Church is not a supermarket nor a museum

One of the things that the quarantine period has taught us is the importance of relationships. Perhaps because we have been deprived of them for a long time, almost without warning, we have (re) discovered how important they are to us.

The relationship with God, like all other relationships, must be nourished and cultivated. Relationships always have a privileged place when the meeting takes place. Be it in a bar, a park, a town square or a house. Physical presence is essential for a relationship to flourish and continue: touching, hugging, or even just spending some time in silence looking at the horizon. Together.

The Second Vatican Council teaches us that the Eucharistic celebration is “the culmination towards which the Church’s action tends and, at the same time, the source from which all her energy emanates” (Sacrosantum Concilium n.10).

During phase 1 of the quarantine in Italy many complained that it was possible to go to the supermarket or to the tobacconist, but it was not allowed to go to mass. Many faithful have suffered, and still suffer, from this privation. It is also true that the issue, as often happens, has become an easy occasion to attack Pope Francis, to put forward certain political agendas or simply just for the sake of starting an argument.

Now the slogan seems to be: why can I visit a museum but I can’t go to mass? And so follows the invocation to the freedom of worship guaranteed by the constitution, reiterating the terms of the Agreement between the State of Italy and the Catholic Church, by which the latter alone has the power to decide whether or not to resume the celebrations. Or simply just to complain about the impossibility of carrying out pastoral work in this situation.

This is a difficult terrain and the situation is complex. But it seems to me that invoking freedom of worship, albeit in good faith, is excessive and even disrespectful of those Christians who in many parts of the world who see their freedom of worship daily and violently compromised.

Since I am not an expert in canon law, I shall not express myself about the terms of the Agreement. I limit myself only to suggest that, if it is true that the Conte government should have involved CEI more in the decision-making process, in my humble opinion, the question is more related to common sense, to having a faith with open eyes, capable of reading the reality in which we find ourselves.

As for the pastoral action of the Church, I would say that it is anything but firm. The pandemic and the consequent suspension of the celebrations triggered a new creativity, sometimes expressed in a somewhat clumsy way (just watch the videos became viral of priests who made direct streaming and mistakenly activated Instagram filters ..), but that it also brought a breath of freshness and innovation. An example is the incredible success of many people who started sharing their lives and their faith in blogs or vlogs, starting from the reality we live in daily. And there are many positive examples.

This is the living Church, the announcer of Christ, who knows how to transform a situation – that seemed to make it powerless – in an occasion to continue accompanying the faithful.

But let’s go back to my initial statement: the relationship with God is one that finds its culmination and nourishment in the Eucharistic celebration.

In these months of lockdown, our relationships have been severely tested. We have been deprived of the opportunity to meet, to be together, to touch each other. This however, did not kill our relationships. If anything, it strengthened them. We had to come around with the nature of online communication. Communication that is synthetic because it imitates reality almost perfectly – just like the synthetic turf of a football pitch that imitates natural grass but has a plastic feel – and with a closer look reveals all your limits. Nonetheless, we have continued to cultivate important relationships. We have been deprived of our meeting places, our relational “liturgies”. But, perhaps unexpectedly, we have rediscovered the importance of our ties and we have done everything to keep them alive. Our desire to be together has become a desire with open eyes, aware of reality and capable of adapting to the situation.

It seems to me that the same could be said of our relationship with God. We have been deprived of the place, of the “physical” presence, but our relationship with God can also be cultivated in this situation. Rediscovering personal prayer, reading the Scriptures in the family, the Liturgy of the hours. There are many ways to keep the relationship with God alive. This does not mean that the Eucharistic celebration is not the “culmination and source” of Christian life. But the risk of the pandemic is still great. The church is neither a supermarket nor a museum, even though we might have often lived it in such a way perhaps. 

It was decided that from Monday 18 May the Eucharistic celebrations will be resumed, following a safety protocol which includes, among other things, social distancing, hand sanitization at the entrance to the church, the use of masks, indications to the maximum number of participants allowed for the celebrations, sanitizing of all surfaces after each celebration.

All this is necessary to prevent a new spread of the infection, but I wonder: wouldn’t it have been more prudent to wait a little longer and see the evolution of the infection curve after the first weeks of phase 2, considering the fact that many of the faithful who will attend mass fall into the most vulnerable age group of the Covid-19?

Pope Francis himself, during a daily celebration in Casa Santa Marta, said: “At this time when we are beginning to have dispositions to get out of quarantine, let us pray to the Lord to give his people, to all of us, the grace of prudence and obedience to abide to the provisions so that the pandemic does not come back”.

Furthermore, I think of all those parishes with a large number of faithful and few spaces, or with just one priest who is older, or with a few volunteers who can help implement safety standards.

One thing is certain: it is a pity that the Eucharistic celebration has become an ideological battleground. Maybe even here, we might have something to learn.

What is for sure is that there is need for faith, prudence, commitment and lots of patience.

Cover image: Photo by Mateus Campos Felipe on Unsplash
Translated from Italian by Josef Beck, SJ

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