Part I: Why the Cancelation of Masses due to COVID-19 is probably a good thing.
(If Church history does not interest you, feel free to skip to Part II: How Should I Spend My Sunday when Public Masses Are Canceled?)
Many bishops in the world have canceled Sunday Masses for several consecutive weeks due to fear over coronavirus (COVID-19.) You might be surprised to read that I actually agree with their decision on this.
First, epidemiologically, COVID has the potential to grow big and rapidly in its reach. Even if COVID stayed small in the amount of infections, many people over 50 years old would be placing themselves in harm’s way in any mass gathering (last pun you’ll ever see on my blog.) The current mortality rate for those with COVID over 80 years old is 15%. That is a very high mortality rate for any endemic that could go pandemic. What is a bishop to do? Say that young healthy people are bound under mortal sin to Mass but old-folks must stay away from Mass?
Many of you might respond to the above paragraph and say: “But Fr. Nix, you are the first one who is always saying that you can’t invert the First and Second Great Commandments. So, if the First Great Commandment is to love God and the second is to love your neighbor, then you supporting the bishops in helping lay people refraining from worshipping God at Mass on Sunday for the sake of fraternal charity in just staving off a nearly-fake and hyped-up disease is bad theology. In fact, it’s nothing more than the satanic inversion of the Two Great Commandments that you always preach against!”
To this I say: You have been listening well to my podcasts! But there are a few things to consider in Church history:
First, we consider the early Church. We currently live in a hyper-sacramentalized time of Church history that makes it hard for us modern Catholics to understand the other periods of Church history that were so different from our own.
Modernist Catholics treat the sacraments like superstitious magic tricks that work regardless of preparation or not. Catholicism for the first millennium ran just as much on the ascetical life as the sacramental life. In fact, if you listen to my most recent podcast on St. Mary of Egypt you will hear how many priests in the 4th century did not offer Holy Mass even once in Lent, so important was their preparation for Paschal Holy Communion! The early Church expected fasting and prayer to carry as much of the weight of holiness as the sacraments—surely more than a superficial reception of the sacraments! Or rather, the powerful fasting was preparation for powerful sacraments. I say to you now: Instead of complaining that you don’t get Sunday Mass, why not prepare to be 10 times holier for your Easter Communion? This is what Catholics did for 95% of Church history (even when they did attend Mass on Sundays, which we all should do except times of plague, extreme travel, sickness, etc.)
Secondly, we consider the medieval Catholic Church. Remember, St. Francis of Assisi spent all of Lent without attending Holy Mass once. (He was a deacon, not a priest, so he could not offer Holy Mass on Mt. Alverno where he fasted for 40 days.) The Church teaches to this day that the sacraments are powerful in and of themselves ex-opere operato but they are exponentially more powerful if they land on someone who is well-prepared ex-opere operantis. Could we not use a few weeks without public Mass to fast and go so deep that the next time we receive Holy Communion is near-ecstasy? Medievals would attend as many Masses as possible. But it wasn’t to receive Holy Communion. It was simply to look at the glory of the sacrifice of God the Son lifted to God the Father. In fact, medieval Catholics called the elevation “The gaze that saves.” Notice that they did this, even if they only felt worthy to receive Holy Communion once a year (usually Easter/Pascha, coincidentally the time that most sacramental interdicts end in 2020.)
Thirdly, the Catholic Church after Trent would not allow the missionary-mendicant orders to offer Holy Mass on trans-Atlantic or trans-Pacific boats. There was too much danger of spilling. This included all Franciscans, Jesuits and Dominicans. Yes, the Popes from the time of St. Francis Xavier onwards all said that there was too great of a danger to offer Holy Mass on a moving boat because the Precious Blood of Jesus could spill onto the deck. So, how long did it take St. Francis Xavier to go around the cape of South Africa to go from Lisbon, Portugal to Goa, India? It took him several months! That means St. Francis Xavier went several months at a time not only without his daily Mass, but even without his Sunday Mass. And yet, he became a saint. (None of this is to say I think any of us should stay away from Sunday Mass or even daily Mass in non-pandemic times. In fact, I fully agree with Pope St. Pius X’s exhortation for the lay faithful to receive Holy Communion as much as possible.)
Fourthly, let us consider modern times. In my early priesthood, I once asked an auxiliary bishop of my diocese (not our current auxiliary bishop) how many people in his diocese received Holy Communion in a state of mortal sin. This bishop answered me: 80%. Think about that. 80% of Catholics are sacrileging the Eucharist on Sundays. In that case, I’d say it’s a pretty good thing that these people get a break from sacrileging the Son of God for three weeks! They should return to confession so as to make their next Mass pleasing to God. Notice that that the “80%” figure came from a normal bishop, not from an “extremist” like me. St. Paul shows what such unprepared Masses do to the human body and soul: Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.—1 Cor 11:27-30. I think of coronavirus with that last sentence!
All this being said, there are probably some bishops in the world who are currently canceling Masses simply to bow to the government’s hype (or even more nefarious spiritual forces.) If such is the case, then all I can say is that I disagree with such bishops’ reasonings, but I still come to the same conclusion that it’s good to cancel Masses in a pandemic that is projected by more than the MSM to claim a lot of lives. I honestly pray I’m the first to go (so I’m not afraid or alarmed) but I think COVID is going big. (And yes, a good medieval bishop would have at least lifted the Sunday obligation amidst the bubonic plague, which this could become.)
