Italian Cardinal Calls for Restoration of Public Masses and Church Funerals

Since the suspension of public Masses, there have been a few clashes between priests and Italian police.

Sea of chairs prepared for mass in Saint Peter's Square.
Sea of chairs prepared for mass in Saint Peter's Square. (photo: Shutterstock)

PERUGIA, Italy — The president of the Italian bishops’ conference has written a letter calling for Sunday Mass to resume in Italy as the country begins to ease coronavirus lockdown restrictions.

“The time has come to resume the celebration of the Sunday Eucharist and church funerals, baptisms and all the other sacraments, naturally following those measures necessary to guarantee security in the presence of more people in public places,” Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti of Perugia wrote in a letter to his diocese April 23. 

Public Masses throughout Italy have been suspended for nearly seven weeks after the Italian government issued a decree March 8 suspending all public religious ceremonies, including funerals. 

Italian Prime Minister Guiseppe Conte said April 21 that the government will release a plan by the end of the week for how Italy will go about slowly lifting coronavirus restrictions and reopening businesses after May 3. This plan could also provide an indication of when public religious gatherings will be able to resume. 

Bishops in Italy have been in talks with the government “to define a path to the access and to the celebration of liturgies for the faithful with less restriction,” according to an April 15 statement from the Italian bishops’ conference.

Since the suspension of public Masses, there have been a few clashes between priests and Italian police. Most recently, a police officer interrupted a Mass in the northern Italian province of Cremona on Divine Mercy Sunday because lay people were in attendance. 

Fr. Lino Viola, 80, was fined $730 for offering Mass with six people in attendance whose relatives had died of the coronavirus, according to the National Catholic Register.

Cardinal Angelo Becciu, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints, responded to a video documenting the incident on Twitter:

“From one priest amazed at what happened to a confrere in the diocese of Cremona, I say: the principle that no authority is allowed to interrupt Mass must be defended. If the celebrant is guilty of some infraction, he should be corrected afterwards, not during!”

Cardinal Bassetti said: “The situation that the world is experiencing puts a strain on every human being and therefore, as a human reality too, the Christian community. The Catholic Church, in particular, is facing an unprecedented situation.” 

The cardinal emphasized in his letter that the suspension of public Masses has been a time when the laity have been called to maturity in their faith. This responsibility of the laity to meditate on the word of God and pray the Liturgy of the Hours in their homes is proper to the priestly dimension of the baptismal call, he said. 

The president of the Italian bishops’ conference said people had responded to this challenge with generosity, inventiveness, and courage. However, he stressed that “looking” at Mass via streaming is not the same as being present at the Mass, “the source and summit of all Christian life.”

“What we are experiencing today is certainly an hour of crisis; ‘Crisis’ in the deep sense of the word, from the Greek ‘judgment’ -- an opportunity, that is, to make a judgment on reality and our life, and to make choices,” Bassetti said.

“In this hour of history, the Lord reveals us for what we really are, for what we really believe,” the cardinal said.

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