Predictions for the Post-Pandemic-Time

What is going to happen when the corona pandemic is over? How will our current experience influence the way we celebrate liturgy and gather in churches in the post-pandemic-time? I would like to share some personal predictions.

Prediction #1: People will hesitate to receive the Eucharistic chalice.

Communion under both species—modestly re-introduced by the Second Vatican Council, afterwards permitted in more and more cases, often requested, explained and backed up by liturgical scholars—has not yet become a common practice in Roman Catholic liturgies. Many people never got used to it, felt unable to cope with it whenever the chalice was offered to them, and some always found it disturbing to drink from a chalice that had been touched by other people’s lips before. I am quite sure that the number of people who hesitate to drink from the Eucharistic chalice will increase. No explanation of the alcohol’s disinfectant virtue will change their minds—the hesitation does not originate in scientific arguments, but in expectations of cleanliness and hygienics.

Prediction #2: New ways of sharing the Eucharistic chalice will be tried out.

Some ministers will try to introduce new ways to share the Eucharistic chalice in a more hygienic way. I saw small individual glasses in Lutheran and Latter-day Saints’ liturgies. Some colleagues mock them due to their resemblance to shot glasses, but they are a simple option to share a beverage among a large group of people. Of course the symbolism of sharing one chalice is lost, but second-best options are better than no options (and we do the same with Eucharistic hosts which do not at all remind one of one shared bread).

Prediction #3: Liturgical gloves will revive.

Some ministers will prefer to use gloves for certain liturgical acts. Not the old ritual gloves that bishops used, but sanitary gloves. Some priests will use them in order to prevent to infect others or be infected, e.g. for the Anointing or for the Communion on the tongue.

Prediction #4: People will hesitate to stand or sit close to each other.

After all we heard about exhalation, aerosols, and droplet infection, the number of people who prefer to stand or sit in big distances to others—especially strangers— will increase. Maybe people here in Austria will hesitate to use the old baroque pews where they are squeezed in without any chance of movement. They will request single seats instead, a sort of choir stalls, or at least modern pews that leave more space to everyone.

Prediction #5: Certain objects will be regularly disinfected.

Sacristans will have more work than before: Objects that people touch or kiss will be disinfected on a regular basis: Liturgical vessels, baptismal fonts, icons, doorknobs, Gospel books, lectionaries, hymnals, etc. New patterns of cleanliness and hygienics will be established all over public places.

Prediction #6: Public law will enforce new hygienic rules.

Depending on the situation in different countries with their respective legislation, I can imagine that future public law will prohibit certain religious practices, e.g.: drinking from one chalice, open Holy Water fonts, Anointing without gloves, etc. Public law might make my predictions #1—5 true even without anyone’s personal request.

Time will tell whether I am right or not. Maybe my predictions are complete nonsense, and we all will return to our liturgical life as it used to be in the pre-pandemic-time.  I am quite convinced that #1 and #6 will prove themselves true, and I see #2—5 in descending probability. I am curious what Pray Tell readers think!

18 comments

  1. What about the size of our congregations compared to before the pandemic? Is anyone predicting the percentage of people who will eventually return and what the financial viability of many parishes will be? My prediction is 50% will not return and half the parishes will close or consolidate. And what about music? Will the music ministers who have been furloughed be rehired? Will they want to be? And what will the disappearance of choirs mean for the liturgy?

  2. I feel like #2 is unlikely to catch on, I imagine most priests and deacons would recoil at the thought of having to individually purify dozens (or hundreds) of mini-chalices…

    1. Any meal involves clean up! But then our inherited mediaeval attitudes towards the Eucharist do not reflect any deep awareness of the meal aspect of the celebration. I am reminded of when the American indult about filling the cups during the Lamb of God rather than during the Preparation of the Altar & Gifts was retracted after six months because of concerns about spillage of the Precious Blood–even though Ordo Romanus I describes the American practice!

  3. One thing that wasn’t mentioned was the “sign” of peace. Besides being socially distanced away from others, making it not easy to do this anymore, I’m guess that a lot of people won’t be too anxious to shake people’s hands again. I know that as my company prepares for limited re-opening of some offices during the summer, early directives we’ve received strongly discourage handshaking.

