In an unprecedented move, taken in the face of a far from unprecedented situation, the bishops of the United States and around the world have decided to deprive the Catholic faithful of participating in the sacrifice of the Mass.
The deprivation was enacted with good reasons: the raging coronavirus has caused entire cities in the United States, and entire countries around the world to “lock down” in order to protect their citizens from infection by the virus. As of this writing, at least 13,000 people worldwide, including 28 priests in Italy have perished from the virus.
But while the bishops’ action is thoroughly understandable, prudential, and charitably intentioned, it goes too far—and may even be socially, not to mention spiritually, counterproductive. The Mass is the incarnation of goodness. Keeping the faithful out of Mass, out of fear that they might get sick, keeping them away from that source of goodness, undercuts the graced courage of the faithful. For if even going to Mass is too dangerous, God forbid the faithful should approach the sick and take care of and comfort the dying, as so many Catholics have done in so many plagues throughout the centuries! It is the Mass that gave St. Mother Teresa and St. Damien and so many others the courage to step up and help the diseased and dying because the Mass told them that those they were helping were made in the image of Christ, but it also told them that they themselves were the image of Christ—and what would Jesus do? The recent experience of a doctor in Italy is illustrative:
“Never in my darkest nightmares did I imagine that I would have seen and lived through what has been happening here in our hospital for the last three weeks. And the nightmare only grows…Up until two weeks ago, my colleagues and I were atheists; this was normal because we are doctors and we have learned that science proves that God does not exist. I always laughed at my parents when they went to church….
“We realized that we have reached the limits of what man can do. We need God, and we have begun to ask for his help, when we have a few moments free. We speak among ourselves and we cannot believe that we who were fierce atheists are now seeking for interior peace by asking the Lord to help us to resist so that we can take care of the sick….
“I have not been home for six days; I don’t know the last time I ate something; I realize my own worthlessness on this earth, and I want to dedicate my last breath to helping others. I am happy to return to God while I am surrounded by the suffering and death of my fellow men.” –Excerpts from the testimony of Dr. Julian Urban, of Lombardy, Italy, via Marco Tosatti.
Devout San Francisco Catholics and others around the world are devastated by their inability to attend Mass. A San Francisco group offers a suggested solution that is also “thoroughly understandable, prudential, and charitably intentioned”—a blueprint for organizing Masses in such a way that those desiring to attend are in the safest possible environment. It mandates an orderly, properly socially-distancing congregation, limited in number, and controlled by designated ushers.
This initiative, in the form of an open letter to the bishops and including the blueprint, may be seen at RestorePublicMass.com. The website includes a petition to the bishops.
This initiative requires no one to attend Mass during this epidemic. Indeed, the closure of the churches was accompanied by a dispensation from the Sunday obligation, which will remain in force.
Similarly, the Church’s long tradition of care for victims of pestilence and other contagious diseases required no one to work in plague hospitals and care for the suffering. But many did and we remember them with gratitude and reverence.