Monday, November 02, 2020

Coronavirus restrictions and Mass-going

A be-masked Supply of Ceremonies Omitted in the Private Baptism
in Oxford last weekend.

A lot of people are very upset about the obligation to wear masks, particularly in church. Certainly, there is something a bit weird and oppressive about being obliged, nor for any religious or symbolic reason—for example as a sign of mourning—to cover one’s face, and to see everyone around one doing the same. I can’t say I’m happy about my four-month old baby not being able to see me smiling at her during Mass.

Perhaps the public health arguments in favor of masks are justified, and perhaps they are not. I’m not qualified to take a view on that, but equally I’m not one to insist on the most stringent interpretation of the rules where there is room for maneuvre.

What I determined to do, however, is to make the most of what freedom there is to maintain my own sacramental life, and to help others to do the same. The Latin Mass Society is organizing and facilitating events to the maximum amount allowed. Most parishes and dioceses are doing the same. If the Government says something is allowed, after all, then it is allowed.

So, insofar as Mass is allowed, insofar as the normal and worthy service of the altar is allowed, the normal distribution of Holy Communion, singing, confession, and public baptism, then we will have them.

It was a huge relief to be able to return to Mass, after months of watching online, even if this meant donning a mask, sanitizing one’s hands, and keeping a distance from other households. I know, however, that not everyone has embraced the chance to return to Mass—not only the sick and vulnerable—and some who did so at first have become weary, or angry, about the continuing restrictions. The more zealous Catholics, perhaps those reading this article, are not easily put off meeting Christ in the liturgy, and receiving Him in Holy Communion, but perhaps it is also the more zealous Catholics who are most sensitive to the restrictions. When we are in God’s house, there is something particularly painful about feeling one is under irksome, invasive, and possibly arbitrary and absurd regulation from the secular power. There is something offensive about it.

What I would like to say, however, is that we should not be put off. The way to respond to these restrictions is to do the most we can, within them, and not to let them stop our devotions. We can, also, complain to those responsible for them, and remember that such complaints have not entirely been in vain up to now.

Thus, after a lot of debate and upset the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales seem to have accepted that they can’t stop people receiving Holy Communion on the tongue, at least ‘outside Mass’—even if that just means immediately after Mass. Don’t expect them to admit publicly they were wrong: just pocket the concession.

Even more impressively, when the UK Government announced that public liturgies would again be banned, the President and Vice President of the Bishops’ Conference wrote a letter of protest: a sharp contrast to their attitude in the first lockdown, when they actually advised the Government to impose a ban on public services.

For the moment at least, these are battles English Catholics have won. We should be happy about that, and press for more concessions. This isn’t the moment to give up on going to church altogether.

Our priests, applying these rules—perhaps absurd, perhaps oppressive—are certainly not doing so to annoy us or to restrict our access to the Sacraments. They can be, and in some cases have been, denounced, to the police, to hostile media, and to their bishops, for real or imaginary infringements of the rules. We share the planet, unfortunately, with people who are frightened, perhaps irrationally, about the virus, and also with people who will use any weapon which comes to hand against the Church, or those they dislike within her. If priests have to do some silly things to give us the sacraments, think of the priests of penal times wearing disguises, or pretending to be the gardener.

Many of our predecessors in the Faith risked their freedom or even their lives to attend Mass. Some went into exile. Some travelled long distances on foot. Their privations should instruct us: we should not give up the Mass lightly, because we think masks unjust or annoying.

It is also something we owe to our priests. They need our support, financial, and even more, moral. If they take a different view from us, even about something as important as the reception of Holy Communion, we can go to other parishes, certainly, but we must also respect their sincerity, and equally their limitations. Yes, they may be weak: so are we all. As St Paul exhorts us, ‘bear ye one another’s burdens; and so you shall fulfil the law of Christ’ (Gal 6:2). And we must embrace the sufferings which come to us in our ordinary lives, and with St Paul, ‘rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ, in my flesh, for his body, which is the Church’ (Col 1:24).

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  1. Our diocese (H&N) has had 1 of our EF Masses closed & there looks to be no idea of reopening. Sadly, due to a clash of personalities & unfounded accusations we will not attend St Joseph's in Gateshead. Is the LMS making representations to bishops to allow previously allowed Masses?

    1. This doesn't seem like the ideal moment to do that...

  2. From a Catholic perspective to frame the mask issue from a public health expertise perspective is a red herring, if not also a psychological coping mechanism for our respectable Catholic leaders, for whom it is too painful to brook the thought that they may be cuckolds.

    A red herring, because, at least according to what I understood of the Faith, it conceives of the good first on a spiritual plane -- beauty, truth, goodness, joy, love, etc. -- these things are priceless and eternal, and have "right of way" or primacy over the material. I thought a major part of following Christ was where we seek to put even mundane activities into the service of these things. Isn't valuing the eternal over the temporal what allowed Catholics could be lighthearted in the face of death? Which priest or lay leader has made a serious attempt to justify the self-disfiguration measures according to a holistic understanding of the good? It is breathtaking how apparently little of the psychological, relational, social, or economic good they weighed in their readiness (is there any precedent for this?) to tell God's children to cover their faces.

