Catholics in Germany: Worship in times of social distancing

Catholics in Germany:
Worship in times of social distancing

German Catholics have had to bid farewell to Holy Mass during the nationwide lockdown. Even after reopening churches, worship services can only be held under social distancing rules. How can we keep the congregation alive in a time of physical isolation? The coronavirus crisis could be an invitation to rediscover worship services in the Catholic Church, to reflect on what a meaningful and irreplaceable worship service should look like.

Reopening places of worship after lockdown
Gatherings in religious buildings have been prohibited in an effort to curb the spread of coronavirus since mid-March 2020 in Germany.[1] After a six-week nationwide lockdown, Germany is currently beginning to relax the coronavirus restrictions. As a result, worship services in religious buildings are allowed again. However, they can only be held with a limited number of participants to ensure a safe distance from each other.[2] [3] Restrictions on all practices involving bodily fluids[2] , such as communal singing, kissing objects, and administering communion in churches, have been imposed as well.[4]

On April 24th, the German Bishop Conference (DBK) released their recommendations for the liturgical celebration in the Catholic Church.[5] Those recommendations serve as an orientation on how worship services can be conducted while maintaining a safe distance and implementing other hygiene measures. Therefore, rules vary among different dioceses.[6] [7]

Worship services in the Catholic Church under social distancing rules
According to the recommendations of DBK, the number of attendees allowed in churches depends on the size of church buildings. Members of the congregation must wear masks and bring their own hymn book, and faithful[3]  are required to maintain a safe distance of 1.5 meters. Moreover, walking trails need to be laid out as a one-way road to avoid unexpected encounters.[8] [9]

The eucharistic liturgy requires particular diligence. Besides the priest, up to a maximum of two altar servers, one reader, one cantor and one organist are permitted to participate in the layout of the liturgy. The concelebration and greeting of peace will be excluded from the Holy Mass, as well as choirs and orchestras. No singing, or only soft and quiet singing at most if the distance rules are abided by, is allowed amid fears that the congregational singing spreads the virus more easily, especially in a closed room.[10] [11] The clergy, equipped with face coverings, should carefully clean and fill the chalice for holding sacramental wine and the paten for holding Eucharistic bread before the presentation of the gifts.[12] In addition, the host will be handed with a plier or plastic gloves without the traditional proclamation (“The body of Christ” – “Amen”).[13] Receiving Holy Communion on the tongue from the chalice is prohibited in the current situation as well.[14] [15] [16]

The problem with ‘liturgy light’
Holy Communion as a celebration of the communion with Jesus Christ is an essential component of the Catholic belief and gives faithful the message God is in their midst.[17] However, German Catholics have had to bid farewell to this sacrament during the nationwide lockdown. Instead, they prayed at home and watched online worship services provided by the churches.[18]

According to an online survey on Holy Mass under hygiene rules, conducted by the Pallottines after the easing of coronavirus restrictions, most believers still want to wait until Sunday services are accessible for all congregational members. However, there are also voices who simply rejoice for the possibility to celebrate the Mass, even under social distancing rules.[19] [20]

Archbishop from the diocese of Bamberg, Ludwig Schick, stressed that other forms of worship such as Liturgy of the Word, which typically consists of Scripture readings[21], and daily prayer practices, which constitute the official public prayer life of the Church along with the Eucharist, have been emphasised in the pandemic. Although such forms of worship are of great importance and cannot be neglected, they must guide the faithful to the core and the highlight of worship services, namely the Eucharist. Therefore, the eucharistic liturgy must be placed at the center of Christian life.[22] [23] Jozef Niewiadomski, emeritus professor for dogmatic at the University of Innsbruck similarly argued that it is vital for the Church to point out that online Holy Mass can only be considered as a symbol for the on-the-spot Eucharist in the time of physical isolation. The internalisation of Christ’s offering through the eating and drinking of the sacred species needs to take place in real life, according to Niewiadomski.[24]

The question whether the Eucharist has become more valued in the church due to its short-term absence cannot answered by the Pallottines’ online survey. However, one thing is clear: the coronavirus crisis has generated the interest of faithful regarding the meaning of Holy Communion. This pandemic could be an invitation to rediscover worship services in the Catholic Church, to reflect on the missing liveliness of the Eucharist, and to ponder what a meaningful and irreplaceable worship service should look like.[25]

Han Chang

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[1] Kirchen legen Konzepte vor: Wie Gottesdienste aussehen könnten
[2] Coronavirus: Germans go back to church — but no singing allowed
[3] Wie afrikanische Christen in Deutschland unter Corona leiden
[4] Germany to set out rules for religious services including singing ban
[5] Empfehlungen zur Ermöglichung öffentlicher Gottesdienste angesichts der Corona-Pandemie
[6] Corona-Gottesdienste: Hier finden Sie die Schutzkonzepte aller Bistümer
[7] Empfehlungen zur Feier der Liturgie in Zeiten der Corona-Krise
[8] Coronavirus: Germans go back to church — but no singing allowed
[9] Empfehlungen zur Feier der Liturgie in Zeiten der Corona-Krise
[10] Germany to set out rules for religious services including singing ban
[11] Empfehlungen zur Feier der Liturgie in Zeiten der Corona-Krise
[12] Empfehlungen zur Feier der Liturgie in Zeiten der Corona-Krise
[13] Gottesdienst mit Auflagen: Kein Gesang, Hostie mit der Zange
[14] Empfehlungen zur Feier der Liturgie in Zeiten der Corona-Krise
[15] Handkommunion oder Mundkommunion?
[16] Germany to set out rules for religious services including singing ban
[17] Bringt die Pandemie eine neue Wertschätzung für die Eucharistie?
[18] Kirche und Glaube in Coronazeiten; Der Gottesdienst “fehlt schon sehr”
[19] Auf Freiheit warten oder sich am Wenigen freuen?
[20] Bringt die Pandemie eine neue Wertschätzung für die Eucharistie?
[21] Liturgy of the Word | Definition, Readings, & Facts
[22] Erzbischof Schick: Liturgieformen müssen zur Eucharistie hinführen
[23] Code of Canon Law
[24] Auch in Corona-Zeiten brauchen die Gläubigen die “reale” Eucharistie
[25] Interview zu Corona-Regeln bei Messen