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Let Us Return with Joy to the Eucharist

by Cardinal Robert Sarah

Descriptive Title

Cardinal Sarah Letter to Episcopal Conferences on the Celebration of the Liturgy During and After the Covid-19 Pandemic


The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments has sent this letter to the presidents of the Bishops' Conferences - issued on September 12, 2020, on the celebration of the liturgy during and after the Covid-19 pandemic.

Publisher & Date

Vatican, September 12, 2020

The Covid 19 pandemic has produced upheavals not only in social, family, economic, training and work dynamics, but also in the life of the Christian community, including the liturgical dimension. To take away the virus' space for replication, a rigid social distancing was necessary, which had repercussions on a fundamental trait of Christian life: "Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them" ( Mt 18, 20); “They were persevering in the teaching of the apostles and in communion, in the breaking of bread and in prayers. All the believers were together and had everything in common "( Acts 2, 42-44).

The community dimension has a theological meaning: God is the relationship of Persons in the Most Holy Trinity; creates man in the relational complementarity between male and female because "it is not good for man to be alone" ( Gn 2:18 ), he places himself in relationship with man and woman and calls them in turn to a relationship with Him: as Saint Augustine well understood, our hearts are restless until they find God and rest in Him (cf. Confessions , I, 1). The Lord Jesus began his public ministry by calling a group of disciples to him to share with him the life and the proclamation of the Kingdom; from this little flock the Church is born. To describe eternal life, Scripture uses the image of a city: the Jerusalem of heaven (cf. Rev.21); a city is a community of people who share values, fundamental human and spiritual realities, places, times and organized activities and who contribute to the construction of the common good. While the pagans built temples dedicated to the divinity alone, to which people did not have access, the Christians, as soon as they enjoyed the freedom of worship, immediately built places that were domus Dei et domus ecclesiae , where the faithful could recognize themselves as a community of God, people summoned for worship and constituted as a holy assembly. God can therefore proclaim: "I am your God, you will be my people" (cf. Ex 6, 7; Dt 14, 2). The Lord remains faithful to his Covenant (cf. Dt 7: 9) and Israel becomes by this very fact God's dwelling, holy place of his presence in the world (cf. Ex 29, 45; Lev 26, 11-12). For this reason the house of the Lord presupposes the presence of the family of the children of God. Even today, in the dedication prayer of a new church, the Bishop asks that it be what by its nature it must be:

«[...] may it always be a holy place for all [...].
Here the source of grace wash away our sins,
so that your children may die to sin
and be reborn to life in your Spirit.
Here the holy assembly
gathered around the altar,
celebrate the Easter memorial
and feed at the banquet of the word
and the body of Christ.
Here the liturgy of praise resounds gladly
and the voice of men joins the choirs of the angels;
here may incessant prayer rise to you
for the salvation of the world.
Here the poor find mercy,
the oppressed obtain true freedom
and every man enjoy the dignity of your children,
until all reach full joy
in the holy Jerusalem of heaven ».

The Christian community has never pursued isolation and has never made the church a city with closed doors. Formed in the value of community life and in the search for the common good, Christians have always sought insertion into society, albeit in the awareness of an otherness: to be in the world without belonging to it and without reducing oneself to it (cf. Letter to Diognetus,5-6). And even in the pandemic emergency a great sense of responsibility emerged: listening and collaborating with the civil authorities and with experts, the Bishops and their territorial conferences were ready to take difficult and painful decisions, up to the prolonged suspension of participation of the faithful in the celebration of the Eucharist. This Congregation is deeply grateful to the Bishops for their commitment and effort in trying to respond, in the best possible way, to an unexpected and complex situation.

However, as soon as circumstances allow it, 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, particularly the Eucharist, as "the summit towards which the action of the Church tends. and at the same time the source from which all his strength emanates" (Sacrosanctum Concilium , 10).

Aware of the fact that God never abandons the humanity he created, and that even the hardest trials can bear fruits of grace, we have accepted the distance from the Lord's altar as a time of Eucharistic fasting, useful for us to rediscover the vital importance, beauty and immeasurable preciousness. As soon as possible, however, it is necessary to return to the Eucharist with a purified heart, with a renewed amazement, with an increased desire to meet the Lord, to be with him, to receive him in order to bring him to the brothers with the witness of a life full of faith, of love and hope.

