Italian Catholics have launched a petition asking bishops to restore Masses and the other sacraments to the faithful during the coronavirus lockdown, joining a similar movement in the United States.
“We appeal for the recognition of the personal need of every member of the Catholic faithful to participate in the Holy Mass so that each person can actively worship while respecting the current legislation,” reads a petition created by Save the Monasteries, a Catholic advocacy group, and signed by a number of clergy and laypeople.
“Therefore, we urgently ask of the competent authorities, both ecclesiastical and civil, to resume liturgical celebrations with the participation of the faithful, especially Holy Mass on weekdays and on Sundays, adopting the provisions appropriate to the directives for the Covid-19 health emergency,” it states.
In one of the many comments on the appeal, a woman from the Italian city of Siena writes that people’s spiritual needs during a pandemic are no less important than their material needs.
“Let the cry be heard of a people who do not see their ‘necessities’ satisfied in open tobacco shops and supermarkets, but who absolutely need to nourish their spirit with the food of the sacraments and to be able to approach and rediscover intimacy with the Lord in the Eucharist,” she writes. “For me, for my husband, for our daughters, priests and bishops fight, do not accept this violence!!!”
A similar plea has been launched in the United States in the form of an open letter to the American bishops begging for the restoration of the sacraments to the faithful.
“Something is terribly wrong with a culture that allows abortion clinics and liquor stores to remain open but shuts down places of worship,” the letter begins. “While safety and cooperation with civil authorities is necessary, we must do everything we can to have access to what is essential for our spiritual lives. We should certainly not voluntarily deprive ourselves of the sacraments.”
“Bishops, we your faithful flock, implore you to do everything you can to make the sacraments more available to us during this crisis,” the letter states.
In the list of requests to the bishops, the letter urges them to demand that civil authorities “recognize religious services as essential services,” a provision at the core of religious liberty as well as recent debates regarding the essential nature of worship to people of faith.
In a hotly contested decree, the Italian government declared earlier this week that praying in church is not a sufficient reason to leave one’s residence, unlike activities like purchasing cigarettes, walking one’s dog, or going to the supermarket.
In a recent article, Italian journalist Andrea Gagliarducci asked why freedom of worship is not among the compelling reasons for leaving one’s home and why the church has not insisted on this.
The underlying problem is not just an overreaching state, but the church’s easy acquiescence to such overreach, Gagliarducci suggested.
“The problem is that, while in an emergency, the church is not thinking about defending what she has to defend: freedom of worship,” he wrote.
The former head of the Vatican’s highest court, Cardinal Raymond Burke, has also weighed in on the question, insisting that for Catholics receiving the sacraments for one’s spiritual health is every bit as essential as going to the supermarket and pharmacy, and completely different from non-essential activities like going to a cinema or sports stadium.
“In considering what is needed to live, we must not forget that our first consideration is our relationship with God,” the cardinal wrote. “That is why it is essential for us, at all times and above all in times of crisis, to have access to our churches and chapels, to the Sacraments, and to public devotions and prayers.”
“Just as we are able to purchase food and medicine, while taking care not to spread the coronavirus in the process, so also we must be able to pray in our churches and chapels, receive the Sacraments, and engage in acts of public prayer and devotion,” he said. “Without the help of God, we are indeed lost.”