COVID-19 Took My Holy Water (II of III): First my sacramentals, now my Mass
I’m asking myself lots of questions lately. “Who isn’t?” you may have replied, maybe not in those words. Sometimes I feel like I have the ghost of a conjoined twin living inside me (google “vanishing twin” syndrome) and I’m not entirely sure who’s driving the bus after each stop. Yeah, that’s pretty heavy…and an exaggeration possibly…what I mean to say is that my internal dialogues feature both left-wing and right-wing voices with equal playing time. Generally, I lean one way or the other depending on the subject and context while overall, I consider myself to be politically agnostic. I tried to stay on the sideline during recent political arguments, but the scrum went off the field and ended up in my lap as I sat on the bench. I’m being punched and kicked from every direction and once the brawl moves on, I’ll be left teetering on my feet with cartoon birds and stars swirling around my head. The mental riot began sometime on the afternoon of Friday, March 13th (cue ominous music).
Texts, notifications, and emails poured in: first about my kid’s school closing down (lucky punks), then about the suspension of Masses. The suspension of Mass? During the Holy Season? Everything up to this point I had taken with a grain of salt and relatively no panic. Example: No toilet paper and nearly every shelf cleared off in every Denver area store? The public panics easily I thought, it’ll be restocked soon. People “panic buy” and it snowballs into “copy-cat” buys then it spreads to “rational people going against their better judgment” buys. And here I am now thinking, well, maybe I should have panicked since I have only three rolls of toilet paper left. Anyway, this toilet-related tangent isn’t the main point. The Governor makes a recommendation on banning gatherings of 250 or more people and Mass has been canceled statewide. I sit back and begin to fume. One side of my brain begins ranting:
“Mass is being held EVERYDAY in developing countries where you are at risk from violence as well as various pathogens. Mass was held when the Nazi’s invaded Poland. Mass was held secretly in England, Ireland, and Scotland during the 16th century when priests were hidden in holes because they were being hunted down and murdered. Mass was held during the black plague — ”
“Exactly!” Other-me chimes in, “We’ve learned a lot since the middle-ages, haven’t we? The Church has a duty to keep people safe, do no harm, and be a good role model. By volunteering to help the governor we prove ourselves as good citizens. Besides, remember the old days when Catholics and Christians were blamed for disasters and persecuted as a result? Does Nero ring a bell? We don’t want to draw unnecessary criticism.”
Angry-me rolls his eyes. “If this were a real emergency, I’d agree with you. One hundred dead in a country of three-hundred million doesn’t scream of ‘end times’ to me. The real threat is the total collapse of the economy. People are scared of going bankrupt and losing jobs more than getting sick. The Church has a duty to give hope to the fearful. How does it do that by suspending what every Catholic lives and dies for? And since when did true Catholics fear death anyway?”
Other-me begins to have a little desperation in his voice: “It’s not like Pope Francis tossed away Saint Peter’s Keys and every Parish is locked up, pal. We’re talking about temporary measures taken to help prevent the spread of illness. This is not a ban on Catholicism. Acting irrationally only hurts your chances to evangelize through your example. It’s up to you to keep your head and act without fear. People will judge Catholicism by Catholics outside of Mass, not inside it.”
On and on the voices shot back and forth. Delving into constitutional arguments amongst deeper theological issues. At the end of Friday, all my mind could agree on was that it seemed rather discriminatory. As I drove home, I saw restaurants packed beyond 250 customers, and I knew the bars were fixing to fill up later. Mass was banned, but people were allowed to stuff themselves and get hammered? Liquor. Booze. Spirits.
*I regret complaining about restaurants and bars now, considering how many people have lost their jobs with the latest preventive measures taken.*
“See! Folks should have the right to choose whether they take a risk going out in public, look how many people are out of work now! Healthy people should be able to continue their — ”
“Quiet you! Your part of the piece is over.”
