Friday, April 3, 2020

Apart From The Sacraments, But Still A Part Of The Church

The other day I was told about one of my former RCIA candidates who had been brought into the Church a couple years back. He and his wife had a baby, and had hoped to have the Baptism on Easter Sunday. The pandemic threw off those plans. Obviously, I’m not going to play the “Shoulda, woulda, coulda” game. I have no idea about the conditions of their diocese, or how much time it had been since the baby was born. I don’t know if there was a prohibition of all sacraments, or whether they can still be celebrated in private without a crowd. Only a fool presumes to pass judgment on something like this without the facts… which I do not presume to do. So I will neither presume to judge them nor their diocese as failing to do what they should have.


While it might not be the ideal way to transition into the main thrust of this article, the above anecdote was in my mind when I received news of an “Open Letter” to the bishops. Called We Are An Easter People, the initiative calls on the bishops to increase access to the Sacraments at this time and petition the government to recognize religious services as “essential services.”


Now I’m all for finding ways to increase access to Sacraments that can be validly celebrated in a way that avoids spreading contagion, and making known to the people what methods they will be celebrated. But I have some concerns with this letter.


First of all, as polite as the language might be, I find that it treats the bishops as if they’ve been apathetic the whole time. I imagine the bishops are concerned with the good of the people, and are trying to get as much done as possible. In such cases, the suggestions in “open letters” like this might lead some bishops to think, “Gee, ya think? Brilliant strategy, Napoleon!


If the bishops are trying to do something already, insisting that they start doing something isn’t helping.


Another concern I have is that they seem to treat this as something where a uniform policy is feasible. The problem is, AmericaΩ is a nation with differing levels of population density spread out over 3.797 million mi². If you live in a rural area, the danger might seem slight (in my county, we have had seven cases and one death). In a dense urban environment, the danger is more immediate.


So we need to consider how many priests are available to do the work and how much each priest needs to do. In rural parishes, the number of people may be lower but the priest may have a huge area to cover. In urban areas, the needs and logistics might be more than we might imagine.


Finally, I have real issues with the attitude of “demanding” things. Yes, the bishops are servants in the sense of emulating Christ washing the feet of His disciples (cf. John 13:14-17). But whatever we do in making known our spiritual needs must be done with respect—something people forget when citing canon 212 §3 (which tends to get ignored when people cite §2):


CAN. 212 §1.† Conscious of their own responsibility, the Christian faithful are bound to follow with Christian obedience those things which the sacred pastors, inasmuch as they represent Christ, declare as teachers of the faith or establish as rulers of the Church.


§2.† The Christian faithful are free to make known to the pastors of the Church their needs, especially spiritual ones, and their desires.


§3.† According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons.(emphasis added)


Making demands that could sound like imperatives or sound like the bishops were just apathetically sitting around doing nothing to address these needs does not strike me as showing reverence, attention, and respect for dignity of persons. 


Does that mean I think everything is fine as is? That we should just “shut up and go along”? No. I do think we need the Sacraments as much as possible, and I dislike being unable to go to Mass. But we do need to ask ourselves what is possible at this time. We have to consider the resources and responsibilities of the bishops in being shepherds of their dioceses. Before we request—not demand—anything, we need to determine whether what we want is feasible in regards to the needs of safety. 


The sacraments are important for us. Mass is important for us. When they are available, we should avail ourselves of them as much as possible. But they will not always be available for us. The countries that suffered persecution throughout history come to mind as an obvious example. War and disease also cause major disruptions that make the sacraments uncertain.


I’m not saying, “We’re not suffering X, so we should just shut up about Y.” That would be the fallacy of relative privation. Our hardships are real, and something that is new to us in the West. We’re not wrong to want them resolved. But we can be wrong if we demand resolution in a way that cannot be reasonably granted under the conditions we are in.


We need to remember that even if we cannot receive the sacraments under the terms we have previously had, that does not cut us off from the Church. We are still the body of Christ, and we can still pray for each other, still interact with each other (albeit in different ways), still observe the Mass. Certainly it would be laudable for the faithful who have practical ideas of how to improve the sacramental life in the time of pandemic to step forwardΣ. We all should be praying for the Pope and bishops to be guided on how best to shepherd us at this time.


So, in expressing our wants and needs, let us keep these things in mind. We’re still Catholics even if we can’t receive the sacraments under these circumstances. So let us humbly accept what we must and change what we can (to paraphrase the oldSerenity prayer) but let us do so in The Lord.




(If you're wondering about the comic, the blue haired girl is "Iimi-tan," [“IIMI being the blog’s initials] who's become something of a mascot on my blog's Facebook page.)


(†) I generally dislike the concept of the “Open Letter.” It strikes me as a way of “politely” attacking someone. This general dislike might or might not affect my views of this letter.


(Ω) I write as an American dealing with an American Catholic action. My thoughts might or might not have relevance for Catholics elsewhere in the world, but different levels of governing and population density in different nations might make my thoughts irrelevant elsewhere.


(Σ) It would be infinitely superior to “the bishops should think of something to do…” 

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