|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).