A German bishop has blasted “some” Catholics’ “obsession” with the Eucharist, given the complaints of a small minority of the faithful over not being permitted to attend Masses during the COVID-19 lockdowns.

– Mass-fixated Catholics act “as if there were nothing else”

Judging by their reactions to coronavirus-related bans on public worship, “the Eucharist is overrated” in the minds of “some believers”, Bishop of Hildesheim Heiner Wilmer denounced April 12 to Deutschlandfunk, as German Catholic news agency KNA reports.

Catholics bitter about being deprived of the Mass during the COVID-19 pandemic act “as if there were nothing else” in the Church’s tradition to satisfy them, Wilmer complained.

Not to mention their grievances about supposed limits to religious freedom, which the bishop admitted haven’t impacted him since the “real renunciation” for him in the time of COVID-19 has been “giving up on community”.

“We have always had times in the history of Christianity when there were people who were unable to attend Holy Mass or receive Communion. It has always been like this. But faith hasn’t collapsed because of that”, the bishop recalled.

He added that in his view catastrophic thinking on the part of Catholics is an exaggerated reaction to the virus crisis.

– “Of course [Mass] is important, but Vatican II says that the Lord is present also in the Scriptures”

Also on the subject of the Eucharist during COVID-19, Wilmer affirmed that it’s not necessary for every priest to broadcast his Eucharist online, since the faithful have enough Masses already on diocesan channels.

“It cannot be that we’re obsessed only with the Eucharist!”, the prelate deplored, lamenting “how impoverished we are” with the “fixation” on the Eucharist that leads Catholics down a “narrow path”.

“Of course [Mass] is important, but the Second Vatican Council says that the Lord is present not only in the Eucharist but also in the Scriptures, reading the Bible, and we must take seriously the word of Jesus ‘where two or three in my name are gathered, there I am among them’. We can also meet via the Internet… to do this”, Wilmer urged.

– “We have imprisoned God in a box”

With respect to the response of Catholics to COVID-19 more broadly, Wilmer warned that the worst thing for the faithful to do would be to rely only on unthinking belief and to see in the pandemic a divine message to be fought with “holy water and other practices beyond reason”.

God’s ways are beyond our understanding, the bishop insisted, despite the fact that, in his opinion, in the Church “we have imprisoned God in a box, tied a bow around it and and now think: ‘We have it, that’s how he is'”.

But God remains a mystery, Wilmer said, stressing that “he’s not someone we can appease with victims, someone we could magically dominate, someone we could push into a certain corner”.

– “Empty churches give us a foretaste of a future that may not be so far away”

Lessons for worship and theology apart, Wilmer said the coronavirus also holds insight for the Church in terms of its evangelisation and its exercise of power.

“The empty churches we have now give us a foretaste of a future that may not be so far away”, the bishop warned with regard to the creeping secularisation in Germany and other places.

Now, during the pandemic, we see images of deserted churches that “reflect something that we definitely have to deal with faster than we now want to admit”, Wilmer added with regard to the exodus of the faithful from the pews.

For the prelate, too, the COVID-19 outbreak is showing that the Church must overcome its “monarchical tendencies”.

People are not interested in the question of who has power, but who is connected to their experiences, Wilmer affirmed, suggesting in that sense that institutional controls be introduced to limit power in the Church.

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