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.