A Spanish bishop has hit out at the “bombardment” of the faithful with coronavirus TV broadcast and livestreamed Masses, asking: “Aren’t we treating believers as if they don’t know how to pray, and should depend on the clergy to do so?”

– “What’s more important: a time of prayer or looking at a screen?”

Bishop of Teruel and Albarracín Antonio Gómez Cantero wrote the reflection published on Spanish Bishops’ website Ecclesia shortly after the stringent COVID-19 lockdown in Spain went into effect March 14, suspending with it public Masses and the free movement of citizens in the country.

Gómez Cantero observed that with the arrival of the coronavirus – which has now infected over 47,000 people in Spain and killed nearly 4,000, as of this Wednesday – “some priests have become very nervous”.

Those “nervous” priests have filled messaging and social media apps “with prayers, calls to pray, invitations to follow Mass by streaming… [and links] at which to see the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament…”.

“Someone else has taken a walk through the streets with the monstrance as if it were [the Feast of] Corpus Christi (and I wonder with what permission, because for many things we are very strict and for others not so much)”, the Teruel bishop continued.

“All this bombardment raises many questions for me. Aren’t we treating believers as if they don’t know how to pray and should depend on the clergy to do so?

“What have we done so far, have them as spectators?

“Don’t you think that so much Mass on screens keeps people in the passive role of spectators? Or is it that we want to justify our priesthood? Is it that the religious services already on television and radio stations aren’t enough? So far they have been.

“What’s more important, a time of prayer or lectio divina with the Word or looking at a mass on a screen?”, the prelate questioned.

– “Believers are adults, although we don’t always treat them that way”

Rather than those “nervous” priests (and faithful) anxious to watch Mass on TV or online during the pandemic, Gómez Cantero praised the example of young people he had heard about “who have gathered in the student flat to read the Word and pray for the most urgent needs”, or the “families with children who have placed on a white tablecloth a candle and an open Bible and have prayed together, listening to the Word of God”.

“They didn’t need broadcasts [of the Mass]”, the Teruel bishop wrote.

“Plus, we know a screen will never help you gather yourself, and it’s so necessary!

“All believers are adults, and they know how to take charge, although we don’t always treat them that way. The person who believes knows how to pray”, Gómez Cantero affirmed.

– “Such a barrage of messages is like the rain that falls that neither soaks the earth nor bears fruit”

“This time of grace also serves for us priests and deacons to stop a little, reflect and reconstruct our pastoral life, pray more intensely, slow down so much activism, read that book that we left on the shelf…”, the Teruel bishop wrote.

“Let’s celebrate the Eucharist in peaceful and deserted solitude; let’s reflect and heal the wounds that we leave open. In short, let’s seek the essentials of our ministry”, he continued.

“It seems that some of us [priests] are afraid of emptiness, that we might not seen or heard, and we forget that one of our tasks is prayer for others…

“We’ll also have to work out how much there is in all this media display an intractable desire for protagonism…

“Let’s stop bombarding good people with all kinds of reflections, pictures, videos and prayers, which seem more like commercials than religion…

“In this we’re also consumerists: that which we criticise so much, but which we also promote”, Gómez Cantero concluded, calling to mind the “many believing women and men in the world who celebrate the Eucharist only once in a while when the missionary passes (sometimes months), but who live their faith with great integrity!”

“But we’re the rich ones, the religious consumerists, with the right not to miss the Mass, even if it is televised”, the bishop wrote.

“Let’s also fast from sounds and images in this very real and desert Lent.

“Let’s tun inside and make silence, which is where God speaks to us.

“Let’s live the intensity of poverty… because in the end such a barrage of messages is like the rain that falls that neither soaks the earth nor bears fruit”.

Next on Novena:

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