The coronavirus pandemic restrictions have meant that Catholics are no longer taking the liturgical and sacramental life of the Church for granted.
But when that liturgical life returns, what might be different? What lessons might have been learned — by both priests and the faithful — during the pandemic restrictions? I suggest seven, though there are surely more.
1. Masses for Various Needs and Occasions
The Holy See provided a special Mass for the pandemic — proper prayers and readings suitable for this time. Many priests have used this Mass “formulary” in recent days and found it comforting to all who are able to follow the Mass, live or remotely.
The “pandemic” Mass is a good reminder that the Church has more than 50 Mass formularies in the Roman Missal for “Various Needs and Occasions.” They are not, strictly speaking, “votive” Masses, which are celebrated in honor of the Lord or the saints.
The list is comprehensive: “for the Church”; “for the priest on his anniversary”; “for chastity”; “for charity”; “for the grace of a happy death”; “in time of earthquake”; “for an end to storms”; “for the head of state or ruler.”
When news arrives of some atrocity against Christians, I sometimes offer the Mass “for our oppressors.” These Masses, rarely offered in most parishes, can be celebrated on any day without an obligatory Mass assigned. And in case there doesn’t seem to be exactly what is desired, there is a Mass “for giving thanks to God” and the even more broadly applicable Mass “in any need.”
This treasury of prayers, perhaps unlocked for many by the special pandemic Mass, should remain open.
2. A Complete Easter Vigil
One bad habit is cutting things out from the liturgy to save time. It is not a liturgical abuse, because it is permitted. I am guilty, as are many others. This year, for the first time, I celebrated the Easter vigil without the usual congregation, and all seven Old Testament readings were proclaimed, plus the Epistle from St. Paul and the Gospel. I have not done that before, usually opting for only three readings from the Old Testament.
Why? To save time, I suppose, though it is unlikely that anyone present ever had other appointments on Holy Saturday night at 9pm. On the holiest of all nights, why cut short the long sweep of salvation history, narrated in the readings for the Easter vigil?
I know of many priests who, given that it was absurd to argue that “pastoral necessity” mandated a shorter vigil when there was no congregation, did the full seven readings for the first time. Many of us, I expect, will maintain a “full” vigil next year with the congregation present.
Abuses should never be tolerated. But bad habits, too, need to be rooted out.
It should be noted that there is a special Vigil of Pentecost with its own set of Old Testament readings; the extended vigil in the Missal has seven. If the restrictions are lifted in time, would it not be wonderful to invite people to come to a full Vigil of Pentecost? After weeks of having no Mass, who would begrudge a little extra time in church to hear about the workings of the Spirit in salvation history?