Anyway, my mind fixated on a drink seeing social places filling up. Maybe that’s my real issue. Here I am trying to stay sober, counting on my church life during Lent to help me out, and now I can’t receive the Eucharist. Well, I wasn’t going to let it go at that: Somewhere I once heard that Catholics could receive the Eucharist from Orthodox Churches if they weren’t able to attend a Roman Catholic Mass, see canon law 844[i]. I called the Greek Orthodox Cathedral. Yes, they were still having divine liturgy, no it was not an open communion, but I was still welcome to join. I called the Russian Orthodox church and left the type of message I might have left on a girl’s phone back in middle school: “Yeah, uh, so I’m Gary and I was just wondering if I could, or if you would let me come to, uh.” Father David called back and left me a detailed voicemail that amounted to “no dice, but God bless.” Anyway, the lesson here is that The Church might rule something as acceptable but that doesn’t mean all parties involved will accept its acceptability.
“See! How can we win over secular humanists when there is still division among churches that know the miracle of the Eucharist and who have priests who can validly trace their priesthood through the apostolic procession?”
There’s a well-articulated answer to that better offered by a real apologist rather than me. You might call Catholic Answers about it. The point is, since the moment Mass was suspended I’ve given into a sense of desperation. (“How can the Archbishop possibly suspend our Sunday obligation? It’s part of the ten-commandments!) Shhhh!
“And He said to them: ‘The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.’(Mark 2:27)”
But my Sunday panic persisted. My protestant friends and my wife talked of “going to church” by watching services online. Does that even count? How can I explain my objections without sounding offensive or condescending? I need the Eucharist. Christ says so:
“And so, Jesus said to them: ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you will not have life in you’ (John 6:54).”
For a second I considered attending Mass at the church presided over by The Society of Saint Pius the X. You may or may not recall they (SSPX) rejected Vatican II and refused to go in the same direction as the rest of The Church — the most recent orthodox schism you might say. It appears that I would be able to take part in a Mass here but SSPX and the Vatican are not fully reconciled with each other[ii]. The idea of attending a Tridentine Mass was appealing since I do harbor a strong preference for old traditions.
“Pharisee!” shouts Angry-me.
“Pharisee!” shouts Other-me.
When they both agree, I know I better take heed. After much reflection, I realized I had become what is called by some labor unions, maliciously compliant. My obedience had transformed into a type of disobedience. After all, did I not agree to submit to the authority of my parish priest, bishop, and ultimately my Pope? They have all asked me to observe this suspension of Mass in solidarity with all faithful Catholics. Sure, my devotion to receiving the Eucharist is commendable (thank me very much for saying so) but during this time I am without it, I should remember a few key items.
First: Canon Law 920 §1. After being initiated into the Most Holy Eucharist, each of the faithful is obliged to receive holy communion at least once a year[iii]. I have fulfilled my requirement, and while I yearn for more, I should not feel that I am separated from Christ and His Church because I cannot receive the Eucharist.
Second: There are Catholic Communities across the world who do not receive the Eucharist regularly because of priest shortages, persecution, or isolation. Also, there are many brothers and sisters in Christ who cannot receive the Eucharist because they are imprisoned. I am very fortunate to have received the Eucharist as often as I have. In many cases, I may have been undeserving as well.
Third: The laity’s participation in the Mass has changed since Christ instituted the Eucharist at The Last Supper. Many of the first Masses were held in the homes of the faithful and served to a small gathering of believers. We haven’t always had big beautiful churches with a large church family inside. In fact, the laity has not always received the most precious blood during mass[iv].
There are many poems, expressions, clichés, and songs that convey what the hairband, Cinderella, once crooned; “You don’t know what you got until it’s gone.”
I fervently believe that our church will remain because Christ said so:
“And I say to you, that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18).”
But as I said in my last reflection, we should be taking this time away from Mass as a time to reflect on how we are going to ensure that our faith is a robust one so that Christ doesn’t return to find only a small group of people sharing the Eucharist in the Church of Aunt Peggy’s basement.
Yes, the internal debate will rage on, but at the end of the day, I do not need to decide that which has already been decided by our Father in heaven. However, this is not to say the faithful will not have some strange Sundays ahead of us.
Precisely the topic of my next installation:
COVID-19 Took My Holy Water Part III: Sunday without the Mass and with the masses.