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Preparing for a post-COVID Church

Ten ways parishes can bolster evangelization efforts, starting now.

Father Juan Ochoa, administrator of Christ the King Church near Hancock Park, Calif., processes during the opening Mass Nov. 22, 2020, on the solemnity of his parish's namesake. (CNS photo/Victor Aleman, Angelus News)

How should the Catholic Church in the United States prepare to carry-out her mission in a “post-COVID” world?

As the now-infamous year 2020 has ended, and the world eagerly awaits the benefits of recently approved COVID vaccines, American Catholics should mobilize for a new wave of evangelization. There is no reason to wait until anti-COVID restrictions are lifted before deciding how best to share Christ with an ever-more wounded and distant world.

To be clear, by “post-COVID” I am referring to the situation after the COVID-19 pandemic is brought under control and is no longer a dominating feature of people’s lives. That descriptive does not refer to “going back to normal,” as such a shift seems far-fetched at this time.

The COVID crisis has worsened the estrangement of civil society from the Church, of many Catholics from the practice of the Faith, and of family members, friends, neighbors, and co-workers from each other. The increasing distances between individuals and groups was a poison of the human heart long before COVID. But the current pandemic has quickly made matters much worse.

The Catholic Church is the instrument of unity par excellence in God’s relations with mankind. Christ established his Church to draw all peoples into communion with the Holy Trinity. The Church’s mission of unity is especially true of the Holy Eucharist. The Mass is the sacramental representation of the Sacrifice by which the entire world is saved. In Holy Communion, Christ feeds his people with his own Body and Blood, drawing them into transforming intimacy with himself and union with each other.

It is a bitter irony that the COVID crisis has had a most deleterious effect on participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. And so fidelity to the Eucharist is the first priority among the following ten ways the Church can intensify her evangelizing efforts, beginning today:

1). Renew the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. Clergy and lay ministers frequently discuss the effects of various COVID-induced practices, including those pertaining to the Mass. Should public Masses be cancelled? Should the faithful be dispensed from their obligation to attend Mass on the Lord’s Day? How elaborate and rigid must our safety protocols be before, during, and after Mass? How many people will return to Mass when this crisis is over?

While each of these questions merits attention, dioceses and parishes must not ignore the opportunity this time offers to review and renew everything about the celebration of the Mass. Are priests following the Roman Missal? In its entirety? Is the sacred music truly sacred? Could minor ministers—sacristans, altar servers, lectors, cantors, and extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion—benefit from additional training and formation? Is the church’s sound system adequate? Is the church clean and the sacred art and decoration all that it can be? Are ushers and greeters well-trained and hospitable? Is everything done in and for Holy Mass truly aimed at giving glory to God and saving His people?

2). Renew people’s appreciation of the Mass. The Church has a prime opportunity to share the Good News of the Eucharist with her own members and the world. This time of spiritual “fasting” from normal Catholic sacramental life can be a time of increased hunger for and love of the Mass. But that hunger and love need encouragement. Witness to the power of the Holy Sacrifice and catechesis about the riches of the Mass would do much to promote Eucharistic piety.

3). Assemble and share information about online resources. Catholics today are living through a renaissance of digital evangelization. There are more resources, more readily available, than at any time in the history of the Church. But millions of Catholics are still under-informed about the existence of these resources, and need help distinguishing between good and unhelpful resources, so that they can make the best use possible of their time online.

4). Make strategic use of video conferencing technology. Complaints about video conferencing are ubiquitous today, as people are growing tired of doing online what would normally be done face-to-face. Nevertheless, incredible strides have been made both in the development of video conferencing technology and effective use of this technology. There are surely a great number of ways the Church can leverage these gains for future evangelization and discipleship formation.

5). Become tech-savvy, not tech-dependent. Catholics need to distinguish not only between helpful and harmful digital content, but also between Church activities that translate to the digital world well or poorly. Live-Streaming, for example, is a helpful devotional tool for those who cannot attend Mass or other liturgies, but it is not a substitute for in-person liturgical participation. Catechesis would likely benefit from a mixed approach including both in-person and online teaching. In each area of the Church’s life, discernment is needed to decide what activities are enhanced by technology and what is impaired by over-reliance on technology.

6). Find ways to connect with those most isolated. The COVID crisis has highlighted the urgency of reaching out to the homebound, the homeless, and those who live in institutions of various kinds. Christ commands His disciples to share the Gospel with all people, in today’s world special attention must be paid to those who cannot come to church. Our parishes and other apostolates must bring Christ to them.

