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'Are there any good Catholics in this time of coronavirus?'
Italian-born Dominican theologian believes the coronavirus pandemic can lead society and the Church back to the basics
I feel close to the cry from outside the Church in the face of its cowardice. Of course, there's a cry from the inside, too. But it seems to me that it's being raised hesitantly when it should be extremely strong.
Last year, I remember perfectly well that I had imagined a very special Lenten fast. It was almost a dream or pure fantasy. And was inspired by the words of the 14th century Italian poet, Cecco Angiolieri.
"S'i' fosse papa, sere' allor giocondo," he wrote. Roughly, "If I were pope, I'd be jovial."
Mass is cancelled!
I told myself that if I were pope, I would cancel the liturgical celebrations of Easter and all liturgy for the entire year.
I had some doubts about whether that would be valid. But I thought a total suspension of the liturgy would be a kind of internal challenge. The clergy would have to inflict this fast on itself as a sign of expiation - something that has indeed been forgotten.
Admittedly, the lay faithful would have found the measure a bit too burdensome, as in this moment of coronavirus. But, in fact, the step would have been — and is — purifying.
We have too easily forgotten that not just any liturgy rises up to the absolute character of Christianity. "Do this in memory of me" may not mean to "be pure imitators". But from repetition, an absolute has been made.
More often than we think, we don't know what else to do if we don't do Mass, liturgy, adoration or catechism. In this Christianity of "doing" things, are we not materialists of the interior life? We mock those who got the idea that grace could be bought by the kilo.
Thank you, people say, but that really doesn't interest me. I'd rather go to the cinema, to dance and God knows what else.
The measure of being a good Catholic
We have lost some of our people by making them believe you must go to Mass to be a good Catholic. But is that true?
And now that coronavirus has led to a suspension of Mass, does it mean there are no more good Catholics, strictly speaking?
Oh, yes, I forgot that the Church can issue a dispensation from liturgy for valid reasons.
So why wasn't this shouted from the rooftops in the of case of clergy sexual abuse of minors? Isn't that a more serious scourge -- from a social, not a health point of view -- than what we are experiencing now?
Perhaps a thousandth of a millimeter — as measured by the coronavirus — will help to stop this "divine theater", as French historian Philippe Martin defined it in his 2010 book on the history of the Mass.
Mass must reflect the way we live
We fear for our health, and for good reason! But we did not fear for the health/safety of those who were abused. The Eucharist has meaning only if it is an expression of how we live from day to day.
Doctors, nurses and orderlies are "celebrating" Masses. And so are the sick. Quite frankly, priests can refrain from doing so, if necessary.
An Italian friend who was commenting on the "Canticle of the Sun" -- which is Laudato Si' in Italian (also the title of the papal encyclical on ecology) -- pointed out to me that the coronavirus is our sibling, just as St. Francis of Assisi called death our sister.
I'm being very harsh here on purpose, because the virus will hold the Church accountable for its gentrified, ceremonial and laboratory theologies. And it will hold accountable other theologies -- also Christian -- that go to the heart of existence.
Whether we like it or not, the virus will bring us back to the essentials, not only in civil and political society, as we say.
But also in the Church, which is all too often trapped in rigid methods and theological-liturgical doctrines that speak only to a narrow section of the world.
Alberto Fabio Ambrosio (b. 1971) is an Italian-born Dominican friar who specializes in Ottoman Sufism. He teaches theology and history of religions at the Luxembourg School of Religion & Society (Luxembourg) and is a visiting professor at the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies (PISAI) in Rome.