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Bringing Back Mass

July 1, 2020 (693 words)

Now that early attempts to “re-open” the original shutdown States have been met with a rise in COVID-19 infections, we are confronted with the fact that face masks may be part of our outdoor attire for the foreseeable future.

Other major epidemics of recent years were relegated to certain populations in specific regions of the globe, and did not impact daily life here in the United States. As everyone knows, the last big world-wide pandemic, such as what we are experiencing now, was the “Spanish Influenza.” It lasted from February 1918 to April 1920. It infected 500 million people, which represented a third of the world’s population at the time, in four successive waves. About ten percent of people infected eventually died of the disease.

While scientists work diligently to discover a vaccine for today’s coronavirus, the best-case scenario for such a breakthrough is still maybe a year away. So we should all figure out how best to function in the meantime.

As experts have noted, industries and retail businesses that require a critical mass of workers or customers to gather face a special challenge. And people employed in those industries and businesses may be looking at an ongoing furlough, if not outright termination. The economic fall-out of all this continues to grow, and where it will lead no one can say.

But my focus this morning is not on the economics of the situation, but its impact on religious practice. Many have complained at how churches were forced to close along with bars, gyms, movie theaters, and the like.

On the Catholic front, leaders and lay people were up in arms over what they felt was an infringement of their “religious freedom.” Believers needed access to the sacraments, especially Holy Communion. Their righteous indignation was coming to a boil, as “Big Brother” obstinately prevented shepherds from properly tending to their flocks.

Fortunately here in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, public attendance at Mass started back on the first weekend of June. But the months-long hullabaloo made me wonder if the critics could please do something besides complain about directives that were, after all, designed to protect the safety of everyone concerned, even when those directives seemed a little ham-handed at times. (For starters, I’d like to see how well you would do in a position of authority, trying to address the fall-out from a pandemic like this one. Yes, I mean you…)

Assuming we may be forced to close our churches again at some point, before we are through with this threat, it may be wise to develop an alternative strategy when it comes to regular observance.

I don’t know how other worshippers, such as followers of the many different Protestant denominations, can respond to another outbreak/shutdown. But for Catholics, local parish priests are already saying a Mass every single day. So why does our “weekly obligation” have to be fulfilled on a Sunday?

If there were to be another shutdown, opening our churches for an hour on a daily basis would involve the ironing out of important logistics. Details may vary slightly from parish to parish, depending on the size of the congregation. Any such customized game plan would no doubt require high-level negotiations between each Archdiocese and the respective city and state governments involved, to obtain the necessary approvals.

But a common-sense solution would appear to be within our reach. In my little hole-in-the-wall parish, located on the western fringe of the Philadelphia archdiocese in a once-thriving, now-tattered old steel town, we only have about 400 souls who make it to Mass each week. That includes our sizable Spanish population, which may account for half the total. Last time I checked, there are still seven days in a week. Do the math, people. Figuring out and accommodating the “social distancing” requirements would be do-able in the event of another shutdown, don’t you agree?

We should be prepared to give daily Mass attendance a try, if and when our churches are forced to curtail the big-tent Sunday worship thing again in the near future. I, for one, would prefer not to be denied Mass or Holy Communion for months at a time.

Robert J. Cavanaugh, Jr
July 1, 2020

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