Cardinal Robert Sarah

In this March 4, 2013, file photo, Cardinal Robert Sarah, of Guinea, walks in St. Peter's Square after attending a cardinals' meeting at the Vatican. The Vatican said Saturday it was “necessary and urgent” to return to in-person Masses as soon as coronavirus lockdowns permit.

The Vatican said Saturday it was “necessary and urgent” to return to in-person Masses as soon as anti-coronavirus measures permit.

The head of the Vatican’s liturgy office, Cardinal Robert Sarah, said in a letter to bishops conferences that virtual liturgies, while useful, were no replacement for the real thing. He said physical presence by the faithful in churches was “vital, indispensable, irreplaceable.”

While some Catholic priests claimed coronavirus lockdowns that shuttered churches infringed on religious liberties, Pope Francis adhered to Italy’s strict lockdown. He halted all public Masses at the Vatican, live streamed his morning liturgies during the peak of the country’s outbreak, and at one point even admonished priests who balked at the measures for their “adolescent resistance."

The Vatican confirmed Francis had approved Sarah's letter to bishops conferences, which makes clear that government authorities cannot dictate liturgical practices.

Francis had urged the Catholic faithful to obey anti-COVID-19 measures, saying government authorities were responsible for public health. He was seen this week wearing a face mask for the first time and has been using hand sanitizer. In recent weeks he has resumed public gatherings and celebrated a handful of public Masses before limited, socially distanced groups.

Load comments