What will the Catholic Church look like after this this pandemic subsides?
The Catholic Church is a worldwide community of about 1.2 billion people that has encountered many challenges over nearly 2,000 years. While I do not anticipate any fundamental changes following the pandemic in what the Church teaches or believes, I realize that we have all experienced painful disruptions. Whatever changes that may occur have already begun within us. Let’s begin by focusing on those changes.
Not long ago, it would have been unthinkable that our churches would be closed for Easter, but they were. Such dramatic decisions planted the seeds of change in the prayer life of the faithful.
The pandemic clearly has made an impact on Catholic spiritual life. Someone recently said to me, “I am really getting used to watching Mass on my TV with coffee in hand.” That statement is understandable, and for some Catholics who have health concerns, watching the Mass from home has been a blessing. But for many of us it can be troubling in that an essential element of our worship is coming together as a community, when it is safe to do so.
While personal prayer is essential, we gather in obedience to the Lord so that we might “do this in remembrance of me.” And it is from this formed community that we go out into the world as His disciples. That point was brought home to me when someone remarked, “I really want to get back to Mass. I miss my friends.” A renewed awareness of what we mean to each other as we worship together might well be a consequence of this pandemic.
Many Catholics have also found great consolation in quiet time alone in prayer or even alone in a church. This can open us to a deeper understanding that public liturgical worship does not exhaust the longing many feel for time with the Lord. This could also be a helpful awakening for the need to enhance the devotional life we offer in our parishes apart from the celebration of Mass.
One of the consequences of the pandemic on liturgy had been the attempt to “shorten” worship time. This has been accompanied by curtailing singing at Masses. Some people have become accustomed to the shorter Masses. I was once told that the difference between Catholic and Protestant churches is coat racks—that Protestants hang up their coats because they intend to stay awhile. Catholics on the other hand, keep theirs on because they are always ready to leave.
While I am not convinced of the universality of that view, it is interesting that Catholics in general are more attuned to the length of the Mass. The pandemic hopefully will prompt both clergy and laity to focus not so much on the length but the quality of the time we spend in worship.
I would think that this pandemic has prompted many of us to ponder about what is important in our lives. When much was taken away, we were forced into time alone, including our life of prayer. Perhaps after the pandemic we will have a better understanding of what we truly value in our spiritual lives and seek to foster it consistently.
My prayer is that Catholics will return to the Eucharist with a hunger for what was absent and carry that into other forms of prayer and community life.
Photo credit: Dena Koenig Photography