The other day, I was at the store and bought whiskey. I also picked up a couple weights for working out, since the gyms are closed for who knows how long. Remarkable. We can still go to busy, crowded stores and buy things like whiskey, weights and artisan cheese, but what can’t we do? Go to Mass on Sunday. When it comes to the question of what to do for Sunday Mass in the face of COVID-19 related closings, shut-downs and lock-downs, the bishops of Poland have provided a bold and unique alternative to suspending the public celebration of Sunday Mass: offer more public Masses. Thank you, Poland.
The thinking behind this is obvious: the concentration of faithful present at each Mass will be diluted with more options available, thereby limiting the likelihood of the spreading of illness. Why isn’t anyone else thinking along these lines? Why simply go along with what everyone else is doing in the secular arena by suspending the public celebration of Sunday Mass? It’s sad that, in the wake of very understandable concern for the public’s health, we aren’t seeing a bit more originality and creativity when it comes to the Sunday Mass question. I think the Polish bishops have it right. In times of crisis, let’s opt for creativity to maintain continuity, and be bold about how to do so!
Here is another idea: offer a large number of outdoor Sunday Masses at public parks. Set up dozens of altars sufficiently spread out from one another throughout the park and have the twenty or thirty (or more?) priests fan out and offer one Mass every hour, say from 7AM to 12PM at each altar in the park. Older Catholics and those who are at greater risk of illness would have the option to stay home, but for those who would like to attend a Mass, the outdoor Mass option would give them the opportunity to do so in a very safe setting: outside, sufficiently spaced apart from others, etc. Also, Holy Communion would not have to be distributed. The reception of Communion by the laity is not required to fulfill the Sunday obligation. Throughout much of Church history, the weekly reception of Communion by the laity was not the norm anyway. That came much later.
Look around. People are still using the parks for jogging, walking dogs, exercise, etc., so it’s not like parks are off limits. Imagine Milwaukee priests fanning out across the parks of Milwaukee to offer Mass outside in this time of great uncertainty. What a beautiful sight that would be! It would inspire and embolden Milwaukee Catholics. (And don’t we all need a little boost, Milwaukee Catholics?) It would say, “We’re still here. This is not going to stop us.”
There are certainly many options, many ideas. This is just one. But let’s at least get the discussion going. What else could be done? Is anyone exploring them? Is total shut-down the only option left? I don’t think so.
Think of the enormous risks Catholics in our 2,000 year history have undertaken to attend or offer Mass. Look at Evelyn Waugh’s biography of Saint Edmund Campion for an example of this. It was that important. Even if Catholics couldn’t receive Communion for whatever reason, they were present at Mass. Powerful graces were there. This is our heritage and we should not abandon it. We just need some vision.
Featured image: Navy Chaplain O. David Herrmann, of Omaha, Neb., attached to a Marine unit on Saipan, uses a destroyed Japanese Type 95 Ha-Go tank for an altar as he offers Mass – Saipan, 24 June 1944