7). Preach faith, hope, and love at a time of doubt, despair, and bitter anger. The time is long past for the Church to emphasize ministry to those suffering from mental illness, addiction, or isolation from the church community. The Gospel is truly “good news” for all people, no matter what their situation in life. Catholics need to be industrious, creative, and self-sacrificing in bringing the love of Christ to those who are most in need of His tenderness, love, and mercy. Mental illness and suicides have spiked during this pandemic, and it is time for clergy and laity alike to respond in a variety of ways to meet the needs of those who are desperate for genuine love and help.

8). Open churches for prayer. People need to pray. The Church preaches the need for prayer, but all-too-often our churches are closed to those who wish to pray. There are practical challenges to be overcome, no doubt, but a little ingenuity and sacrifice would undoubtedly yield much good fruit. The goal should be to keep churches open as much as possible, to let people know they are open, and to make sure that people can rely upon churches to be open consistently and as-advertised. People will not make the effort to stop into church if they are not confident they will find it open for prayer.

9). Offer confessions as often as possible! Put simply, mortal sin is a terrible bottleneck to grace in a time when so few confessions are offered. There are many, many demands made of priests today, but there are also few opportunities for evangelization as privileged as hearing confessions. The “narrow way” to which Our Lord refers, the way that leads to salvation, the way taken by few and avoided by many, is very often the doorway into the confessional.

10). In all things, bring order out of chaos. Jesus Christ is the answer to which every human life is the question. In these chaotic times, people long for truth, order, stability, meaning, and direction. The Church offers the exact antidote to all that poisons the human spirit today. Catholics should be confident that when they preach Jesus Christ and him crucified, when they share the truths of the Faith and the way of life given by Christ and imitated by Our Lady and all the saints, they are sharing precisely what every person needs in order to find salvation and eternal life. Catholics do not sell their own opinions in the marketplace of human ideas. They share the gift of deliverance from sin and death unto eternal life with God. They share a pattern of life and society that hastens the building-up of God’s Kingdom on earth. The Church is a home for all people, and the only sure vessel by which all people can find their way to that eternal home Christ has prepared for those who believe in him and love him.


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About Fr. Charles Fox 65 Articles
Rev. Charles Fox is an assistant professor of theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Detroit. He holds an S.T.D. in dogmatic theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum), Rome. He is also chaplain and a board member of St. Paul Evangelization Institute, headquartered in Warren, MI.

23 Comments

  1. 11) Adopt the burqa, or at least a “face covering,” as a permanent garment, most especially for the women. This should make evangelizing Muslims much easier.

      • I take it you have trouble with sarcasm and irony.
        .
        But the simple fact is, our bishops and priests generally require face masks to attend Mass, Divine Liturgy, Adoration, schools, etc. And when they do not, other parishioners tend demand it.
        .
        Masks are our parish is not well enforced (parishioners strictly enforce masks and S.D. at our sister parish, however) but I have observed women wear masks more than the men and boys.
        .
        Female Tridentine Mass goers tend to wear a veil or chapel cap. N.O. Mass going females tend to wear masks. A Burqa would combine the two. (I rather doubt any Muslim would be converted.)
        .
        Honestly, I fear this is coming down the pike.

    • While my first comment in regard to making us , especially women, to wear a burqa while going to Mass or while in church deemed to be offensive to you may I say I find it offensive that you would disregard my “ feelings” as not wanting to conform to another’s religions practice. Keep it up and more people will leave the church. People are getting fed up with ALL this nonsense. God knew the day of my birth and He knows the day of my death. I bet it will not be from COVID.

    • Since when does the church have to wait on government policy. If our churches do that you can bet the doors of all churches will be forever closed. The best thing our churches could do is renounce their government tax deductions and go about doing what God intended them to do. Lead the sheep to saving of souls.

  2. 1. We have a President who purports to be Catholic yet supports unrestricted abortion by rationalizing it between his private and public beliefs, and vows to codify it into law.

    2. We have Catholics who voted for him and do not see or believe in the evil he is propagating, largely because of poor catechesis. The average Catholic has a Third Grade understanding of the Faith, including the President.

    3. We have confused Catholic Bishops as a group who can’t even agree on whether or not abortion is the preeminent issue of our time, and who are unwilling to hold the president accountable for his persistent belief in abortion and infanticide, and the scandal he commits in receiving the Eucharist.

    4. We have a Pope who leads by pastoral feelings and whose mixed messages have created immense confusion among faithful Catholics worldwide.

    5. We had a recent Supreme Court decision overturning California’s mandate to close all churches during the pandemic and not a single Catholic Bishop was involved in the lawsuit.

