring the resumption of the epidemic -, the end of the severe confinement in the matter of the liturgical and sacramental life”, the Bishops warned the government.

– Archbishop of Paris: “If we’re confined, we’ll bark very loudly”

The latest tensions between the French Church and State around the resumption of public sacramental life from June 2 follow on from those that surged Sunday April 26 when armed police stormed a central Paris church to break up a Sunday Mass broadcast.

Seven people were present at that Mass, and although the police left without issuing a fine, the actions of the authorities brought forth an unusually strong reaction from Archbishop of Paris Michel Aupetit.

“Armed police entered the church, but there is a formal ban on armed police entering a church. There were no terrorists there”, Aupetit denounced on the archdiocese’s Radio Notre Dame.

“We have to keep a cool head and stop this circus”, the prelate warned with respect to the heavy-handedness of the authorities.

“If not, we’ll speak out and, if we’re confined, bark very loudly”.

Novena’s full coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic:

Pope Francis urges “obedience” to COVID-19 restrictions after Italian Bishops’ protest

Italian Bishops accuse government of “arbitrarily excluding” public Masses from COVID-19 reopening

French bishop warns on COVID-19: “Serious questions must be asked about the relationship between humans and nature”

French Bishops’ president urges “proportion” on coronavirus crisis: “There are countries suffering far more than we are”


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