THE STATE CANNOT PREVENT THE SHEPHERDS FROM DOING THEIR DUTY.
4 Maggio 2020
Dear friends and enemies of Stilum Curiae, we gladly publish the contribution sent us by Sebastián Frías, priest, lawyer (University of Belgrano, Buenos Aires), doctor of philosophy (Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, Rome) and doctor of canon law (Pontifical Lateran University, Rome). He wrote an article (“The Church in times of coronavirus”) on the video “Give us back the Holy Mass” which was viralized this week on social networks where some young people ask their bishops to restore Masses for the people. There have been versions in Argentina, Spain, Austria and other countries. (You can see them on YouTube). Here it is also on Stilum Curiae. Enjoy reading it.
The Church in times of coronavirus
«Give us back the Mass» claimed some young Catholics to their pastors on social networks and other media. «We must abide by the obligatory social isolation imposed by the state authorities», responded some bishops defending the suspension of Masses and other sacraments.
Beyond the anecdotal, what is important is the content: is it right to deprive the faithful of the Mass? Can the ecclesiastical authorities leave Christians without the food that nourishes their spiritual life? Do the measures taken by the national government to deal with the pandemic and prevent the spread of the virus justify the general and automatic suspension of the sacraments? To answer these and other questions we must place ourselves in a perspective of faith and justice.
Jesus said: «Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…» (Matthew 28:19). In that «baptizing» of his missionary mandate, Jesus Christ entrusted the sacraments (Baptism, Reconciliation, Eucharist, Anointing of the Sick, etc.) to the Church as a deposit (not as property) for the salvation of men and women.
Therefore, in ecclesial relations the sacraments are both a duty for the Church-institution and a right for the faithful. They are a duty of the Church because Jesus destined them for human beings. The hierarchy (deacons, priests and bishops) cannot close themselves off in the sacristies if they claim to be an outlooking (en salida) Church, as Pope Francis says, they must go forth. The faithful, in turn, have the right to receive the sacramental goods that Jesus gave them so that they may receive God’s grace, become holy and be saved.
The Eucharist is the sacrament in which Jesus, the Bread of Life (cf. John 6:48), gives Himself, revealing God’s infinite love for every human being. It is the spiritual food par excellence, without which our supernatural life dies: «I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you» (John 6:53).
In the times of Covid-19 the saving mission of the Church does not change, it remains the same. The most charitable actions she can offer are to announce the Gospel and to administer the sacraments. No one can replace her in her task of teaching and sanctification. Nor are online transmissions of Masses sufficient because, as Pope Francis said, the virtual church is not Church.
During quarantine, the pastoral principle of justice «positive law follows life» must be applied, which calls for the adaptation of church structures to guarantee access to the sacraments. Just as the state authorities ensure physical food, medicine and social assistance, the church authorities must ensure spiritual food, taking the necessary sanitary measures. Depriving the faithful of the basics of life is unjust. As the Holy Father teaches, the Church must be a field hospital with its doctors of souls bringing to the people the medicine of Reconciliation and the food of the Eucharist.
Pastors must discern and decide with faith, creativity and apostolic zeal which are the most appropriate and efficient ways. Perhaps, as the Argentinean Archbishop of La Plata, Monsignor Victor Manuel Fernández, proposed, Masses could be celebrated by adopting health measures similar to those foreseen for attendance at supermarkets, pharmacies, banks or hospitals.
So that the faithful who wish to attend Mass can do so, the number of celebrations per day could be increased, their duration reduced and the greeting of peace omitted. Measures should be taken to avoid crowds and to allow sufficient distance between people, to disinfect the pews before and after each Mass, to ask the clergy and faithful to put on facial masks, and so on. For Reconciliation, traditional confessionals could be used with a grille or grata by attaching a thin veil with disinfectant.
In the same way —taking the necessary protective measures (masks, gloves or surgical clothing)— priests could take the sacraments to the homes of people who wish to do so and cannot approach the church because they are at risk (the elderly or sick) or are afraid of infecting their relatives. This is applied likewise to prisons and hospitals.
Attention to the sick and dying is paramount. In the context of the anguish that we are experiencing, many people die alone, without being able to say goodbye to their loved ones, without expressions of affection, without spiritual assistance, and even without funerals. The priest must be present to console and accompany them in the name of Jesus, because he promised us that he will be with us «every day until the end of the world» (Matthew 28:20). He must give them God’s love through Reconciliation (there are portable folding confessionals made of cardboard or aluminium similar to small screens), the Anointing of the Sick and Communion.
Norms that take away the freedom of the Church are unjust and violate the human rights of freedom of religion and worship (cf. United Nations (1948), Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Articles 2, 18 and 19). Pastors must «give to Caesar what is Caesar’s», but also «give to God what is God’s» (Matthew 22:21). They must be faithful stewards of the sacraments and, like Jesus, give their lives for love.
State authorities cannot prevent pastors from fulfilling their duty to bring spiritual food and divine grace to the people. Many are in need of refuge, compassion, love, and comfort. There is much uncertainty, anguish and fear. Therefore, during the quarantine priests should, like Jesus, be bridges of listening, encouragement and relief by bringing God’s love, grace and comfort of the sacraments to those who need them. The Virgin Mary accompanies us.
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