Lockdown 2.0

In Ireland we are in our second lockdown with all public liturgies cancelled. Parishes were just getting back on their feet after the lockdown. The “Sunday Obligation” had not been reintroduced and, from the unscientific reports that I heard, in-person Mass attendance was back to about 1/3 of what it had been prior to March. But now as part of this second lockdown, the Irish government recently cancelled all regular worship. A one-line notification from the Department of the Taoiseach (prime minister) states simply that, “services move online.” This meant that all parishes had to cancel public liturgies again.

I can appreciate the difficulties that led to this second lockdown. But I personally find it unnerving that the government can cancel all liturgy without any consultation with religious leaders. Also, perhaps because I am more conscious of Ireland’s religious history than most, I am somewhat unnerved by the new law passed last week by the Irish Government whereby a priest who celebrates a public liturgy is subject to a prison sentence of a fine. This is the first time that the celebration of the Eucharist has been illegal in Ireland since the initial repeal of the anti-Catholic Penal Laws in 1782.

Ireland is not alone in the new round of lockdowns. Masses have also been canceled in Wales, France and in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Unfortunately, we may be soon joined by other countries and regions. As we are entering this new lockdown, it might be good to reflect on what we could learn from the experience of the lockdown the first time round. Until there is a vaccine or cure for COVID-19, we all may be subject to periodic lockdowns.

Last March all public activities, including churches, closed down overnight and there was little room for preparing or reflection. During the first lockdown in Ireland most parishes started transmitting their liturgies via Facebook or their parish website. Many older priests don’t have a huge amount of experience with social media or streaming and oftentimes the transmission was fairly bare bones. Additionally, the Irish legal situation meant that oftentimes the priest was totally alone in the church and celebrated with no ministers present. Now seven months later, we need to take stock and see how we can improve.

A number of commentators on PrayTell have already pointed out that the over-emphasis on the Eucharist has led to a lack of appreciation for other spiritual and prayerful practices. I wholeheartedly agree with this.  However, it is also the case that broadcast liturgies are here to stay. So it would be not harm to share tips on how to improve the liturgical experience of the People of God.

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