Worship in times of social distancing

Worship in times of social distancing

How can churches 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
German Catholics have had to bid farewell to Holy Mass during the nationwide lockdown since mid-March.[1] Even after reopening churches, worship services can only be held under social distancing rules.[2] [3] Furthermore, restrictions on all practices with a high risk of spreading the virus, such as communal singing and kissing objects, have been imposed as well.[4]

Holy Mass under social distancing rules
According to the recommendations of the German Bishops’ Conference (DBK), the number of people allowed to attend a service depends on the size of church buildings. Members of the congregation must wear masks and bring their own hymn book, and faithful are required to maintain a safe distance of 1.5 meters.[5] [6]

The eucharistic liturgy requires particular diligence. Besides the priest, no more than five people should participate in the liturgy layout. The concelebration will be excluded from the Holy Mass, as well as choirs and orchestras. No singing is allowed amid fears that it spreads the virus more easily in a closed room.[7] [8] The host will be handed with a plier or plastic gloves without the traditional proclamation (“The body of Christ” – “Amen”).[9] Receiving Holy Communion on the tongue from the chalice is prohibited as well.[10]

The problem with ‘liturgy light’
According to a survey on Holy Mass under social distancing rules conducted by the Pallottines after reopening churches, most believers still want to continue with online services until public services are accessible for all congregational members.[11] [12]

Online services such as Scripture readings and daily prayer practices constitute an important part of the public prayer life. However, they must guide the faithful to the core and the highlight of worship services, namely the Eucharist.[13] [14] This is the essential component of the Catholic belief and gives the faithful the message that God is in their midst.[15] In addition, online Holy Mass can only be considered as a symbol for the on-the-spot Eucharist in times of physical isolation. The internalisation of Christ’s offering through the eating and drinking of sacred species needs to take place in real life.[16]

The question whether the Eucharist has become more valued in the church due to its short-term absence cannot be answered.[17] 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.[18]

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] Coronavirus: Germans go back to church — but no singing allowed

[6] Empfehlungen zur Feier der Liturgie in Zeiten der Corona-Krise

[7] Germany to set out rules for religious services including singing ban

[8] Empfehlungen zur Feier der Liturgie in Zeiten der Corona-Krise

[9] Gottesdienst mit Auflagen: Kein Gesang, Hostie mit der Zange

[10] Empfehlungen zur Feier der Liturgie in Zeiten der Corona-Krise

[11] Auf Freiheit warten oder sich am Wenigen freuen?

[12] Bringt die Pandemie eine neue Wertschätzung für die Eucharistie?

[13] Erzbischof Schick: Liturgieformen müssen zur Eucharistie hinführen

[14] Code of Canon Law

[15] Bringt die Pandemie eine neue Wertschätzung für die Eucharistie?

[16] Auch in Corona-Zeiten brauchen die Gläubigen die “reale” Eucharistie

[17] Bringt die Pandemie eine neue Wertschätzung für die Eucharistie?

[18] Interview zu Corona-Regeln bei Messen