This time of privation can give us the grace to understand the heart of our martyr brothers of Abitene (early 4th century), who answered their judges with serene determination, even in the face of a sure death sentence: "Sine Dominico non possumus". The absolute non possumus (we cannot ) and the meaningfulness of the neutral substantive Dominicum (that which belongs to the Lord ) cannot be translated with a single word. A very brief expression summarizes a great wealth of nuances and meanings that are offered today to our meditation:

  • We cannot live, be Christians, fully realize our humanity and the desires for good and happiness that dwell in the heart without the Word of the Lord, which in the celebration takes shape and becomes a living word, pronounced by God for those who today open their hearts to listen;

  • We cannot live as Christians without participating in the Sacrifice of the Cross in which the Lord Jesus gives himself without reserve to save, with his death, the man who had died because of sin; the Redeemer associates humanity to himself and leads it back to the Father; in the embrace of the Crucifix every human suffering finds light and comfort;

  • We cannot without the banquet of the Eucharist, the Lord's table to which we are invited as children and brothers to receive the Risen Christ himself, present in body, blood, soul and divinity in that Bread of heaven that sustains us in joys and labors of the earthly pilgrimage;

  • We cannot without the Christian community , the family of the Lord: we need to meet the brothers who share the sonship of God, the brotherhood of Christ, the vocation and the search for holiness and the salvation of their souls in the rich diversity of ages, personal stories, charisms and vocations;

  • We cannot without the house of the Lord, which is our home, without the holy places where we were born to the faith, where we discovered the provident presence of the Lord and we discovered the merciful embrace that raises those who have fallen, where we consecrated our vocation to religious life or to marriage, where we begged and thanked, rejoiced and wept, where we entrusted our loved ones who have completed their earthly pilgrimage to the Father;

  • We cannot without the day of the Lord, without Sunday which gives light and meaning to the succession of days of work and family and social responsibilities.

Although the media carry out an appreciated service to the sick and those who are unable to go to church, and have provided a great service in the transmission of the Holy Mass in the time when there was no possibility of celebrating in community, no transmission is equivalent to personal participation or can replace it. Indeed, these transmissions, by themselves, risk distancing us from a personal and intimate encounter with the Incarnate God who gave himself to us not in a virtual way, but really, saying: "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him" (Jn6, 56). This physical contact with the Lord is vital, indispensable, irreplaceable. Once the measures concretely practicable to minimize the infection of the virus have been identified and adopted, it is necessary that everyone resume their place in the assembly of the brothers, rediscover the irreplaceable preciousness and beauty of the celebration, recall and attract with the contagion of the enthusiasm brothers and sisters discouraged, afraid, absent or distracted for too long.

This Dicastery intends to reaffirm some principles and suggest some lines of action to promote a rapid and safe return to the celebration of the Eucharist.

Due attention to hygiene and safety rules cannot lead to the sterilization of gestures and rites, to the induction, even unconscious, of fear and insecurity in the faithful.

It trusts in the prudent but firm action of the Bishops so that the participation of the faithful in the celebration of the Eucharist is not declassified by the public authorities to a "gathering", and is not considered as comparable or even subordinate to forms of recreational aggregation.

Liturgical norms are not matters on which civil authorities can legislate, but only the competent ecclesiastical authorities (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, 22).

The participation of the faithful in celebrations should be facilitated, but without improvised ritual experiments and in full compliance with the norms contained in the liturgical books that regulate their development. In the liturgy, an experience of sacredness, sanctity and transfiguring beauty, the harmony of eternal beatitude is anticipated: care should therefore be taken for the dignity of the places, of the sacred furnishings, of the celebratory methods, according to the authoritative indication of the Vatican Council II: "The rites shine with noble simplicity" (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 34).

The faithful should be granted the right to receive the Body of Christ and to adore the Lord present in the Eucharist in the manner provided, without limitations that go even beyond what is foreseen by the hygienic norms issued by the public authorities or by the Bishops.

The faithful in the Eucharistic celebration adore the Risen Jesus present; and we see that the sense of adoration, the prayer of adoration, is so easily lost. We ask Pastors to insist, in their catecheses, on the need for adoration.

A sure principle for not making mistakes is obedience. Obedience to the norms of the Church, obedience to the Bishops. In times of difficulty (for example we think of wars, pandemics) the Bishops and Episcopal Conferences can give provisional regulations which must be obeyed. Obedience safeguards the treasure entrusted to the Church. These measures dictated by the Bishops and Episcopal Conferences expire when the situation returns to normal.

The Church will continue to protect the human person in his totality. It testifies to hope, invites us to trust in God, reminds us that earthly existence is important, but much more important is eternal life: sharing the same life with God for eternity is our goal, our vocation. This is the faith of the Church, witnessed over the centuries by legions of martyrs and saints, a positive proclamation that frees us from one-dimensional reductionism, from ideologies: the Church unites the proclamation and accompaniment towards public health to the necessary concern for public health. eternal salvation of souls. Let us therefore continue to entrust ourselves with confidence to God's mercy, to invoke the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, salus infirmorum et auxilium christianorum, for all those who are severely tried by the pandemic and every other affliction, we persevere in prayer for those who have left this life, and at the same time we renew the resolution to be witnesses of the Risen One and heralds of a certain hope, which transcends the limits of this world.

From the Vatican, 15 August 2020 Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The Supreme Pontiff Francis, in the audience granted on September 3, 2020, to the undersigned Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, approved this Letter and ordered its publication.

Robert Cardinal Sarah

Prot. n.432/20

Published in Italian

© Libreria Editrice Vaticana 2020

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