UTRECHT, Netherlands (ChurchMilitant.com) - A Dutch cardinal is chastising parishes in his archdiocese for shutting out worshippers from Holy Mass.
Cardinal Willem Eijk, the most senior Dutch cleric in active ministry, instructed all parishes in the Utrecht archdiocese to open for worship. However, six parishes in his archdiocese kept the doors shut earlier this month — despite guidelines from the Dutch bishops' conference and the Dutch government allowing for gatherings of up to 50 people.
In a Jan. 7 letter, the cardinal instructed priests, deacons and pastoral councils to open their churches for worship "in the shortest possible time," specifying it must be no later than Sunday, Jan. 16. He acknowledged the angry reaction of many parishioners on being denied access to Holy Mass and the Eucharist.
"More than once, it has become apparent how important it is that believers should attend liturgical celebrations, in particular the Holy Eucharist, which — after all — is essential food for the salvation of souls," he urged. "No matter how beautiful and neat livestreaming is, it does not replace hearing God's Word and receiving Holy Communion."
The prelate warned that banning worshippers poses harmful consequences for "our church life, now and in the future."
He said when believers are not offered the opportunity to enter their parish for a long time or physically attend the liturgy, this undermines the life of the Church — perhaps irretrievably. Observing the concerns surrounding COVID-19 are likely to "last for years," Cdl. Eijk advised Catholics to follow the protocols provided by the Dutch bishops' conference.
In Eijk's letter, the cardinal thanked "all who have made Church life possible in the past year" for following COVID protocols as a way "to radiate unity and clarity."
The Dutch weekly newspaper Katholiek Nieuwsblad reported that one of the parishes banning worshippers is St. Martin Parish in Zeist. The pastor of the parish, Fr. Johan Rutgers, justified his decision as the "wise" thing to do:
In doing so, heart and mind were on opposite ends of a scale. The heart said, 'we must stay open.' That is also what the bishops told us. On the other hand, everything closed except for essential shops. As a parish, we decided it was our responsibility to bring together as few parishioners as possible. The motivation was protection. Whether this was a good decision or not can only be judged in retrospect.
Rutgers added: "We were planning to open next weekend anyway" — a reference to the government's new pronouncements scheduled for Jan. 14.
Cardinal Eijk is known for his theological orthodoxy. In 2018, for example, he criticized the initiative of German bishops to allow intercommunion with Protestants, along with Pope Francis' failure to give clarity on the matter.
Eijk said, "Observing that the bishops and, above all, the successor of Peter fail to maintain and transmit faithfully and in unity the Deposit of Faith contained in Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, I cannot help but think of article 675 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church."
That passage in the Catechism reads (in part):
Before Christ's second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the "mystery of iniquity" in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth.
The cardinal explained he is not against the pope but against confusion.
The Netherlands had been in strict lockdown for months, including for Christmas and New Year's. Prime Minister Mark Rutte claims the reasoning is "to contain the highly contagious omicron coronavirus variant."
The 54-year-old Rutte — unmarried with no children — also recommended that households receive no more than two visitors and that outdoor gatherings be limited to a maximum of two people. All so-called nonessential shops and services, including restaurants, hairdressers, museums and gyms, were ordered to be closed until Thursday, Jan. 14.
Thousands gathered this weekend in Amsterdam, the capital and most populous city of the Netherlands, to protest the restrictions. Protesters carried signs that read, "Never do anything against your conscience, even if the state demands it."