    6. Over the course of 2,000 years, many people, including priests and bishops were martyred for the Faith, yet not a single one was arrested or went to jail for refusing to close his church.

    7. IF the Eucharist is what Jesus said it is and what we, as Catholics proclaim it is, then we should make some effort to act like it.

    8. Once we figure out numbers 1-7, we can start working on the post-COVID Church.

    • I totally agree. The Catholic Church is so very much divided in the eyes of the world that even devout Catholics are confused. Covid is just an excuse to stay away from the sacraments. Evil is smiling

    • Brilliantly incisive comment, Ishpeming. The article itself I find turgid and anodyne. I thought the 10 steps the author recommends would have been utterly “standard operating procedure” whether there was a pandemic or not.

    • All excellent points.

      our bishop here is SC still allows anyone to just skip mass (” watch the livestream”) just because they are SCARED of the virus…not just those in poor health but anyone. for example, one person i know is a nurse in hospital works 40+ hours a week, child in school full time, goes out to restaurants, weddings, trips, visits fiends but is too “scared” to go to church (our church you are not allowed in unless with a mask–no exceptions–SD , etc)—and likes to point out to me that the bishop allows this so it is fine. I thought God and Worship of God was suppose to come first in our lives…before anything including fear of being sick . I thought Christ died so that we would no longer be slaves to the fear of death (Hebrews 2:15)—i am so over the cowardliness of our clerics! Why didn’t ALL the bishops protest (through processions/rosary etc) churches being closed and all the other restrictions by govt in our nation! why were we not unified and supporting lawsuits about that? instead , they hid in their basement and let anyone but themselves deal with it with a few exceptions. I feel betrayed by the leaders of my church.

      • Hi RLAP. The feeling of betrayal is very real & deep. Today I think the Lord has been showing me (again) that He wants me to face with Him ways that I feel and to let Him love me in it. It can be hard at times. I can put too much weight in what the Church hierarchy & priests can say and give too much attention to things that have hurt me rather than to God’s words of truth & receiving His love. I need to always listen to the Good Shepherd’s voice. Not everything a priest or Bishop says or does is infallible or the way God would have wanted something to be said or done to someone. Hearing words from Church leaders that show regret for choices made and that speak to how God had wanted & desired to come to the faithful in Holy Communion would probably be helpful with the healing, though that may or may not be something I end up hearing officially from the Church and need to continue to grow in unshakable confidence & trust in God’s love. Perhaps that’s a lifelong process. There have also been various ways where I have needed to speak up after being allowed to return to Mass (i.e. such as the disturbing “litany” of health precautions that were being read out loud at Mass before that brief sacred moment of receiving God in the Eucharist – that “litany” thankfully ended up stopping) and was also hearing language that seemed to equate making a spiritual communion with receiving the Eucharist physically (which is apparently a heresy). Most Bishops & priests probably had good intentions with things they’ve said/done and hopefully will come to a place of realization (if they haven’t already) to not repeat various things ever again in the future. Perhaps the situation has also been an opportunity for them to grow in faith & trust as well as us. Lastly, I know of young families who have not returned to Mass yet. Unfortunately, the overall message they received from people in the Church may not have been one conducive to encouraging them to return to Mass or to believing in God’s Real Presence in the Eucharist, the healing power of the Eucharist, or God’s desire to unite Himself with them. Hopefully all of us will be freed more and more from different fears and come to the Lord with hearts open wide to receive His love and to receive Him physically in the Eucharist.

  3. Do like my parish has done: after 3 weeks last April we had parking lot Masses and live stream, then into the church proper in May with 5 days of full adoration, 2 daily Masses with confessions and the normal weekend Mass schedule. Never registered, limited, or counted nor do we have to wear the mask of subjugation. While some people are too afraid to come to Mass, there is still one parking lot Mass and live stream. We are (packed) into every other pew as a nod to ‘social distancing’. No outbreaks, no one sick.

    • Amazing! I like how the Catholic president of Tanzania back in March had apparently actually encouraged people to go to church & to seek refuge in God & healing, and in reference to the Eucharist said these encouraging words, “The coronavirus cannot survive in the Eucharistic Body of Christ. It will soon be burnt away. That is exactly why I did not panic when receiving Holy Communion because I knew that with Jesus in the Eucharist, I am safe. This is the time for building our faith in God.”. My parish is trying to have social distancing between people or families during Mass, but there are two Masses occurring at the same time for three of the Sunday Masses (so that when the church becomes “full”, people could go into the other location for Mass), there are three daily Masses Monday through Friday and two Saturday morning, and we are allowed to receive the Eucharist kneeling at the altar rail.

