"Let's go back with joy to the Eucharist!"
Letter to the Presidents of the Bishops' Conferences on the celebration of liturgy during and after the covid-19 pandemic
September 12, 2020
The Congregation for Divine Worship and The Discipline of the Sacraments sent the presidents of the Episcopal Conferences a letter, circulated on the morning of Saturday, September 12, about the celebration of liturgy during and after the covid-19 pandemic. (Was published in Italian.)
The pandemic due to the Covid 19 virus has caused upheaval not only in social, family, economic, educational and work dynamics, but also in the life of the Christian community, including the liturgical dimension. In order to remove replication space to the virus, a rigid social distance was necessary, which had an impact on a fundamental trait of Christian life: "Where are two or three gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them" (Mt 18, 20); "They were persevering in the teaching of the apostles and in communion, in breaking bread, and in prayers. All the believers stood together and had everything in common" (At 2, 42-44).
The community dimension has a theological meaning: God is a relationship of People in the Holy Trinity; it creates man in the relational complementarity between male and female because "it is not good that man is alone" (Gn 2, 18), he sets himself in a relationship with man and woman and calls them in turn to the relationship with him: as well understood St. Augustine, our heart is restless until it finds God and does not rest in him (cf. Confessions, I, 1). The Lord Jesus began his public ministry by calling a group of disciples to share with him the life and proclamation of the Kingdom; the Church is born from this small flock. To describe eternal life, Scripture uses the image of a city: the Jerusalem of Heaven (cf. Ap 21); a city is a community of people who share fundamental values, human and spiritual realities, places, times and activities organized and that contribute to the construction of the common good. While the pagans built temples dedicated to the mere deity, to which people did not have access, Christians, as soon as they enjoyed freedom of worship, immediately built places that were domus Dei et domus ecclesiae, where the faithful could recognize themselves as a community of God, a people summoned for worship and constituted in holy assembly. God can therefore proclaim, "I am your God, you will be my people" (cf. Es 6, 7; Dt 14, 2). The Lord remains faithful to his Alliance (cf. Dt 7, 9) and Israel becomes for that same Home of God,holy place of his presence in the world (cf. Es 29, 45; Lv 26, 11-12). For this reason, the house of the Lord assumes the presence of the family of God's children. Even today, in the prayer of the dedication of a new church, the Bishop asks that it be what by its nature must be:
«[...] it is always a holy place for all.
Here the source of grace lavite our faults,
that your children may die of sin and be reborn to life in your Spirit.
holy assembly gathered around
celebrates the memorial of Easter
and feeds on the banquet of the word and body of Christ.
Here the liturgy of praise
resons and the voice of men to join the choirs of the angels;
here rises to you the
incessant prayer for the salvation of the world.
Here the poor
find mercy, the oppressed
obtain true freedom, and every
man enjoys the dignity
of your children, until they all come to full joy in the holy Jerusalem of heaven."
The Christian community has never pursued isolation and has never made the church a city with closed doors. Trained in the value of community life and in the search for the common good, Christians have always sought inclusion in society, even in the awareness of an otherness: to be in the world without belonging to it and without shrinking to it (cf. Letter to Diogneto, 5-6). And even in the pandemic emergency a great sense of responsibility emerged: listening and collaborating with the civil authorities and with experts, the Bishops and their territorial conferences were ready to take difficult and painful decisions, until the prolonged suspension of the participation of the faithful in the celebration of the Eucharist. This Congregation is deeply grateful to the Bishops for their efforts and efforts in trying to respond, in the best possible way, to an unforeseen and complex situation.
As soon as circumstances allow, it is necessary and urgent to return to the normality of Christian life, which has the church building as a home and the celebration of the liturgy, especially of the Eucharist, as "the culmination towards which the action of the Church tends and together the source from which all its strength lies" (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 10).
Aware that God never abandons the humanity he created, and that even the hardest trials can bear fruit of grace, we have accepted the distance from the Altar of the Lord as a time of eucharistic fasting, useful to make us rediscover the vital importance, beauty and immeasurable preciousness. As soon as possible, however, it is necessary to return to the Eucharist with a purified heart, with a renewed astonishment, with an increased desire to meet the Lord, to be with him, to receive him to bring him to his brothers with the testimony of a life full of faith, love and hope.
