Three out of every four Spanish priests are seeking a “new pastoral model” after COVID-19, with a group suggesting holding Masses without bishops or priests.
– Worries and opportunities during the pandemic
The finding that 74% of Spanish clerics are in favour of changes in the Church after the pandemic subsides – while just 22% want to return to Catholic ‘business as usual’ – was contained in a Comunidad Bernabé study, “Church in the time of the coronavirus”, which asked 170 priests how they are coping with the crisis.
Among the principal concerns the priests said they had were how elderly people are dealing with ongoing confinement and public health regulations, the clerics’ own fear of contracting the virus, difficulties around organising dates for weddings, baptisms and first communion celebrations and the challenges of accompanying the bereaved at this time.
On the positive side, the Spanish priests reported that they had adapted well to new communities online.
Two-thirds said they had managed to keep up contact with the faithful over the internet, and 77% declared that they celebrated the Eucharist during lockdown on video conferencing platforms such as Zoom.
71% of the priests who reported having said Mass online acknowledged having received help from laypeople to deal with the technology, evidencing the fact that if nothing else, the coronavirus pandemic is opening up the possibility of a more egalitarian Church post-COVID-19.
– Madrid priests’ forum calls for end to “magical, idolatrous conception of the liturgy”
What exactly does the vast majority of Spanish priests understand by a “new pastoral model” after the coronavirus?
The Comunidad Bernabé – a group made up of lay experts, men and women, from the Diocese of Valencia – gave a hint when it cited in its survey words Pope Francis pronounced in a Pentecost video message to Catholic charismatics, to the effect that “we have before us the duty to build a new reality” post-COVID-19, and “all this suffering will be of no use if we don’t build a more just and fair and more Christian society, together”.
Another clue as to what Spanish priests want in the aftermath of the crisis came in Pentecost reflections from the “Madrid Priests and More” Forum – a group of clerics and laypeople in the Spanish capital – which argued that the pandemic offers the Church an unprecedented chance of overhauling its liturgy.
“Has the time come to put an end to a magical, idolatrous conception of the liturgy in general and of the Masses in particular, according to which God, through meticulously-regulated rituals, gives us his grace and shows himself willing to listen to our pleas?”, the Forum asked.
“The time has come to change the system. Isn’t it time to make way for a generation of Christians, men and women, who, regardless of sex or celibacy, celebrate our shared faith, showing with signs and words that equality must become customary?”, the group continued.
– “We believers are not submissive and infantile”
“We believers are not a submissive and infantile audience, always in need of the clerical hierarchy for the maintenance and reinforcement of our faith”, the members of the Forum asserted.
“We are each and every one of us the members that make up our Church”, they said, calling on Church authorities to allow home Masses in which Catholics can “gather together to celebrate and enliven our common faith in Jesus” even without a bishop or a priest, as many faithful have desired, they said, in these months of the pandemic.
The Forum said they didn’t want to “impose” their point of view on the possibility of new liturgies post-coronavirus, and insisted that they fully respect those Catholics who find sustenance in traditional liturgies online or in person.
“But seeing that Pope Francis does not stop talking about the need to create communities ready to carry out a new evangelisation”, the group continued, they explained that their opinion was that “within this framework another type of liturgical celebration would be possible and desirable”.
Recalling the example of Masses and other sacramental celebrations in the house churches of early Christianity, the Forum wrapped up its reflections lamenting that no Spanish bishop invited Catholics to be Eucharist to those around them during the coronavirus, preferring instead as the prelates did to stress dispensations from the Sunday “obligation” to attend Mass and the opportunity to watch Masses online and to undertake “spiritual communions”.
“Hasn’t the coronavirus shown that those who are in charge of our rigid ecclesial structures should move old theological slabs to make way for the resurrection of a new form of liturgical celebration?”, the Forum concluded.
“Would this not contribute to the creation of that ‘frontier Church’ and ’emerging Church’ of which Francis speaks so much?”