  4. I’ll take up Fr. Fox’s #3 challenge – Assemble and share information about online resources. My personal favourite is The Catholic Thing. Others are Catholic Culture, Fr. Longenecker’s blog and National Catholic Register. Newly-launched is The Pillar, with J.D.Flynn and Ed Condon, formerly of Catholic News Agency. Terry Matterly’s “get religion” is an excellent analysis of the media’s coverage (or non-) of religion. Babylon Bee (religion and politics in one spot) is always good for a laugh. Oh, and CWR, of course.

  5. I’m afraid I have to disagree with the the basic premise of this article. The Corona Virus narrative (to use a polite phrase) has been deliberately spun to crush the West. Unfortunately the Catholic Church has just rolled over. Masks definitely will not protect the wearer from a deadly virus. The Corona narrative is pushed by the UN, WHO, China, and left wing politicians. Exactly the same as abortion. Society is being crushed and our children sacrificed. Shame on the cowardly church for not making a stand for them. Come Holy Spirit and fill the hearts of your faithful. Jim O’Donnell. Ireland

  6. I found these two articles by Monsignor Pope helpful: https://www.ncregister.com/blog/9-ways AND https://www.ncregister.com/blog/msgr-pope/be-not-afraid He never refused Holy Communion to anyone who asked during this time of Covid & he also provides good recommendations.

    Although well intentioned, there were unfortunately many who said things in the Church which came across as “minimizing” the importance of the Eucharist, encouraged fear of the Eucharist (Jesus said He is the Bread of Life not a vector of contagion), and also many faithful felt as if the Church (& also perhaps God) were not there for them in a time of need. The Eucharist is SOOOO important and for those who really love the Eucharist & depend on Him, being deprived of receiving the Eucharist (& during a time of great difficulty) was a major suffering for many and perhaps a share in the Lord’s suffering who desired to give Himself to each one of the faithful. It was also perhaps a share in how the Lord was rejected. There were many who were also not even allowed to pray before the Blessed Sacrament, the Divine Physician. Personally, I sensed in Eucharistic Adoration (how important this is!) that God wanted me to have NO fear to receive Him as I had in the Eucharist pre-Covid. (And God does not want me to “social distance” with Him physically!) Many are in need of healing. In addition to forgiveness, a part of healing of memories from a wound (i.e. the deep wound of being barred from receiving the Eucharist/God by the Church) can include validation (to be told that what happened was wrong), empathy, emotional release, to know everything works out okay later, to confront lies (i.e. guilt, fear, damaged goods). Hopefully Church leaders can help with the healing of wounds (i.e. not speak as if barring the faithful from the Eucharist was a good thing & show empathy for what many people suffered), speak to how God wants the faithful to receive Him & how He loves them & is always there for them (i.e. speak truth to lies that God didn’t want them/that God didn’t want them to receive Him), speak to how God cares about them emotionally/mentally/spiritually in addition to physically, and hopefully put something in place where public Masses won’t be suspended in the future or at least if all of the faithful are not allowed inside of the church during Mass, where the faithful could still receive Jesus in Holy Communion another way as well as spend time before Him in the Eucharist. (The Sunday before public Masses were unfortunately suspended, my parish had already put something into place that was “safer” – there were MORE Masses so that less people could be at each one, like in Poland. Those who attend daily Mass can be naturally socially distanced more anyway!!!!!) There is a HUGE difference (& there can be a huge difference “felt”) between saying that a person is not required to go to Mass during a particular time such as Covid vs. preventing/barring/excluding people from going or from receiving the Eucharist. There is also a HUGE difference between trying to keep space between people in church and teaching that receiving the Eucharist/the Bread of Life can cause people to catch Covid rather than God’s healing & love. I am sharing from the perspective of one who loves the Eucharist, suffered from the Eucharistic deprivation, who has spoken with others who have also suffered, who God wants to have NO FEAR during that sacred moment of receiving Him, and who has heard harmful (but well intentioned) things said by shepherds in the Church during this time of Covid. Thank you for listening. God loves & came for each of us personally. Bye! 🙂

    • Dear A. M. Thank you for your post. I have already shared one of your links. Go raibh míle maith agat, Jim O’Donnell, Ireland

  7. IMHO, this is a good list of starters. I would add at least one church with 24 hour Adoration in every town/city. And take a page from our Mormon brothers and sisters–despite our differences, I have to admit that they do fellowship and community uncommonly well. It would be great for our parishes to help us connect and bond together as a real church family, not just words about it.

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