Can you send an apple by email?

The Catholic Church is selling “the Eucharist” and people short and is making a mistake by turning Mass into a YouTube experience.

The comments are from Thomas O’Loughlin, emeritus professor of Historical Theology at the University of Nottingham and Director of Studia Traditionis Theologiae.

“There are some things Zoom and YouTube just won’t do because real experiences are whole human experiences,” O’Loughlin said.

“Can you send an apple by email?” he asked.

He says he will accept doing Mass online when people give up going out to dine with others and when people dine alone at home with pre-packaged food and say it is as rich an experience as it is eating and drinking with friends.

People wanting to have Mass on their TV or computer at home and priests supplying it sounds a warning about the real nature of the community, he said.

“Eucharist makes little sense without a community.”

Challenging the meeting, O’Loughlin posed the question as to whether the Church had stopped being a real community and is being reduced to religious ideology.

He sounded a warning that we may be reducing the Eucharist to just getting communion, almost makes it a commodity!

O’Loughlin said the Church has a wealth of spirituality it can call on during COVID-19 lockdown and questioned why we opted for the “summit” experience.

He says he agrees that Mass is the summit of Christian prayer but suggested perhaps the Church has forgotten the hinterland.

O’Loughlin said that the Liturgy of the Hours, shared prayer, Lectio Divina, prayer together and scripture study we just some of the examples from the Church’s spiritual tradition that respects the characteristics of the liturgy and that are easily adapted to a virtual environment.

“Why did we pick on something so physical such as eating and drinking?” O’Loughlin asked.

Spiritual Communion

Questioned on whether it was appropriate to use the readings of the day and make a “spiritual communion,” O’Loughlin sounded a stern warning.

He observed that spiritual communion came from the time when only priests received communion and was developed by the heretical Jansenists to a point were nuns were not seen as worthy of physically receiving communion.

Spiritual communion “is tied up with notions of unworthiness and impurity” and it is a part of a moral theology we left long ago, he said.

Flashes of Insight

O’Loughlin made the comments in an international conversation hosted by CathNews on Zoom and as part of its “Flashes of Insight” series produced in association with La-Croix International.

Host of the conversation, Dr Joseph Grayland, Director of Liturgy in the Palmerston North Diocese, New Zealand, says the idea for “Let’s Talk Liturgy” came about due to the disruption to worship brought about through the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Grayland says the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted laity and clergy alike.

“For many people, the online Mass, viewed from the living room was sufficient, they didn’t have to go out and it fulfilled the need for Sunday Mass.”

“The priests also liked doing this because it was readily identifiable as part of their mission”.

Labelling online video Mass as a form of clericalism, Grayland says there are real concerns around the passive, observer approach and the personal nature of the “priest’s Mass.”

Flashes of Insight – Let’s Talk Liturgy is, therefore, an opportunity for people to discuss and consider the nature of liturgy in an international context.

Over 80 people from the UK, Australia, the Pacific are involved in the conversation.

The second round of conversations continued last evening and at least one more round is planned.

So what’s the problem with a virtual Mass

One person recently said, the Virtual Mass was great. “We could lie in bed, go to Mass in London, Florence, Ireland and even Auckland. It would be great if we could keep it”.

Another said, “The first week I stood when I should, the second week I felt comfortable knitting and in the third week I live-paused Mass and went and made a cup of coffee”.

COVID-19 impacted just about every aspect of our living from feeding ourselves, going to the doctor, meeting with friends, work, student education and how we interact with services and businesses.

And as Catholics, it impacted our faith lives.

COVID-19 has filled many people full of the fear of infection and leaving some Catholics preferring the virtual to the real.

Unable to physically gather as communities, Catholics in New Zealand gathered “virtually” to foster their faith.

The suggestion has been repeated that the Church must change and the post-pandemic Catholic Church will be very different from the one that went into this global health crisis.

CathNews NZ along with La Croix International engaged with three liturgists from around the world, from secular and religious cultures.

  • Dr Carmel Pilcher lives in Suva, Fiji and teaches at the seminary.
  • Dr Joe Grayland is dean and parish priest of the cathedral in Palmerston North.
  • Professor Thomas O’Loughlin is professor of historical theology at the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom.

They began by answering the question: so what’s the problem with a virtual Mass anyway?

Safeguarding – Vigilance during COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified the risk elements in the Church’s sexual abuse response, says Fr Hans Zollner SJ.

Zollner is the leading Rome based specialist in addressing the scourge of sex abuse in Catholic institutions.

With less money in circulation, he is urging civil and church societies not to blur their focus nor cut expenditure on safeguarding.

“I do hope that we in the church will go another way and really keep on investing in safeguarding because this is for the safety of those who need most protection”, he told Michael Kelly SJ.

“I think it is quite evident to many who are working in this field of safeguarding of minors and vulnerable adults that safeguarding has been relegated down the line because now the almost single focus is on health and the economy”, he said.

Zollner said that we all know that abuse is happening in all quarters of society.

Zollner said that unfortunately during the lockdown, society is seeing an increase in those reporting violent behaviours at home and that we can only presume that these behaviours are not only physical violence but sexual and physical violence too.

The very moment when these vulnerable people need more help the social systems can’t intervene and those who have been hurt have no place to go, he said.

Zollner told Michael Kelly that while the response varies from country to country, the most important thing the Church has learned is that in order to bring about justice it is important to listen to victims and that listening to victims helps change their attitude to life and helps people to heal.

“We cannot work in the area of safeguarding if you don’t really take seriously the concerns of victims”, Zollner said.

However, he says that these days every year the Catholic Church trains hundreds of thousands of people around the globe in safeguarding and that it is something that even in an economic downturn we really need to commit to seriously and persistently.

As Professor of Psychology at the Gregorian University in Rome Zollner is also a member of key Vatican committees and consults to national churches throughout the world.

Zollner has an unmatched body of experience and competence to say how the Church is handling the whole catastrophe of sexual abuse.

The Hans Zollner interview is the first in a new video series, “Flashes of Insight”, which features key personalities on issues that matter to Catholics.

Flashes of Insight is a collaboration between La Croix International and CathNews NZ.