    1. I saw one church that introduced sign language sign of peace. I thought it was creative. Also gives people something to do with their hands. And better that the “peace sign” imho.

    2. I’m teaching the people at the Masses I preside at this weekend how to the peace greetings in American sign language.

    3. My experience here is that people somehow enjoy a new form of sign of peace: They smile friendlier than before, they bow to each other with a smile, they wave they hands to each other. In the past, we only had shaking hands (which somehow feels too formal) or hugs (which is respectless towards strangers). Maybe the current culture of signs of peace will survive and be enjoyed by many.

    4. ASL is working nicely for the SOP. Some people object, mistakenly observing that this is “adding something to the mass,” which is of course flawed thinking in that ASL is just another languages. There certainly would not be anything wrong with saying the words of institution in a foreign language, as some do, or other texts.

  4. #1 – yes. It’s the cross-contamination of handling the chalice that would be the more salient vector, and it’s hard to choose to use something other than the first three fingers (the same problem for door knobs verses bars that can be bumped or managed with lesser used fingers).

    #2 – not likely for Catholics except for developing a method of giving the chalice to communicants to drink from without their handling of it.

    #3 – possible.

    #4 – probable because it would amplify preexisting habits.

    #5 – probable.

    #6 – would be difficult in the US under the federal but especially state constitutions.

  5. It kind of depends on what you mean by “pandemic time is over.”

    I predict that people will want to forget it entirely, and go back to the way things were. If they get a vaccine, they will much prefer to feel safe than to constantly be in a state of high alert to contagion.

    Fear does have a way of lingering on. But I have been shocked at how quickly people completely ignore precautions when it suits them.

    1. When I wrote my post, I had in mind: What if there was a vaccine (more or less over night, more or less approachable to anyone)? I guess most people would want to go back to the way things were. But at the same time, people would have in mind that another pandemic might come, and the current months raise awareness for things we had never cared about before.
      So that was my premise. Anything else were my personal guesses.

  6. prediction # 7 [and this is a huge one, for ongoing, active, conregational participation!]: we will have to struggle with issues of congregational singing & virus-spreading, until there is a vaccine

  7. A report from a friend of mine who participated in the English-language Mass at Boston’s cathedral yesterday (with several dozen congregants in that vast space; pre-registration was required) told me that Holy Communion of the faithful was provided after the conclusion of the liturgy, with a plexiglass-shielded communion station placed adjacent to the doors of each of the two western towers.

    1. How mediaeval! As has been said here before, this practice indicates a radical incomprehension of what the Eucharist is about as a celebration.

      1. That’s an insult to the Middle Ages.

        I think I can imagine the logistical considerations – especially given the fact that being included in Phase 1 reopening caught nearly all houses of worship in Massachusetts by surprise, and most had not worked out protocols fully, expecting to have more time – that invited this particular solution, but I hope it’s reconsidered sooner rather than later.

  8. Re: new ways of sharing the Eucharistic chalice:

    As people age they often find that things which had seemed unacceptable and even unimaginable become manageable after all–using a cpap machine, for example. With time these things become not that big of a deal and even welcome.

    Instances of Covid are on the rise with the opening of society. It’s not going away. We’ll have to make adjustments until there’s a vaccine or other remedy. It won’t be for that long of a time.

  9. There are individual single-use two-chambered containers which are used some places. They would have to be distributed in a sanitary way. (Dropped from a dispenser one-by-one?) The communicant could accept a unit while entering church and consecration would be understood to take place according to the widely accepted practice of remote intention. There are of course difficulties: (1) It eradicates the notion of the “oneness” of both bread and cup (which is already being ignored in many places, so this might not even be a concern); (2) It does away with the procession, a gesture which is of the essence of the rite itself; (3) It’s “gimmicky” in the extreme (like holy water guns and confessions with tin can & string telephone systems). I think for these three reasons this practice will not become widespread, at least in the RC church. On the other hand; the Byzantine church is using single-use stainless steel spoons, which are collected and sanitized. It seems this practice is good; perhaps RC’s could investigate borrowing the Byzantine model which preserves so much of what otherwise would be lost, especially the unity of the dual species.

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