Cardinal Sarah's Letter, Approved by Pope Francis, Urges Catholics to Return to Church - Saying "Virtual" Mass does not Replace Participation

Vatican News report (original in French) : The "virtual" mass does not replace personal participation in the church.

In a letter addressed to the presidents of the bishops' conferences, Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, affirms the need to return to the normality of Christian life, where the health situation related to the coronavirus allows it: "Attending Mass through the media is not comparable to physical participation in church," he stresses.

There is an urgent need to return to the normality of Christian life with physical presence at Mass, where circumstances permit: no broadcast is comparable to or can replace personal participation, explains Cardinal Robert Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, in a Letter on the celebration of the liturgy during and after the Covid-19 pandemic, entitled "Let us return with joy to the Eucharist! The text, addressed to the Presidents of the Episcopal Conferences of the Catholic Church, was signed on August 15 and approved by Pope Francis on September 3.

The community dimension of Christian life

The pandemic due to the new coronavirus," writes Cardinal Sarah, "has caused upheavals not only in social and family dynamics (...) but also in the life of the Christian community, including the liturgical dimension. The Prelate reminds us that "the community dimension has a theological meaning: God is the relationship of Persons in the Most Holy Trinity" and "he puts himself in relationship with man and woman and calls them in turn to a relationship with Him. Thus, "while the pagans built temples dedicated to the one divinity, to which people had no access, Christians, as soon as they enjoyed freedom of worship, immediately built places that would be domus Dei and domus ecclesiæ, where the faithful could recognize themselves as a community of God". This is why "the house of the Lord presupposes the presence of the family of the children of God".

Collaboration of the Church with the civil authorities

"The Christian community," the letter reads, "has never sought isolation and has never made the church a closed-door town. Formed in the value of community life and in the search for the common good, Christians have always sought insertion into society". "And even in the pandemic emergency, a great sense of responsibility emerged: listening and collaborating with civil authorities and experts, the bishops and their territorial conferences were quick to make difficult and painful decisions, even to the point of suspending for a long time the participation of the faithful in the celebration of the Eucharist," the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship said.

An urgency: to return to the normality of Christian life

"However, as soon as circumstances permit," Cardinal Sarah emphasizes, "it is necessary and urgent to return to the normality of Christian life, which has the church building as its home and the celebration of the liturgy, especially the Eucharist, as "the summit towards which the Church's action tends and at the same time the source from which all its strength emanates" (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 10). Aware that God never abandons the humanity he has created, and that even the hardest trials can bear fruits of grace, we have accepted the removal from the altar of the Lord as a time of Eucharistic fasting, useful in helping us rediscover its vital importance, its beauty and its immeasurable preciousness. As soon as possible," with "an increased desire to meet the Lord, to remain with him, to receive him and to bring him to our brothers and sisters with the witness of a life full of faith, love and hope," the Prelate assures us.

Need for personal participation at mass

As Cardinal Sarah went on to explain, "although the media provide a valued service to the sick and those who cannot go to church, and have provided a great service in the transmission of Holy Mass at a time when there was no possibility of celebrating it in a community manner, no transmission equals or can replace personal participation. In fact, these transmissions alone risk distancing us from a personal and intimate encounter with the incarnate God who gave himself to us not virtually, but really, saying: "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him". (Jn 6:56). This physical contact with the Lord is vital, indispensable, irreplaceable. Once concretely feasible measures have been identified and adopted to minimize the contagion of the virus, it is necessary that all resume their place in the Brethren Assembly", encouraging those who are "discouraged, frightened, and for too long absent or distracted".

Suggestions for a return to the celebration of the Eucharist

The letter also suggests "suggesting some lines of action to promote a quick and safe return to the celebration of the Eucharist. Particular attention to the norms of hygiene and safety cannot lead to the sterilization of gestures and rites," it warns. On the other hand, the Congregation counts on "the prudent but firm action of the bishops so that the participation of the faithful in the celebration of the Eucharist is not declassified by the civil authorities as a 'gathering' and is not considered comparable or even subordinate to forms of recreational aggregation. Liturgical norms are not a matter on which the civil authorities can legislate, only the competent ecclesiastical authorities can do so (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, 22)". 

Respect for liturgical norms

Cardinal Sarah exhorts to "facilitate the participation of the faithful in the celebrations", "but without improvised ritual experiences and in full respect for the norms contained in the liturgical books that govern their conduct", and recognizing "the right of the faithful to receive the Body of Christ and to adore the Lord present in the Eucharist in the manner provided for, without limitations that go beyond what is provided for in the rules of hygiene issued by public authorities or by the bishops".

A sure principle: obedience to the bishops

On this point, the cardinal gives a precise indication: "Obedience is a sure principle in order not to make mistakes. Obedience to the norms of the Church, obedience to the bishops. In times of difficulty (e.g., wars, pandemics), bishops and episcopal conferences can give provisional regulations that must be obeyed. Obedience safeguards the treasure entrusted to the Church. These measures dictated by the bishops and episcopal conferences expire when the situation returns to normality".

Public health and eternal salvation

The Church, concludes the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, protects the human person "in its totality" and "to the necessary concern for public health," she "unites the proclamation and accompaniment of souls to the eternal salvation of souls.


Larry said…
I agree fully with Cardinal Sarah. But what about those of us who have serious health problems that prevent us from attending Mass in our Parish Church? Due to regulations of our local Bishop and COVID, we have not had the Eucharist or been able to make Confession in our homes since March. Surely a common-sense approach to ministry for Shut-Ins could be developed IF the Church wanted to do it and IF it were important that we receive the Sacraments.