In view of the Plenary Assembly, the Presidents of the National European Bishops’ Conferences prepared for the meeting by completing a questionnaire on “The Church during the Covid-19 pandemic” with information from their respective Bishops’ Conferences.
It consisted of a general overview section with the number of infected and dead in each country as well as the start and end dates of restrictions and prohibitions for liturgical celebrations with the people. The questionnaire is then divided into three specific areas. The first, the religious area, entitled the religious consequences of the pandemic, collects information on what has happened with religious practice during this time and what are the possible religious consequences linked to the coronavirus.
Then the pastoral area, entitled the pandemic and the life of Christian communities, presents the spiritual sources that accompanied the faithful during this period without Mass, such as the role played by social media in prayer and celebrations, as well as how to make a commitment to rediscover the irreplaceable sacramentality of liturgical celebrations in places of worship.
Finally, the ecological area called the implications of the pandemic on society, work, and care for creation. This started from the role played by the family as a cell of solidarity and sharing, and as a place of authentic human relationship. Then was listed the initiatives undertaken to help those who are in difficulty especially because of the loss of many jobs, what is being done to help migrants and refugees to ensure their dignity and security as well as what all this means for the care of creation and what educational paths have been activated for the formation of consciences.
All the questionnaires received were utilised by Father Pavel Ambros SJ, from the Faculty of Theology of Saints Cyril and Methodius, Palacký University of Olomouc, Czech Republic, as a starting point for his report to the participants, entitled “Discussion together on how to establish the lifestyle in the POST-COVID-19 period”.
“The entire universal Church is experiencing a feeling of impotence, something somewhat forgotten in this day and age. The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the frailties, illusions, instabilities, and failures of our political and economic systems and projects in human society worldwide. We are learning to coexist with the reality of vulnerability on a global scale. There is reason for hope, though, given the unprecedented effort of solidarity in overcoming the consequences of COVID-19 together”, noted Father Ambros.
With regard to the centrality of the Eucharist in our life of faith, he reiterated the need to reflect on some questions that are particular to the life of the Church.: “There is an urgent need to discuss the changes happening in the life of the people of God, given the impossibility of celebrating the liturgy in public both during and after the pandemic. There are other questions that cannot be avoided either, such as: Do we perceive the implied risk in accepting the lawfulness of the State authorities’ decisive intervention in the life of the families and communities without any reservation? Do we perceive the risk involved in passively accepting the mass media’s manipulative practices which eventually shape our social and cultural environment? What are the consequences of our COVID-related liturgical experiment in the parish which focuses primarily on live broadcasting and dispensation? Should online liturgies remain in the life of our parish communities? What are the consequences of these decisions in the lives of both individuals and the entire community of believers? How will this experience affect our future decisions?”
“In its most essential part, regarding the bread and the wine (and, therefore, our human corporeity), the liturgy requires a far more complex form of participation and one in which the human and the divine become the new man’s single spiritual reality, interfering with the notion of space and time and becoming part of a symbolic language (not a virtual language)”. What must always be concerned about is the partiality of the online liturgy, of its incompleteness – and he added – “In a figurative sense, we have simply transformed the Eucharist into a virtual experience: we have put the cart before the horse, giving primary meaning to the Eucharist. The Eucharist, or Holy Communion, and all things connected to it, is first and foremost the outcome of the encounter between the people of God and the Risen Lord in the midst of the gathered assembly”.
From here, two concerns were highlighted: on the one hand, “With the end of the drastic restrictions regarding the prohibition of liturgical functions, many began to say that they did not need to go to Mass. The awareness of Sunday Mass as a duty has been put aside by a number of practicing Catholics, with the belief that even with enough time to attend Sunday Mass, a live-broadcast Mass was enough for them”; on the other hand, “the request to extend this practice and to allow attendance at Holy Mass through live broadcasting, not as a mere exception, but as a best practice. The reason being, that without warning and without catechesis, the difference between these two ways of attending Mass will no longer be perceived. If people get used to home delivery when it comes to services, they will adapt this model mentally to religious “services” so that their needs can be met”.
And he concluded: “The main task of the pastor at the head of, and in the midst of, the people of God is to keep watch (being aware of the main temptations the Church must face in this age: the temptation of neo-Gnosticism and neo-Pelagianism) over the willingness of the people to wait for the Lord. In other words, to keep watch over the desire for gift and obedience in the time entrusted to us. The form of ecclesiastical life goes towards conformity in Christ”.
Another important moment for the participants was the intervention made by Card. Michael Czerny SJ, Under-Secretary of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, Migrants and Refugees Section, entitled “Responding to the recent challenges pastoral care for migrants in Europe”, in which he presented the Holy Father’s Message for the 106th World Day for Migrants and Refugees, scheduled for Sunday 27 September, and briefly illustrated the work of the Migrants and Refugees Section, highlighting the activities carried out during the pandemic. Finally, he analysed some key points of the common mission of the Universal Church and the local churches in relation to the pastoral care for migrants; some examples of good practices from the local churches; The Global Pact for Safe, Orderly and Orderly Migration; the EU Pact on Migration and Asylum. And he concluded “We are all called to the sublime mission of working together, the Churches of origin, transit, and destination of people who are forced to move, so that they may feel welcomed, protected, promoted, and have a solid foundation for proper integration. Although this time in history is marked by contradictions, relativism, suspicion, and fear, we are all in the same boat, guided by the steadfast helmsman who is the Master of human history: our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the one who addresses us today with the words, “It is I, do not be afraid” (Jn 6:20). The challenges presented by this difficult moment clearly reveal to us that our common mission is to row together in the right direction indicated by Jesus Christ and never to row against Him. The future of this Continent, which can still provide a good example to all humanity, depends on our synergistic and harmonious commitment”.