23 July 2020, The Tablet

Parish life but not as we know it

Church Reform


The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on parish life throughout the world might be regarded as a vast and unprecedented sociological experiment. How do people react when lifelong patterns of behaviour are disrupted, when work and family habits are broken? When the weekly rhythm of the spiritual life is no longer marked by Sunday Mass attendance at one place at one time, and the sacraments are treated as possible vectors of disease rather than as life-giving moments of thankfulness? Nobody really knows. Nothing quite like this has happened before in the history of the Church.

The experiment not being anything like over, it is premature to draw final conclusions except perhaps to recognise that things are unlikely to ever be the same. The Vatican might have been wiser to delay the publication this week of a document on the reform of parish life. New pastoral needs will take time to emerge, and new shapes and forms will be required to meet them. This is not a moment to prescribe what they should look like. But the document recognises that parish structures should be looser and more flexible, guidance which has never before been so necessary.

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