Small gatherings for scripture services rather than Mass urged

Small groups gathering for scripture services could be a better option than public Masses until the pandemic has further subsided, says German bishop Heiner Wilmer.

By gathering for scripture services, people will gain new experiences with new and familiar forms of praying together, says Wilmer.

“I am convinced that these new and familiar forms of prayer will carry and strengthen us just as they have done over the past weeks,” he says.

“Gradually and very carefully, we can get back to celebrating the Eucharist at our own discretion,” he wrote in a letter he sent last week to Catholics of his diocese in the north of Germany.

Wilmer, who is the former international superior general of the Priests of the Sacred Heart (“Dehonians”), underlined the need for extreme caution to those planning public church gatherings or celebrations.

His diocese of Hildesheim is one of the last of Germany’s twenty-seven Catholic dioceses to end a liturgical lockdown that went into effect on 16 March.

During the lockdown Wilmer made headlines in a widely-published interview by expressing his “uneasiness” about live-streamed Masses and what he called an unhealthy “fixation on the Eucharist.”

“At the moment people are behaving as if their entire faith will break down if they cannot go to Mass and receive communion,” he said in the interview.

There have always been times when people could not celebrate the Eucharistic, but belief in God did not cease just because of that.

“Of course it is important, but the reaction of some of the faithful (to the coronavirus crisis) is to overestimate the Eucharist (and behave as if) there was nothing else,” he said.

The Second Vatican Council said the Lord is not only present in the Eucharist. He is also present in the Scriptures and the Bible, Wilmer says.

“We should take seriously Christ’s words, ‘Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in their midst’.”

While he has nothing against people praying together “over the internet and with the help of the modern media”, Wilmer does not think having a Eucharistic celebration in this way is appropriate.

He acknowledges, however, that Catholics miss being together and worshiping as a community more than anything.

“No-one believes alone. Our faith is based on community. Someone or some others are with me on the way. We need others. We human beings are ordered towards our fellow human beings and that is what has been taken from us at the moment,” he says.

Reflecting on the past couple of months, he says: “It has never been so important to be alone together.”



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