Being unable to properly celebrate Easter is difficult for a denomination that thrives on collective worshipby Caitlin Farrell / April 10, 2020 / Leave a comment
The Catholic Church, like most institutions, was not prepared for a pandemic. When coronavirus first became a serious concern, many Catholic churches around the world simply replaced the sign of peace handshake during Mass—symbolising respect and community among Catholics—with a nod or bow, and holy water was removed from fonts at the entrance to churches, as it was during the swine flu or SARS epidemics.
However, as government restrictions were enforced—particularly in majority-Catholic countries like Spain, Italy, and Ireland, which have some of the harshest lockdown measures in the world—churches began to close and Catholics became isolated from their communities in the all-important season of Lent and the lead-up to Easter. As a result, the Church has had to find new ways of reaching its members to maintain the feeling of a religious community despite physical restrictions. These have included tweets of scripture passages and livestreamed masses, but for many, these cannot replace a more traditional celebration.
Being unable to properly celebrate Easter feels theologically confusing. In the Catholic faith, Jesus’s birth at Christmas is mirrored by his death for our sins at Easter, completing the cycle of the church’s year and the fasting periods of Lent and Advent, which end in Easter and Christmas respectively. Catholic concepts of forgiveness and repentance—crucial aspects of fasting—focus heavily on rituals and ceremonies such as communion and confession. Being unable to use these during a fasting period means preparation for and celebration of the risen Christ is liturgically complicated and can almost feel like cheating.
However, the liturgical issue of a diminished Easter goes deeper than an incomplete church year, an issue affecting most Christian denominations. The pandemic is proving particularly problematic for Catholics because the Catholic Church, perhaps more so than any other Christian denomination, thrives on collective worship and ritual, unlike some Protestant denominations which prefer a more informal, unstructured form of individual prayer. One of the biggest selling points, if you like, of the Catholic Church is the community structure it offers, which can prove as attractive to devout believers as it is to those who were perhaps raised Catholic but have personal issues with church doctrine. There are services, familiar prayers, and feast days for almost all possible eventualities: grief, love, guilt.