Thirtysomething Mass at the Marian Shrine of Our Lady of Africa in Abidjan. / DR
In a letter addressed to the presidents of episcopal conferences and signed on August 15, Cardinal Robert Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, encourages Christians to physically participate in Mass.
In many parishes in Africa, despite the resumption of masses, after several weeks of suspension due to Covid-19, the enthusiasm is not quite there. But why ?
One would have expected that the reopening of places of worship, which has often been the subject of tensions between African governments and dioceses, would arouse, on the part of the faithful, an increased enthusiasm for the Eucharistic celebrations.
This is not quite the case.
In a letter to the presidents of episcopal conferences that he signed on August 15 and which was approved on September 3 by Pope Francis, Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, encourages faithful to return to the churches for the Eucharistic celebrations. In this text titled “Let us return with joy to the Eucharist», The former Archbishop of Conakry insists on the importance of physical presence at Mass.
But why are some Christians still hesitant to return to church despite the easing of anti-Covid-19 measures?
The application of social distancing measures
This can, of course, be explained by the implementation of social distancing measures which, when properly implemented, reduce by half or two-thirds the number of people who can be admitted to churches.
A difficulty that many parishes in Africa are trying to overcome by increasing the number of Eucharistic celebrations or by using the exterior of churches. But it is very difficult for a parish with more than 5,000 faithful to find the right formula.
The habit of virtual masses
Added to this difficulty is the fact that the dissemination, during confinement, of the Eucharistic celebrations on the media and social networks has created habits that some are struggling to get rid of. Already on March 17, in a column published on La Croix Africa, Father Francis Barbey, priest of the diocese of San Pedro, in Côte d’Ivoire and specialist in media education, warned against the pastoral difficulties that could arise from the habit taken by the faithful to attend virtual masses. Inviting to privilege personal and family prayer, he made this remark. “The televised or broadcast mass is not the only mode of spiritual presence, in addition to the fact that it will pose, after the coronavirus crisis, enormous pastoral problems on the physical gathering in Church ».
In his letter to the Episcopal Conferences, Cardinal Sarah insists on this question, stressing that the transmission of the Mass by the media cannot replace physical participation.
«Although the media render a valued service to the sick and those who cannot attend church, and have provided a great service in the transmission of Holy Mass at a time when there was no possibility of celebrating in a communal manner, no transmission equals or can replace personal participation ”, he writes.
The fear of being infected
Finally, a final reason that could explain the reluctance of some Christians to return to church is that in some countries, with each increase in the number of coronavirus cases, places of worship are the first to be closed or limited to access. while other places of affluence remain open. This has ended up discouraging and possibly spreading the idea that religious gatherings promote the spread of the virus.