ON THE SACRED LITURGY
SOLEMNLY PROMULGATED BY
POPE PAUL VI
ON DECEMBER 4, 1963
106. By a tradition handed down from the apostles which took its origin from the very day of Christ's resurrection, the Church celebrates the paschal mystery every eighth day; with good reason this, then, bears the name of the Lord's day or Sunday. For on this day Christ's faithful are bound to come together into one place so that; by hearing the word of God and taking part in the eucharist, they may call to mind the passion, the resurrection and the glorification of the Lord Jesus, and may thank God who "has begotten them again, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, unto a living hope" (1 Pet. 1:3). Hence the Lord's day is the original feast day, and it should be proposed to the piety of the faithful and taught to them so that it may become in fact a day of joy and of freedom from work. Other celebrations, unless they be truly of greatest importance, shall not have precedence over the Sunday which is the foundation and kernel of the whole liturgical year.
Like most of you I am hunkered down in my own diocese here in Central Florida. My diocese is resuming weekend church liturgies on the Feast of Pentecost, on next Saturday and Sunday. I have Facebook friends from many dioceses in the United States, and I get the impression that the Florida dioceses may be opening for weekend Masses somewhat earlier than others, and in my diocese earlier than the theme parks Disneyworld and Universal. Given that our public schools and universities remain closed, I fear wholesale Catholic worship may be starting too early. The governor of Texas allowed churches to open for regular services a few weeks ago, and a Catholic Church in Houston suffered what probably every pastor is seeking to avoid, a Covid 19 outbreak. The Houston Chronicle notes that despite the governor’s declaration, most Catholic churches in the area remained closed; the Redemptorist parish was an outlier, it seems.
I was reading the proposed safety rules under review for Universal Studios. I noticed that the temperatures of every park guest will be taken. When I had a physical a few weeks ago, temperature measurements to enter the facilities were de rigour as they are at our newly opened hair salons, and Frontier Airlines has adopted the practice for anyone, crew or passengers, entering a plane. I did not see temperature screening in any church guidelines I reviewed except for a consortium of black churches in Chicago; in fact, the guidelines posted for my church are benign: “It is strongly encouraged that you wear a mask during your attendance at Church and to practice proper hygiene such as the sanitizing of hands before you enter.”
One of the major questions in secular life is the medical protocol of wearing masks. The argument that face masks significantly protect the spray of virus droplets is overwhelming. The purpose of masks is protection of neighbor and limitation of contagion. The issue of masks has become something of a “personal rights” or “political stance” issue instead of a good neighbor opportunity. Having watched the news this weekend, and doing my early dawn jaunt to the grocery store each week, it is pretty obvious that the dependence of public health officials upon adult responsibility is one of the weaker links in the battle to contain the virus. Local government here in Central Florida has asked the theme parks how they plan to deal with visitors who rip off their masks inside the parks? Will Catholics provide a better example in their compliance to the solid advice of their pastors, and how will the pastors in turn balance public safety without alienating some members?
Jet Blue, American, United, Delta, Southwest and Alaska Airlines require the use of masks on all of their flights, but this puts the onus of policing upon airline service personnel who, as the Los Angeles Times reports, do not have a federal mandate to protect themselves and other passengers. I am curious to see how Catholics respond to the extensive policing of their movement by lay ministers and ushers. My parish is requiring computer reservations made on-line before the weekend for a specific Mass; some church ministers—one can bank on it—will be put in the strange position of refusing admission to the sacrament to their friends and fellow parishioners without reservations. I was a pastor for twenty years; I know how some members respond to even the slightest inconveniences.
It does seem that in the present atmosphere there is a rush to get back to Sunday Eucharistic routine. In the best of all worlds we can find little to disagree with in Paragraph 106 of Sacrosanctum Concilium: “Christ’s faithful are bound to come together in one place…” to hear the Word and take part in the Eucharist. The same paragraph establishes the rationale for Sunday as our high holy day, i.e., it is the day of the Resurrection. The sanctity of Sunday dates to apostolic times, though it is true that the earliest Jewish converts to Christianity worshipped on the Saturday Sabbath and then broke bread in its primitive Eucharist. Para. 106 is articulating the Christian Tradition of Sunday Eucharist as the norm of Catholic life.
