Pandemic distancing may change public prayer forever

27 May 2021
Deacon Thong Nguyen is seen on a television reading the Gospel during Mass at Our Lady, Queen of Peace Parish, Greystanes. Image: Diocese of Parramatta


As congregations return to gathering for prayer after the COVID-19 lockdowns of last year, priests and lay leaders are being urged to use the opportunity to renew the role of liturgy in congregational life.

Those responsible for preparing and celebrating liturgy should be asking not “Will they come back?” but instead “What are we inviting them back to?” Msgr Professor Kevin W. Irwin of The Catholic University of America (Washington, DC) said at a recent online lecture at Australian Catholic University (ACU).

Monsignor Irwin’s lecture was based on his recently published book on liturgy in light of the pandemic, entitled Liturgy and Sacraments in a COVID World: Renewal not Restoration. 

The book argues that the streaming of online services during COVID shutdowns has revealed problems with liturgical practice as it has developed in the decades since Vatican II, including the streamlining of liturgy for expediency, the discarding of additional readings, and the sloppy application of norms, betraying a basic lack of understanding of the meaning of the liturgy.

“It is not a question of returning to ‘business as usual before COVID’ but what to be aware of in order to do nothing less than renew the liturgy as an essential building block in the renewal of the Church,” he said, in the ACU lecture.

Msgr Irwin said the lessons learned through the experience of virtual worship during the pandemic could provide guidance as to what live in-person liturgy might look like after the pandemic.

Assistant Director of the ACU Centre for Liturgy Dr Jason McFarland said the lecture provided the opportunity to consider what has been learned so far from the pandemic, what public worship might look like in the months and years ahead, and what the ramifications and possibilities might be for the ongoing renewal of the liturgy called for by the Second Vatican Council.

“The broader renewal of the Church envisioned and demanded by the Second Vatican Council has at its heart the renewal of the Church’s liturgy—pre-eminently the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist.

“Perhaps, soon we will all be so tired of Zoom that returning to Sunday Mass will be a joyous relief. Riffing on what King George III sings in Hamilton, let us pray ‘We’ll be back!’ with renewed enthusiasm for liturgy, for the community bonds that enable our corporate prayer, and for perseverance to push forward the liturgical renewal of the Second Vatican Council—almost 60 years ago now, but still just beginning,” he said.

Nearly 200 people registered for the lecture from around the world, including Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Canada, Fiji and Timor-Leste and responses to the lecture were enthusiastic.  Erica Marshall of Golden Beach QLD wrote to say, “I found Kevin’s presentation brilliant, insightful and so relevant.” Liturgy scholar Dr Jennifer Wakeling of Redcliffe QLD wrote in thanks, saying the lecture was “very enlightening and enjoyable.”

With thanks to ACU.


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