Part II: How Should I Spend My Sundays when Public Masses Are Canceled?
First, read the 1962 Missal of the Sunday Mass or your Magnificat. Spend time with your family actually meditating on the Scriptures instead of just going to Mass while listening to the Scriptures— thinking about the afternoon sports you’re going to watch. Go deep in this time without public Masses to prepare well for your next experience of taking a time machine to Calvary, the very definition of Mass.
Secondly, pray the family Rosary attentively on Sundays. But pray the family Rosary with the intention of making this a family tradition that will stick every Sunday, perhaps even every day. Men, if you can make the daily Rosary mandatory for your family, your teens might complain at first, but it will eventually become the most peaceful time of their hectic day. The Rosary is only 20 minutes long, meaning it’s only 1.38% of the day. And it nearly guarantees your family’s salvation if you look at the promises Our Lady made to St. Dominic.
Thirdly, make a spiritual communion with a long preparation and a long thanksgiving. My favorite spiritual communion should be copied, pasted and printed on your refrigerator:
I believe that You
are present in the Most Holy Sacrament.
I love You above all things,
and I desire to receive You into my soul.
Since I cannot at this moment
receive You sacramentally,
come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace You as if You were already there and unite myself wholly to You. Never permit me to be separated from You.
Amen.—St. Alphonsus Liguori
This prayer should be said by you at Mass during Communion time any time you are in mortal sin and can not go to confession before Holy Mass begins. No, an act of contrition is not enough to go to Holy Communion without sacramental confession! Make an act of spiritual communion instead.
In fact, many saints prayed that spiritual communion (where you can literally imagine you’re receiving Holy Communion as you pray it) every hour on the hour. In fact, someone once told me that St. Maximilian Kolbe made an act of spiritual Communion every 15 minutes of his waking day!
Fourthly, unite the suffering of missing a few Masses in March 2020 to the hundreds of thousands of persecuted Catholics like Huma in the far East who never get to go to Mass. If the strongest Catholics in the world (possibly in China?) do not “deserve” the Mass in Divine Providence as they languish in prisons, then surely we Western Catholics chewing gum in Mass should be extremely thankful if we get Holy Mass 49 out of 52 Sundays a year. Or for the more fervent Western Catholics not-chewing-gum-at-Mass: Unite your unsatisfied hunger for the Eucharist over the next few weeks to the many persecuted Christians in prison. There have been 70 million Christian martyrs in 2000 years of history, but nearly 50 million of them have died in the past 100 years. That means most Christian martyrs of history are our contemporaries, not the contemporaries of the ancient Roman Empire!
Fifthly, find a priest to hear your family’s confessions. As I said in the podcast What Should a Priest Do in a Pandemic? the modern hierarchy is putting the emphasis the Eucharist and extreme unction, whereas the traditional mind of the Church in times of plague puts the emphasis on baptism and confession. These latter two sacraments are more necessary for salvation, at least in times of emergency. This isn’t me longing for more traditional times of the bubonic plague. This is the mind of every ecumenical council and every priestly saint who is hungry for the salvation of souls.
Sixthly, read the catechism to see how seriously God takes the 3rd Commandment as an all-Sunday commitment. God actually expects the entire day to be sacred. A Novus Ordo Nigerian priest was often told by his American parishioners exiting Mass that his Mass went 65 minutes. The jolly Nigerian father simply said “If you can show me where in Canon Law Mass is to be only 60 minutes, I will follow it.” The truth is that Masses in Africa will often go for three hours. Then, people will spend the rest of the day together in eating, prayer, music, dancing, etc. In fact, many of my Byzantine Catholic friends and family commit all of Sunday to their parish community for singing in choir and eating a big meal together (even if they have to get creative after Meat-Fare and Cheese-Fare Sundays.)
But these are more than just extreme examples of the 21st century. If you read the Church Fathers, Popes and saints, they say it is very serious sin to do unnecessary work on Sundays. But let’s put it in the positive: Imagine how close God can draw your family to Him if you commit all of Sunday to be family time instead of work time or sports time. Spend the next few weeks without Mass actually reading the catechisms and the Popes on how families should spend Sundays. Men, come up with a “game plan” that future Sundays (when Masses are resumed) are not simply focused on a 60 minute Mass where everyone quickly runs in their own directions. Men, set not only expectations but requirements to your families that Sundays are now exclusively for God, the parish, the family, recreation and to a limited degree: friends (provided they join your family with their families.)
If you can spend the next three Sundays coming up with a game-plan for a thousand future Sundays for your family, you’ll have a much better chance of getting your families to heaven than complaining on social media against the bishops for missing three Masses. I’m not being snarky and I’ve never been accused of being a hyper-obedient beta-male to the USCCB. I literally think the salvation of American Catholic families are in danger if they don’t know how to start to live all-Sundays, all-day, like the Africans and the Greeks do: Together with all the family, in lots of prayer, lots of food and lots of naps. 1
Let God re-create you on the 8th day so you can be ready for the 8th eternal day in heaven.