This time of deprivation can give us the grace to understand the hearts of our martyred brothers of Abitene (early in the 4th century), who responded to their judges with serene determination, even in the face of a sure death sentence: "Sine Dominico not possumus". The absolute non possumus (we cannot) and the pregnancy of meaning of the neutral noun Dominicum (what is of the Lord)cannot be translated with a single word. A very brief expression sums up a great wealth of nuances and meanings that are offered today to our meditation:
"We cannot live, be Christians, fully realize our humanity and the desires for good and happiness that dwell in our hearts without the Word of the Lord,which in the celebration takes shape and becomes a living word, spoken by God for those who today open their hearts to listening;
"We cannot live as Christians without participating in the Sacrifice of the Cross in which the Lord Jesus gives himself unreservedly to save, with his death, the man who had died because of sin; the Redeemer associates humanity with him and brings it back to the Father; in the embrace of the Crucifix finds light and comfort every human suffering;
"We cannot without the banquet of the Eucharist, the lord'scanteen to which we are invited as children and brothers to receive the same Risen Christ, present in body, blood, soul and divinity in that Bread of Heaven that sustains us in the joys and toils of the earthly pilgrimage;
"We cannot without the Christian community,the family of the Lord: we need to meet the brothers who share the sonhood of God, the fraternity of Christ, the vocation and the search for the sanctity and salvation of their souls in the rich diversity of ages, personal histories, charisms and vocations;
"We cannot without the house of the Lord,which is our home, without the holy places where we were born to the faith, where we discovered the providential presence of the Lord and discovered the merciful embrace that lifts those who have fallen, where we have consecrated our vocation to religious follow-up or marriage, where we have pleaded and thanked, rejoiced and mourned, where we entrusted to the Father our loved ones who have completed the earthly pilgrimage;
"We cannot without the Sabbathwithout the Sabbath which gives light and meaning to the succession of working days and family and social responsibilities.
Although the media perform a valued service to the sick and those unable to go to church, and have served a great service in the transmission of Mass in the time when there was no opportunity to celebrate communally, no transmission is comparable to personal participation or can replace it. Indeed, these broadcasts alone risk moving away from a personal and intimate encounter with the incarnate God who has delivered himself to us not in a virtual way, but really, saying: "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him" (Gv 6, 56). This physical contact with the Lord is vital, indispensable, irreplaceable. Once the concrete measures that can be identified and adopted to minimize the contagion of the virus, it is necessary that everyone resumes their place in the assembly of brothers, rediscover the irreplaceable preciousness and beauty of the celebration, recall and attract with the contagion of enthusiasm the brothers and sisters discouraged, afraid, for too long absent or distracted.
This Department intends to reaffirm some principles and suggest some lines of action to promote a swift and safe return to the celebration of the Eucharist.
Due attention to hygiene and safety standards cannot lead to the sterilization of gestures and rites, to the induction, even unconscious, of fear and insecurity in the faithful.
It trusts in the prudent but firm action of the Bishops that the participation of the faithful in the celebration of the Eucharist is not derailed by the public authorities to a "assembly", and is not considered as comparable or even subordinate to forms of recreational aggregation.
Liturgical rules are not a matter on which the civil authorities can legislate, but only the relevant ecclesiastical authorities (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, 22).
It facilitates the participation of the faithful in the celebrations, but without improvised ritual experiments and in full compliance with the rules, contained in the liturgical books, which govern their performance. In the liturgy, an experience of sacredness, of holiness and of beauty that transfigures, we anticipate the harmony of eternal bliss: therefore, take care for the dignity of places, sacred furnishings, celebratory modalities, according to the authoritative indication of the Second Vatican Council: "The rites shine for noble simplicity" (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 34).
The faithful are recognized for the right to receive the Body of Christ and to worship the Lord present in the Eucharist in the manner envisaged, without limitation that goes even beyond the hygiene standards issued by the public authorities or bishops.
The faithful in the Eucharistic celebration worship Jesus Risen present; and we see that with such ease we lose the sense of worship, the prayer of worship. We ask the Pastors to insist, in their catechism, on the need for worship.
A sure principle not to make mistakes is obedience. Obedience to the standards of the Church, obedience to the Bishops. In times of difficulty (e.g. war, pandemics) Bishops and Episcopal Conferences can give provisional regulations to which one must obey. Obedience guards the treasure entrusted to the Church. These measures dictated by the Bishops and the Bishops' Conferences expire when the situation returns to normal.
The Church will continue to guard the human person as a whole. It testifies to hope, invites us to trust in God, remembers that earthly existence is important, but much more important is eternal life: sharing the same life with God for eternity is our goal, our vocation. This is the faith of the Church, witnessed over the centuries by legions of martyrs and saints, a positive announcement that frees from one-dimensional reductions, from ideologies: to the dutiful concern for public health the Church combines the announcement and the accompaniment towards the eternal salvation of souls. So we continue to trust God's mercy, to invoke the intercession of the blessed Virgin Mary, salus infirmorum et auxilium christianorum, for all those who are tried hard by the pandemic and every other affliction, we persevere in prayer for those who have left this life, and at the same time we renew the intention of being witnesses of the Risen and announcers of a certain hope, which transcends the limits of this world.
From the Vatican, 15 August 2020 The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
The High Pontiff Francis, in the Audience granted on 3 September 2020, to my p.m. Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Divine Cult and the Discipline of the Sacraments, approved this Letter and ordered its publication.