Pandemic Shows Us Future Church: Vatican Synod Secretary

Oct 18, 2020 | 3 comments

Bishop Mario Grech, new Secretary General of Bishops’ Synod


In the hospitals and homes of a global family now fighting the coronavirus and praying together we are seeing God’s most important Cathedral of today and the missionary church of the future.

So insists Pope Francis’s recently appointed secretary general to the Synod of Catholic bishops, Maltese Bishop Mario Grech in a comprehensive interview published by La Civilta Cattolica (Oct 16th, 2020)

Strongly criticising the view that the life of the church has been ‘interrupted’ by the pandemic’s impact upon worship in church, Bishop Grech declared:

“I find it curious that many people have complained about not being able to receive communion and celebrate funerals in church, but not as many have worried about how to reconcile with God and neighbour, how to listen to and celebrate the Word of God and how to live out a life of service…”

“One cannot really meet Jesus without committing oneself to His Word. Concerning service, here’s a thought: Didn’t those doctors and nurses who risked their lives to stay close to the sick transform the hospital wards into other “cathedrals”? Service to others in their daily work, plagued by the demands of the health emergency was for Christians an effective way of expressing their faith, of reflecting a Church present in today’s world, and no longer a “sacristy Church,” withdrawn from the streets, or content to project the sacristy into the street.”

Bishop Grech insists that a new ecclesiology (understanding of ‘church’) is emerging in front of us – and must not be forgotten.

“It will be suicide if, after the pandemic, we return to the same pastoral models that we have practised until now. We spend enormous energy trying to convert secular society, but it is more important to convert ourselves to achieve the pastoral conversion of which Pope Francis often speaks.”

The Bishop went on to point to another consequence of the pandemic – how many families have become “creative in love”:

“This has included the way parents accompanied their youngsters in forms of home-schooling, the help offered to the elderly, combating loneliness, to the creation of spaces for prayer, and being available to the poorest.

This “suggests that the future of the Church lies here, namely, in rehabilitating the domestic Church and giving it more space, a Church-family consisting of a number of families-Church…If the domestic Church fails, the Church cannot exist. …The domestic Church is the key that opens horizons of hope!”

Acknowledging that in the past church references to the ‘domestic church’ were often simply ‘rhetoric’ Bishop Grech insisted that “the “domestic Church” must be oriented toward emerging from the home; therefore it must also be put in a position to assume its social and political responsibilities. As Pope Francis pointed out, God “has entrusted to the family not the responsibility for intimacy as an end in itself, but the exciting project of making the world ‘domestic.’”

“It is not the family that is subsidiary to the Church, but it is the Church that should be subsidiary to the family.”

Refuting any attempt to portray this vision of the future church as a departure from church teaching on the importance of the Eucharist, Bishop Grech insisted:

“It is undeniable that the Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life … but the Eucharist is not the only possibility that the Christian has to experience the mystery and to meet the Lord Jesus. Paul VI observed this well when he wrote that in the Eucharist “the presence of Christ is ‘real’ not by exclusion, as if the others were not ‘real.’”

In a reflection on the historical circumstances that gave rise to the diminishment of baptism and the common priesthood of all Christians, Bishop Grech closely echoed ACI’s own submissions to the Irish Bishops Conference in 2019:

Theology and the value of pastoral care in the family seen  as domestic Church took a negative turn in the fourth century, when the sacralization of priests and bishops took place, to the detriment of the common priesthood of baptism, which was beginning to lose its value. The more the institutionalisation of the Church advanced, the more the nature and charism of the family as a domestic Church diminished.”

For the complete interview with Bishop Mario Grech in Civilta Cattolica, click here.



    In writing “the Eucharist is not the only possibility that the Christian has to experience the mystery and to meet the Lord Jesus” it’s a great pity that Bishop Mario Grech didn’t make it much clearer, although it is implied, and say that we cannot help but meet the Lord Jesus throughout our whole lives as He dwells eternally and intimately within each of us and in creation all around. That is not just ‘a possibility’ but a living reality which is always there.

    Why are Catholic priests and other members of the Catholic hierarchy so reluctant to keep reminding the laity that from the moment of their conception God has resided intimately within them and the point of Eucharist and daily, prayerful reading of the Bible is to strengthen our awareness of that reality and to strengthen and guide our active response to it, not to bring it about because it wasn’t there beforehand.

    However, I’m delighted with the rest of what Bishop Mario Grech has written and with his stress on the importance of our faith in Jesus the Christ finding practical expression in our daily lives.

    • soconaill

      What a great observation that is, Aidan. Bishop Grech probably does ‘know’ what you have so well expressed – but maybe this illustrates that we can know something and forget it at the same time.

      Given the ongoing campaign in the Irish Catholic and elsewhere to pressurise Irish bishops into speaking out against the current restrictions on church services your remark is most timely also. I suppose we can forget things too when it is our own indispensability we wish to emphasise – as likely an issue for the editor of the Irish Catholic as it is for clergy just now?

      • AIDAN HART

        Sean, your point about supposed indispensability is well made and strongly reflected in the Act of Spiritual Communion reiterated at all Irish and UK streamed Masses. It is awful theology and deeply unbiblical in saying “…come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace You as if You were already there.” There is no “as if”; God is already there and has been from the moment of our conception and will be until we draw our last breath and join Him in paradise! ‘Soul’ is really just another word for the presence of God within us. Everything that lives and exists does so because God is present within them. Existence is the very presence of God.

        “God made all things to this end, to (enjoy the same union) of humanity and divinity that was united in Christ.” (St. Maximus the Confessor’ 580 – 662)

        That prayer of Spiritual Communion of St. Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787 and founder of the Redemptorist Order) shows the danger of uncritically lifting a prayer from an earlier time and earlier development of both theology and of our understanding of Sacred Scripture and using it today.

        Here are just a few of the myriad verses in the Bible that refer to the abiding presence of God within us and among us.

        Matthew 28:20 “And behold, I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.”

        1Cor 3:16; “Do you not realise that you are a temple of God, with the Spirit of God living in you?”

        Galatians 2:20; “And yet I am alive; yet it is no longer I, but Christ living in me.”

        1 John 4:16; “whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him.”

        Revelation 21:3; “Look, God lives among human beings.”

        Joshua 1:9; “ go where you may, Yahweh your God is with you.”


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