Do not viralize the Sacraments

“For Christians, familiarity with the Lord is always communitarian,” Pope Francis said during the April 17 morning Mass.

Apr 26, 2020

By Robert Mickens
“For Christians, familiarity with the Lord is always communitarian,” Pope Francis said during the April 17 morning Mass.

He said becoming closer to Christ is obviously something intimate and personal, but it is never outside the context of the entire Christian community.

“A familiarity without community, a familiarity without the bread, a familiarity without the Church, without the people, without the sacraments is dangerous,” he warned.

Francis looked and sounded pretty serious when he said that. And for good reason. There are not many Christians around the world who are able to physically gather as a community right now.

The anti-coronavirus confinement measures have meant that most Catholics have been in a liturgical lockdown for several weeks now. Most significantly, they have not been able to attend Sunday Mass, something long considered to be the litmus test for being a practising Catholic.

So, they are tuning in to Mass on the Internet or on television. And by all accounts, it seems many of them are finding it spiritually nourishing. Who knows if they are following in real-time or “on demand”…

Either way, the Pope is concerned that some of them may be getting the idea that following a virtual Mass (or viral, as he called it) is not really that different from physically attending the Eucharistic celebration in person. Look at the example of the apostles.

“The familiarity the apostles had with the Lord was always communitarian, always at the table, a sign of the community. It was always with the Sacrament, with the bread,” the Pope said.

Some people may say that it is possible to experience this sense of community in a non-physical, spiritual way, just as the Church believes in the communion of saints – of all believers, dead and alive, down the ages.

But Francis doesn’t seem to be talking about that. He is clearly talking about physical presence.

“I say this because someone caused me to reflect on the danger (of) this moment that we are in, this pandemic that has made us all communicate religiously through the media… Even this Mass, we are all communicating, but not together, (only) spiritually together,” he said.

This is the danger of this moment, Francis called it.

There is no doubt that he is growing more and more uncomfortable with online Masses.

“You will get the Eucharist today. But the people who are connected with us (via the media) only get spiritual communion. And this is not the Church: this is the Church of a difficult situation, that the Lord allows, but the ideal of the Church is always with the people and with the Sacraments — always,” he told his tiny congregation in the chapel.

Limiting people to spiritual communion is not the Church.

“The Church, the Sacraments, the People of God are concrete. It is true that at this moment we have to express our familiarity with the Lord in this way, but (only) in order to get out of the tunnel, not to stay there,” Francis continued.

The tunnel, of course, is the coronavirus and the confinement efforts to stop its spread. But the Pope is obviously anxious that not all Catholics see it this way.

We “viralize” something – that is, make it go viral – when we take written words, sounds and images (moving or still), and spread them, over and over again, on digital media.

The Pope seems to be saying that this is not working too well for a Church at prayer, even as it struggles its way through the tunnel called COVID-19.

‘Be careful not to viralize the Church, not to viralize the Sacraments, not to viralize the People of God’. --LCI (

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