    As it has become clear that masks are no panacea, and are at best mitigators of a virus not dramatically different than other seasonal respiratory diseases, a policy which months ago may have been excusable now regularly fills me with shame to contemplate.

    What of childhoods, hard work and dreams being crushed, the adolescences sealed away in loneliness? Apparently Catholics aren't qualified to weigh in on such matters and better refer these questions to the public health experts. And here I thought it was often the glory of our predecessors that they refused to go along with nonsense.

    Where is the principled Catholic moral reasoning in which many among our number take conspicuous pride? Respiratory diseases are hardly going away. If it is right to mandate masks and obsessive chemical sanitization for this one, then these measures ought to be made permanent. Think of all the previous generations of Catholics -- recklessly risking the lives of everyone at Mass by not disfiguring themselves!

    My conscience tells me that going along with the mask nonsense causes more harm to my neighbor than doing so. The embarrassed eyes behind ugly masks which in shame cut away from my gaze tell me that, regardless of what people say, I am hardly the only one who feels it is no small thing to cover up our faces -- perhaps the most fundamental part of our humanity -- and that our circumstances fall far short of justifying it.

    1. 'My conscience tells me that going along with the mask nonsense causes more harm to my neighbor than doing so.'

      This I don't understand. The rest of what you say doesn't seem to justify this.

    2. Why not engage with the substance of 'Mac Cruimein's' comment?

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    4. It is my judgment that facial disfiguration alone -- to say nothing of the raft of unjust state policies of which it is the most prominent and its visible representation -- by a wide margin impedes and damages the flourishing of human life more than the consequences to human life of not wearing them (to say nothing of a possible better future in which Catholics began to recover a more natural view of biology and health in which our first course of action was not to immediately spray the holy places with toxic chemicals.)

      Each has his own path to navigate, so casting a universal expectation or judgment onto individuals is not the point. But in the main, to many who are honest with themselves on a deep level, it is obvious mask wearing is trampling on life holistically considered much more than it is taking care of it. Further, it even fails -- according to the government's own figures -- on the base materialistic standard of body counts, when everything like suicides, poverty, and lack of regular hospital treatment is accounted for.

      So whatever a bishop's policy is at the moment, this feels like a deep wrong and how can I in good conscience go along with it?

    5. On the last point about government figures, that has more to do with lockdown than masks per se, so I should have qualified that. Though I made the confusion because face covering is a huge part of "lockdown mentality" and not only fails to resist what is causing so much damage to life, but contributes to furthering it.

  3. Very disappointing establishment article. As the government guidelines said in May - the masks do not help in reducing the virus' transmission. Dr Fauci admitted they are a 'symbol', that is, a form of compelled speech that perpetuates the big lie that there actually is a virulent pandemic. This big lie is being used to walk us into a global digital control system, a project of antichrist. St Paul wrote that in heaven we see God 'face to face'. The Holy Mass is a glimpse of heaven and you are saying that it is acceptable for us to obscure the Imago Dei because of a virus with a 99.74% survival rate. Of the 0.26% fatalities 90% have comorbidities. Catholics should not obey the tyrannical muzzle orders quite simply because it is an unjust law.

  4. It is such a terrible example to children when adults wear a mask to church. Normalising and complying that a demonic government can restrict your right to breathe and control your attire even in the House of God. People say 'it's just a mask' but this really is headed in one direction. With this awful example we are giving to our children it seems that even traditional catholic children of the next generation will be queueing up for the Mark of the Beast. Catholics need to wake up and fast. Many non Catholics already have.

  5. There is a rather bewildering and saddening view amongst traditional Catholics, reflected in some of the comments above, that covid-19 is just another flu and presents no significant danger. Try teling this to doctors and nurses at the coalface. Look at the raw statistics for deaths this year - and then pause to consider what they might have been had no precautions been taken. Christian charity requires us to preserve life, not to act as though the sooner we all die the better. Of course we should not take unnecessary steps which have marginal benefit but detract substantially from the seemliness of our worship, but behaving as though the whole thing were a hoax does nothing for our cause.

  6. Perspective is the key, isn't it. Aside from an appeal to common sense (rather rare among the respectable middle class whether Catholic or not) regarding the covid, one may find clear figures, graphs and analysis on these two sites which show the covid death count as more or less identically resembling previous bad flu winters. And that is taking 'covid deaths' at face value, without factoring in the astonishingly high 95% comorbidity rate.

    Let's leave aside questions of comparing the value of an 85 year-old death vs. a 20-something losing their livelihood, or all the other knock-on effects like increased suicides among the young, or Amazon and Tesco gobbling up the market share of thousands of previously healthy local businesses, or an entire generation being placed under a yoke of gigantic debt.

    Jeremiah, in light of the comparable respiratory infection excess deaths of previous years relative to covid (or even if the body count in a regular year was only half, or a quarter, of the covid numbers), if facial disfiguration is preserving life now, why should it not be permanently mandated in our Churches, or at least until possibly deadly respiratory infections are more or less eradicated? I would be grateful if you would hazard an answer.

    If you are right about covid and masks, think of how much life Catholics have destroyed over the centuries! What a signal paradigm shift we will have now come to in the life of the Church, finally after all this time being granted to see that the Church's pro-life teaching mandates the perpetual blocking of our faces!