Lockdown is back, and while some parishes have taken quickly and easily to livestreamed Masses to maintain the sense of parish community, experiences from earlier this year suggest that the Church faces some difficult challenges in the weeks ahead
The parishes that had been preparing special Remembrance Day and postponed First Holy Communion services this weekend have had to change their plans. Parishioners will now only be able to join them virtually. Under the measures announced by the prime minister, acts of collective worship, except for funeral ceremonies, are no longer permitted.
Although churches had been allowed to reopen for public worship in July, back-to-pew sentiment has lagged. Every group, every parishioner, and every priest has responded in their own way to the Covid-19 pandemic. Some Zoomed, telephoned, or found spiritual nourishment in alternative ways, while others drifted away from the Church. An imaginative buffet of liturgical services and initiatives was offered, but not all Catholics were willing or able to approach the table.
What emerges from conversations I have had with parishioners, groups and laypeople is that there has been a sort of lottery of access to digital spirituality. A survey published in September showed a wide variety of experiences of lockdown among Catholics, and a wide disparity of responses to what was offered online. Some 93 per cent of Catholics with internet access used a form of online worship while churches were closed, though only half did so in their own parishes. Some accessed other local services and others went further afield – even to different Christian denominations. Some parishes took quickly and easily to livestreaming Masses and using social media to maintain the sense of parish community; others struggled, or gave up.