After Virginia’s governor appeared to suggest that church attendance is immaterial to the act of worship, one theologian says that Catholics see worship differently.
On Thursday, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) asked religious leaders to consider holding liturgies outdoors or virtually during the Christmas season, as he announced new restrictions on public gatherings to control the spread of the coronavirus.
“The holidays are typically times of joy and community. We gather together, we celebrate our faith, and we celebrate with family,” Northam said. “But this year, we need to think about what is truly the most important thing. Is it the worship, or the building?”
“To me, God is wherever you are. You don’t have to sit in the church pew for God to hear your prayers,” said the governor.
Northam, who has no formal theological education or training, added that “worship online is still worship.”
“So I strongly call on our faith leaders to lead the way and set an example for their members. Worship with a mask on is still worship. Worship outside or worship online is still worship,” he said.
Dr. Timothy O’Malley, director of education at the McGrath Institute for Church Life and academic director of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy, told CNA on Friday that for Catholics to stay home out of caution during the pandemic might be laudable or necessary, but it is incorrect to say personal prayer, or even watching Mass online, can like-for-like replace attending a Mass in-person.
“You can’t just watch Mass and get the same thing out of attending the Mass,” he said. “The Eucharist alone makes that impossible, to receive the Body and Blood of Christ on Christmas is a gift. It requires presence.”
“In-person worship matters,” O’Malley said, and if Catholics are unable to attend Mass, they should consider the possibility to “worship together in smaller communities,” including as individual families in the home.
“For Catholics, matter matters,” he explained. “And that means the Church building is not just a container for human activity. It is a sacramental sign of the mystery being celebrated, the union of heaven and earth, the embodied memory of what Christ has accomplished on the cross.”
But, O’Malley said regarding Northam’s suggestions for outdoor liturgies, Catholic priests have historically offered Mass outdoors and, given the spread of the virus indoors, it might be a smart move for Christmas Mass.
Read more at Catholic News Agency