That said, the life experience of the Church is replete with circumstances in which the Eucharist could not be celebrated with large numbers. Plagues of course, and usually ones much more severe than Covid 19, created vacuums in regular Eucharistic gatherings that lasted several years. Kings and tyrants have forbidden Catholic worship for decades and centuries, even to the present moment. It is worth noting here that Catholic chaplains in World War II won extraordinary respect among enlisted men for their presence at the front for confession and ministrations, and it was not rare for Eucharist to be celebrated amid ruins and the sounds of active battle at whatever opportunity came along. I suppose the ultimate theological question about access to the Eucharist is to examine possibilities for broader criteria of ordinations to the priesthood, but that is a discussion for another day.
Again, the “breaking loose” of so many of our citizens from social isolation in recent weeks seems to send a message that the Covid-19 pandemic is retreating or has lost its vigor, which is certainly not the case. Medical scientists point out that widespread group exposures and infection may take as long as a month to show up in hospitals. As I write, 24 states are seeing increased numbers of cases. My modest city of Apopka, Florida, has 180 active cases now. Regarding the Eucharist, Sts. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas remind us that Eucharist is a symbol, like all sacraments. The timing of the resumption of weekly Eucharist is now part of that symbol. As Rita Ferrone writes in an excellent piece in this week’s Commonweal, the general guidelines for safety provided by the U.S. bishops serious distort the very signs and symbols of the sacrament itself.
The eagerness of dioceses to resume the regular Mass schedule is understandable, even admirable under difference circumstances. Among those who post with frequency on Catholic parochial blog sites around the country, there is palpable hunger to return to the sacraments, mixed with a desire to see the local church’s family again. This is understandable. By the same token, there is an equal amount who are concerned about safety and the judgment to come together too quickly. I told my wife that “it will not be the president of the United States who will declare the lockdown over, nor will it be bishops. It will be over when parents with minor children say it is over, and not a minute before.”
There are two other considerations pressuring Catholic dioceses and parishes. The obvious pressure is financial. The absence of dependable weekly giving through the Offertory collection has been a staggering blow for many. Thankfully, EFT offerings are a resource that was not generally available a generation ago, but this is offset by the large number of unemployed parishioners. My own parish is large and carries reserves; but many parishes operate week to week. Dioceses, traditionally the financial backstop for parish fiscal crises, are generally no longer able to provide this service. If any reader has a paid link to Moody’s, the bond analysts, check out the Archdiocese of Chicago, whose corporate rating was dropped three notches last week. Moody’s went on to say that in the present environment, Catholic dioceses are poor investment risks because of their propensity to embrace bankruptcy and their continuing large exposure to child abuse claims. My home diocese of Buffalo this week announced another round of church and school merger and closing strategies. Some parishes are borrowing from local banks to stay afloat. The very survival of some churches depends upon a return of parishioners and a steady cash flow.
Another point, a significant theological and pastoral one, is the impact of the disruption of live attendance at Eucharist and the widespread and immensely popular use of live-streamed or televised Masses. My parish’s YouTube livestream of last week’s 10 AM Ascension Sunday Mass was viewed, concurrently or later, by 5100 persons. There is no way to break this down; my guess is that many participants are from my parish, but some comments on-line suggested that at least some were visitors from other Catholic communities. My wife and I participated in the pope’s on-line Easter Mass, and when left to my own devices I join Bishop Baron’s Mass in his chapel. My parish’s liturgies are generally very good, but I find as I get older that I’m more inclined toward quiet, reflective liturgy, which is why I make an annual retreat each year to the Trappist monastery in South Carolina. If you talk to men of my generation [65+] you might be surprised that I am not an outlier on this preference. The large number of streamed Masses across the country presents something of a catechetical opportunity to observe how other assemblies celebrate the sacred mysteries. Yes, we all use the same Roman Missal, but every community and every celebrant have a unique style of public worship.
I have to think that, with the closing of churches for nearly three months now, bishops are deeply concerned that the habit of televised Mass, or the other extreme, of living without engaged, living persons at worship at all, will become deeply and permanently entrenched. It will be instructive to see attendance patterns in the churches, given that many persons—including myself—will return to parish Mass, but not at this juncture, given that we are in that window of vulnerability in our 70’s. As I say, there will be noticeable absences until the virus’s impact on children is better understood and mitigated.
Coincidentally, my news ticker just reported that Disneyworld here in Orlando has submitted its reopening plan to Governor DeSantis, seeking a July 15 opening. From ABC News: “Parades and fireworks will be temporarily suspended to enable distancing. Character meet-and-greets as well as playgrounds are also temporarily suspended. Temperature checks will be conducted for both staff and guests… In addition to physical distancing, guests and cast members will be required to wear face masks, and plexiglass at registers and other places where distancing is difficult will be installed.”
As the late NBC sportscaster Dick Enberg would say, “Oh my!”