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WÜRZBURG, Germany, April 30, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — The German diocese of Würzburg is allowing only non-Eucharistic worship services, even after an easing of government restrictions on religious gatherings beginning May 4. “The most important thing in the situation of the coronavirus crisis is to protect the health of the faithful,” the diocese, headed by Bishop Franz Jung, announced.
Neither the official press release nor the decree and its corresponding guidelines referred to spiritual health being more important than physical health.
The state government of Bavaria had declared that worship services may take up to only one hour, requiring participants to wear masks and practice “social distancing.” Religious gatherings had been prohibited since March 21.
While the government did not ask the Catholic Church to offer only non-Eucharistic worship services, commonly called “liturgy of the word,” Bishop Jung decided, without convincing explanations, to introduce worship services in his diocese in phases, culminating in the eventual celebration of the Eucharist.
“After a certain amount of time, as well as the gathering of experience and its evaluation, a new consultation will be held on the admission of the public celebration of the Eucharist,” according to the diocese. Meanwhile, “Holy Mass can continue to be celebrated via streaming services.”
Bishop Jung even refused to allow celebrations of Holy Mass with the faithful abstaining from receiving Holy Communion for the sake of hygiene. Such Masses “contradict the meaning of the liturgical celebration,” he claimed.
Jung did not take into account that for centuries, Catholics received Holy Communion very rarely, sometimes only for Easter, while still attending Mass at least every Sunday.
“All in all,” the guidelines stated, “the question arises whether the form of celebration of worship services can be maintained in its meaning or is almost thwarted by the guidelines and restrictions that have to be made. This concerns above all the celebration of the Eucharist. The resumption of public worship services locally must therefore be well considered.”
None of the German bishops has protested or even substantially questioned the measures imposed by the federal and state governments. To the contrary, the Bavarian Administrative Court argued just before Easter that a ban on public Masses was fine, as the Church (in this case the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising) had already canceled all public Masses anyway.
Catholics in Germany are beginning to blame the bishops at least partly for the current difficulties in going to Mass and receiving the Eucharist.
Benjamin Leven asked in the May edition of Herder Magazin, “Couldn’t the haste and silence with which the Catholic dioceses, even before the state, banned their public services and organized alternative solutions, have their share in creating the impression that everything was fine with ‘private devotions’ and televised worship services?”
“Perhaps church authorities — of course without denying any factual necessities — should have expressed a little more dismay at the measures they saw themselves forced to take. Or they could have simply submitted the verdict to the state authorities which, a little later, issued the relevant regulations, anyway,” Leven added.
During all “liturgies of the word” amid the coronavirus pandemic in the diocese of Würzburg, singing is discouraged because of the higher risk of small drops of saliva potentially carrying the virus being emitted. The guidelines failed to explain the purpose of the masks in this context.
In addition to guidelines for the current situation allowing only non-Eucharistic worship services, the diocese also referred to future celebrations of Holy Mass. At that point, the faithful would still be prohibited from receiving the Eucharist on the tongue.
As LifeSiteNews reported, several dioceses have pointed out that the reception of Communion on the tongue is no riskier than in the hand. “The risk of touching the tongue and passing the saliva on to others is obviously a danger however, the chance of touching someone’s hand is equally probable and one’s hands have a greater exposure to germs,” the Archdiocese of Portland, Oregon emphasized.
Bishop Jung of Würzburg is not the only bishop in Germany who attempted to delay the celebration of public Masses.
Rather than demanding access to the sacraments, Bishop Gerhard Feige of Magdeburg argued, “shouldn’t we as Christians rather take care responsibly and in solidarity to contain the life-threatening danger of infection with the coronavirus and to prevent a medical overtaxing of our society, than, comparable to various lobbyists, try to push through our particular interests?”
Feige also expressed his irritation at an alleged “resentment” about not being able to go to Mass and receive the sacraments, which, according to the bishop, “some believers and church leaders are now expressing in a whining or belligerent manner.”
The only German state not to eventually ban public Masses was North Rhine–Westphalia. As acknowledged, for instance, by the Archdiocese of Cologne, the state government “considered it sufficient to accept the voluntary commitments” of the bishops not to have religious gatherings.
In other words, it was their own bishops, not the government, who banned the faithful of North Rhine–Westphalia from attending Holy Mass on the holiest day of year, Easter Sunday.