From the time this virus first made its appearance in the US, we have constantly been told that we must make sacrifices for the common good. Our country and even our churches responded generously to this call in the name of prudence and love of neighbor. But as time has passed, and the situation evolves, it becomes clear that our priorities may need to be readjusted. Our assertion has always been that our churches are just as safe and just as essential as supermarkets, and we stand by this.
In order to help support our bishops in defending the rights and the needs of their people to receive the Sacraments--even and especially in these troubled times--we have compiled the following list of reasons--both spiritual and societal--why public Masses must not be suspended again.
CATEGORY I - SPIRITUAL REASONS
“We cannot live without the Mass.” These were the words of the early Christians who risked everything to be present at Mass during the fiercest of persecutions. They took Jesus Christ seriously when He said, "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you" (Jn 6:54). This total dedication has inspired saints and martyrs for two millennia, and we fool ourselves to think it is any less important now.
The job of the church is to prepare us for eternal life, not make us comfortable here. This is not our permanent home; we are pilgrims on a journey, and the Church’s role is to shepherd souls to heaven despite life’s challenges. While this does not mean that we should be careless of our bodies or the health of others, the Church must always emphasize eternal life over this life, lest she betray her purpose.
Love of Neighbor is the second great commandment. We have been admonished that we must put our worship aside in the name of love of neighbor, but this is a false dichotomy. Unless we FIRST love God “with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind, and with thy whole strength” (Mk 12:30) then love of neighbor risks becoming a form of idolatry…and “He that loveth father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than me, is not worthy of me.” (Mt 10:37)
We are the salt of the earth. The Church is called to be salt and light to the world, leading the way toward Christ, who is the solution to all that ails us. Amidst the darkness that surrounds us, we ought to courageously demonstrate even more, not less, of the Sacramental life of our Church for all to see.
In the midst of turmoil and unrest, we need the refuge of the sacraments. Lives as well as livelihoods are being lost to this virus, and social unrest and violence have spread uncertainty and fear around the world. As fear, despair, hatred and violence are striving for control of the hearts and minds of people everywhere, we need to be fortified in faith, hope and charity through the sacraments.
Deemphasizing the centrality of our Sacraments is putting countless souls at risk. Watching the Mass on a screen detaches it from the concrete physical reality of the True Presence, and from the community of the faithful. Sentiments and habits are now being formed that are corrosive to a reverent practice of the faith, especially among children who are deprived of necessary formation at this crucial age.
Dispensations already protect those most at risk. Those who have good reason to avoid illness are provided for in the general dispensation from our Sunday obligation. But our fundamental need to offer God true worship cannot be dispensed; it is a scandal to deprive those who are healthy of access to the Sacraments, and discourage them from putting God first in their lives.
CATEGORY II - SOCIETAL REASONS
Christianity undergirds our Society. It is not merely the private beliefs of individuals, but the public exercise of our faith that creates a strong societal fabric that can withstand challenges like these. Many who work in our essential businesses, especially healthcare, draw inner strength from The Mass, and apply this directly to their work.
If we fail to defend Truth, we stand to lose all. The Universal Church is being portrayed as a bastion of white supremacy, our saints branded as oppressors, and churches and holy images threatened with destruction and desecration. If we close our churches in the face of this onslaught, we send a message that we are not ready to stand up for what is holy and dear to us.
We must be treated as all other essential businesses. Outbreaks have occurred in countless essential businesses over the past months, but none have questioned the necessity of keeping them open. Churches are just as safe, and just as essential to a civil society as any other essential business. The same standards must be applied to all.
Man does not live on bread alone. Good health relies on stress management, and numerous scientific studies have proven that religious practices really do improve health outcomes. If we are truly concerned for the health of our communities, we must recognize that providing for their spiritual needs is just as important as their physical needs.
Our Catholic Churches now have sound containment policies. Each Diocese in the US has put a great deal of time and care into developing policies and inventing creative ways to continue celebrating Mass with the people while still keeping them just as safe as any other essential business. So far, these safeguards have proven to be effective, with no signs of outbreaks in our communities. Let’s continue to use them.
ABOVE ALL: THE HUBRIS OF THINKING WE CAN FIGURE THIS OUT WHILE PUTTING GOD IN THE BACKSEAT MUST STOP.