Lent 2020: Pandemic, Pride, and Piety

In response to the current coronavirus pandemic, bishops in every diocese of the United States have granted the faithful a dispensation from their Sunday Mass obligation.

In most cases the ecclesial response has been consistent with the rest of society, and made in conjunction with medical professionals and civil authorities.

The decision to suspend public masses is unprecedented in our time, though not in the history of the Church. Further, the U.S. bishops are seeking to avoid a tragedy like Italy’s, where 19 priests (as of 03/20/20) have died from the virus, 10 in Bergamo alone.

Due to the rapid and deadly spread of this virus, words and phrases like quarantine and social distancing are now part of our daily conversations.

Because of the cancellation of public masses, more of the faithful are seeking out live-streamed masses on the internet. Since the obligation to attend Mass has been dispensed with, the faithful are choosing to watch (and in many cases participle in both word and gesture) out of a sense of piety. Put simply, they are still keeping the Lord’s Day holy.

Some Catholics are clamoring for public masses, dismissing the concerns of civil authorities and church leaders. This is where we can see the fine line between piety and pride blur.

Many are questioning the decision to close churches; often with a seeming disregard for the health and well being of others, particularly the elderly, immunocompromised, and the celebrant.

Are we a generation incapable of martyrdom? And I am not speaking of physical death, for those who die from this virus aren’t necessarily the first exposed to it. Rather, I’m speaking of the faithful who are either incapable of staying home from Mass (despite the dispensation), or (worse) seemingly don’t care about the other when public masses are suspended.

Piety in this time of pestilence is found in those who desperately hunger for the Eucharist but yet deny themselves despite their longing.

It is not a decision made for themselves, but rather, for others. It is a sacrifice.

A pandemic isn’t going to check itself at the vestibule doors, so public liturgies have been cancelled for now. Masses continue to be offered privately of course, and many of those streamed for viewing.

Let’s not tempt God by ignoring our ability to reason, which has its foundation in Him. Let us not tempt God by taking unnecessary risk with our own health and with the well being of others. Piety isn’t a shield against disease. And Presumption isn’t piety. It is pride.

Let us also recognize that God has given medical science the ability to study this virus and to warn us, just as He has given society the technology to stay connected with a pastor, fellow parishioners, and the Holy Mass.

The Church has also taught us through the centuries how to make an act of spiritual communion. Consider this consolation part of your Lenten sacrifice; your time in the desert with Our Lord.

We are only being asked to go without for a few weeks due to this pandemic and out of love for neighbor. And yet some stubbornly refuse to embrace this cross.

In an Op-Ed from late last month, Bishop Athanasius Schneider (the great defender of the Holy Eucharist) wrote:

“In times of persecution, many Catholics were unable to receive Holy Communion in a sacramental way for long periods of time, but they made a Spiritual Communion with much spiritual benefit.

Having spent his younger, formative years, in the Soviet Union, Bishop Schneider and his family would go months without the Mass and the Eucharist. All they could do during those days of persecution was to make an Act of Spiritual Communion.

In Lent 2020 the coronavirus is our great persecution. But unlike the faithful who lived for decades under the evil banner of Soviet communism, never knowing how or when (or if) it would end, we know our suffering is short.

During this time of pestilence strive for peace and authentic piety by embracing the cross and by rejecting pride.

Posted on March 20, 2020, in holiness, liturgy and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. David Anthony Domet

    Brian, I get comments on my blog from people who still don’t get it. I’m not happy about this, particularly as a Cantor and Choir Director, my life is structured by my liturgical work. The selfishness is incredible. We will set up a little altar later and tomorrow we will pray the Divine Office and then celebrate a Dry Mass. In fact, we will sing it with gusto.

    Excellent column, and I’m going to feature it.

    God bless you.

  2. Great post. I like to think of this time as worldwide “fast” from Mass/Eucharist, a temporary darkness so that we remember how important our faith is.

  3. Fr. Richard to McNally ss.cc.

    Brian, Thank you so much. I’m a priest dealing with some people who don’t understand why there is no public Mass or consider me, the bishop and other priests as heretics. modernists or cowards for suspending Mass. Their response has helped me face my own spiritual pride in so many areas. Oremus pro invicem,

  4. Randal Mandock

    Thanks for this reflection. It is good to cite orthodox Catholic prelates as often as possible. It is also good to remind younger readers of the intrinsic evil of Communist totalitarianism and authoritarianism.

