The new Vatican Synod secretary has lamented the “enormous energy” the Church expends “trying to convert secular society”, insisting that “it is more important to convert ourselves” instead.

– COVID Eucharistic “exhibitionism and pietism… has more to do with magic than an expression of mature faith”

Bishop Mario Grech – the former Bishop of Gozo in Malta who was confirmed by Pope Francis as the new secretary of the Vatican Synod of Bishops last September 16 – spoke to Jesuit journal La Civiltà Cattolica October 14 about the challenges that await the Church in the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis.

“If we take this as an opportunity, it can become a moment of renewal”, Grech, 63, affirmed, insisting that the post-pandemic must become a moment for Catholics to turn away from “religious ignorance”, “spiritual poverty” and an excessive focus on the physical Eucharist.

During the coronavirus lockdowns and beyond, “some have insisted on freedom of worship or freedom to worship, but little has been said about freedom in the way we worship”, Grech observed.

He pointed out that “in the situation that prevented the celebration of the sacraments, we did not realize that there were other ways in which to experience God”.

It was in that connection that the Maltese prelate criticised the unthinking move to simply transfer Masses from in-person celebrations to television and the internet, which change facilitated “a certain clericalism” and an overwhelming focus on priests at the expense of other lay- and family-led forms of worship.

During lockdowns, too, “we witnessed a degree of exhibitionism and pietism that has more to do with magic than an expression of mature faith”, Grech decried, alluding to the unthinking assumption of some Catholics that Eucharistic celebrations would be unaffected in their meaning despite being held virtually.

In that connection, too, Grech lamented that “many” pastoral initiatives outside worship during lockdowns and beyond “have been centered around the figure of the presbyter alone”.

“The Church, in this sense, appears too clerical, and the ministry is controlled by clerics. Even the laity are often conditioned by a pattern of strong clericalism”, the new Synod secretary decried.

– During COVID “we have discovered a new ecclesiology, perhaps even a new theology, and a new ministry”

Grech summed up the changes the pandemic has brought for the Church by explaining that in this difficult period of the COVID-19 crisis “we have discovered a new ecclesiology, perhaps even a new theology, and a new ministry”.

“This therefore indicates that it is time to make the necessary choices to build on this new model of ministry”, he explained.

“It will be suicide if, after the pandemic, we return to the same pastoral models that we have practiced until now. We spend enormous energy trying to convert secular society, but it is more important to convert ourselves to achieve the pastoral conversion of which Pope Francis often speaks”, Grech insisted.

– “The best way to experience Christian love is the ministry of service”

Pointing the way forward to opportunities for a renewed spirituality post-COVID, Grech said he found it “curious” that during restrictions on in-person Masses “many people… complained about not being able to receive communion and celebrate funerals in church, but not as many… worried about how to reconcile with God and neighbor, how to listen to and celebrate the Word of God and how to live out a life of service”.

“The Eucharist is not the only possibility that the Christian has to experience the mystery and to meet the Lord Jesus”, Grech observed, adding that “it is of concern that someone feels lost outside of the Eucharistic or worship context, for it shows an ignorance of other ways of engaging with the mystery”.

The Maltese prelate furthermore admitted that an over-reliance on the Mass “not only indicates that there is a certain spiritual illiteracy, but is proof of the inadequacy of current pastoral practice”.

“It is very likely that in the recent past our pastoral activity has sought to lead to the sacraments and not to lead – through the sacraments – to Christian life”, Grech acknowledged.

The new Synod secretary continued: “The best way to experience Christian love is the ministry of service. Many people are attracted to the Church not because they have participated in catechism lessons, but because they have participated in a meaningful experience of service. And this path of evangelization is fundamental in the current era of change”.

He concluded by urging that “this pandemic should lead us to a new understanding of contemporary society, and allow us to discern a new vision of the Church”.

“Precisely because of our selfishness and individualism, we have a selective memory. Not only do we erase from our memory the hardships we cause, but we are also capable of forgetting our neighbors. For example, in this pandemic, economic and financial considerations have often taken precedence over the common good”, Grech lamented with respect to the broader social consequences of the pandemic.

“In our Western countries, although we pride ourselves on living in a democratic regime, in practice everything is driven by those who possess political or economic power. Instead, we need to rediscover fraternity”, the prelate insisted.

More on Novena on Bishop Mario Grech:

Synod secretary warns Church against “suicide” of returning to old pastoral models post-COVID-19

New Synod secretary tells Catholics: “Don’t try to stop change”

New Synod secretary a defender of migrants, remarried Catholics; same-sex couples

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. Lecturer in ethics at Loyola University Maryland, Alcalá de Henares (Spain) campus. Religion journalist with 4 years experience.