Canadian bishops attend their 2019 annual plenary meeting in Cornwall, Ontario. This year's assembly will be held virtually. CNS photo/courtesy Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops

Editorial: Remember ‘normal’

  • September 24, 2020

As Canada’s bishops gathered on computer screens this past week, bypassing the “norm” of their usual annual plenary, the old saying “what a difference a year makes” was probably uttered more than once.

Yes, there are still important, on-going issues that demand attention and united action, but every bishop was also acutely aware of the weight they carry in their own dioceses in dealing with COVID-19 — a deadly virus unheard of a year ago.

These past six months have shattered any sense of normalcy in Church operations. The bishops are to be commended for the painful but necessary action of closing churches, then adapting quickly to online opportunities to bring the Mass to people isolated in homes. But of course it wasn’t the same.

When the churches re-opened, only a fraction of parishioners were allowed back in and the disquieting trends that foreshadow a second wave of the virus is keeping a lid on attendance. 

By this time next year, of course, we’re all expecting a return to normal with a vaccine in place to ease our fears. That’s one scenario. Another is that some people may never return to church, that the absence from the Eucharist has been too long and they’ve lost some of their spiritual zeal.

A few recent polls offer some disturbing numbers. In Ireland, 23 per cent of Catholics polled either won’t or are unsure if they will ever return to church. In the U.S., the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate found only half of young adults (18-35) surveyed planned to return to their normal frequency of church attendance.

The Vatican and the bishops, fortunately, are trying to be pro-active. With the approval of Pope Francis, Cardinal Robert Sarah, Prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship, sent a letter earlier this month to all bishops urging that “as soon as circumstances permit … it is necessary and urgent to return to the normality of Christian life, which has the church building as its home and the celebration of the liturgy, especially the Eucharist, as the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed.”

It’s a message directed at all Catholics, of course, reminding us of the importance of the sacraments and the in-person experience of the celebration of Mass.

Archbishop Richard Gagnon of Winnipeg echoed the sentiment, stressing the message he has heard from his own parishioners about “how important in-person gatherings and the personal connection that has for people.”

Long before the pandemic struck, the Pope talked about the importance of being in church. “It is true that the quality of the Christian life is measured by the capacity to love,” he said in 2017. “But how can we practice the Gospel without drawing the necessary strength to do it, one Sunday after another, from the inexhaustible spring of the Eucharist?”

As everyone waits for that day when “normal” returns to churches, we must not lose sight of that truth.

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