  5. There are ways to minimize the risk of transmitting the virus by limiting attendance and increasing sanitation procedures. John Henry Weston mentioned some in his weekly podcast. Accusing those who want to go to Mass of “false piety” is the height of “pride” not to mention rash judgment. Are you going to cast aspersions on this bishop? I’m disappointed in the attitude of some Catholics who think nothing of going to Costco and the grocery store with long lines, but accuse those who want the Mass of “selfishness.” https://newdailycompass.com/en/the-virus-has-exposed-the-individualist-lie-we-cannot-deprive-ourselves-of-the-mass?fbclid=IwAR1r1Bc0B-sYHaf_8TWyh3QVya84YioCoD4Mz-lmExgR6xkrfHbX76qW_Ak

  6. Thanks, Mary Ann. I was wondering about this tone myself. A bishop said it would be imprudent for a priest to visit a sick person right now. Perhaps, if Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos had known that yellow fever was contagious, he would not have gone to comfort and anoint the sick and stayed home instead of dying of it himself. Hmm, how foolish those saints of old were.

    • Pretty confident that Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos would have listened to his Bishop, yes?

      Many holy priests are still finding creative ways to provide their flock with the sacraments while still being careful not to possibly infect them.

      • I read an account of St. Damian of Molokai. He knowingly went into the presence of those known to be highly contagious and did so without the encouragement of his superiors.

        The word of our bishops must be obeyed. But where prudential matters are concerned, discerning people will not stop raising questions simply because others find them inconvenient.

  7. Good grief! So now those of us who think it’s wrong, contrary to canon law, or at least unwise, for bishops and priests to jump with alacrity to cancel all public Masses, even in places where pubs, clubs, restaurants and even casinos remain open for business), are guilty of “pride” and lack of charity to our brothers!

    The Church’s long-standing rule that the faithful must keep holy the Christian Sabbath by attending Mass isn’t just some meaningless regulation. It is out in place, as was the 3rx commandment, because we all NEED to attend Mass (not just wanted ch others doing it in TV).

    • Of course not everyone is guilty of pride. The point is we ALL long for the Mass and the Holy Eucharist. No one, including our bishops and holy priests, take this lightly: either granting a dispensation or a pandemic that is like no other in our lifetime with its ability to rapidly & exponentially spread. As for Sunday Mass, we did some dioceses closing churches during the Spanish Flu a century ago. Not because they weren’t men of faith, but because they were men of faith and reason. In the meantime, keep the Lords Day holy through traditions such as the rosary, the readings, or a dry Mass. And by praying the hours.

      Pax.

  8. One of the grave dangers inherent in the present situation is that henceforth, public authorities will take as a given, that the exercise of religious liberty is subject to their whim.

    Exigent circumstances can easily be found to inhibit religious practices deemed contrary to public health or safety. Efforts to break the seal of confession so as to aid in the apprehension of sexual deviants comes to mind. How long before public health authorities deem the practice of receiving Holy Communion, especially from the chalice to be inherently unsafe, at least during seasonal flu season, and therefore subject to a ban?

    In short a precedent has been set. Churches can stay “open for business”, as long as our secular rulers deem it prudent.

    Another point; even though in most places public authorities are making allowances for religious assembly, our bishops are still insisting on totally closing mass to the public, not even allowing a small number to attend. Why a total ban? If it’s deemed prudent to limit gatherings to 25 or even 10, why not concoct a way in which the laity can attend within those guidelines? That would at least affirm that the laity are, while strictly speaking not essential for a valid mass, nevertheless considered an indispensable part of the body of Christ.

    Our bishops must be respected at all times. They certainly must be obeyed. To raise concerns or to ask a question about a matter of prudential judgment is not an attack on anyone. It’s to raise a point. Nothing more.

  9. Poor us, and I mean it, poor us, because we have no shepherd to lead us and are dissembling into factions. All the many ways people are scrabbling amongst themselves and finding fault are byproducts of the fact we have no pope that guides us. With Francis as a large part of the problem we are trying to run Christendom ourselves, and we see this does not work well, every one is a church unto themselves. Coupled with that we have no Cardinals and very few bishops who could be considered “trustworthy”, but even that is a dodgy conclusion.
    So NewChurch people will want to do things NewChurch way and OldChurch people (whom I would call Catholics) want to do things OldChurch way. This is going to go on, apparently, until Christ returns and I hope it’s tomorrow.
    For my part only I never expect NewChurch to do anything except protect themselves. Being materialists they don’t want to get sick and die. That would be bad because they just drop into a hole and that’s it. However, as a member of OldChurch I would not have attended Mass until this virus has passed us by, knowing it won’t go on forever. I have attended Livestreamed Mass and been just fine with spiritual communion. I never expect NewChurch to do anything for good reasons since I saw them sit silently by when the pope worshiped a demon on sacred ground. Why on earth would I expect them to care about closed churches or Mass. When people show me who they are, I believe them.

  1. Pingback: Lent 2020 Pandemic, Pride, and… – Covid-19

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