The Mass that Always Was There

As a result of the 2020-2021 coronavirus pandemic, Catholic bishops in dioceses around the world restricted public access to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. In the United States, every Latin Rite diocese reportedly canceled public Masses at the height of the virus hysteria.1 In addition to the public Mass prohibitions, most dioceses in the United States canceled, or limited in some form, essentially every other event — sacramental, traditional, charitable, and social — that may be held in a Catholic parish. In the ensuing months, most bishops would slowly recommence public Masses, but the damage done to individual souls and to the Church in history would be irrevocable.2

In mid-April of 2020, the bishop of Las Cruces, New Mexico, was reported to be the first American prelate to lift his ban on public Masses, writing in defense of this decision, that, contrary to fashionable attitudes and trends, he had come to realize that the Church provides “the greatest ‘essential service’ to our people.”3 A week later, three other bishops, two in Montana and one in Texas, followed suit by lifting bans in some form.4 Other dioceses in the country began to follow these prelates’ example, with the list of recommencements and re-openings slowly, but continuously, growing steadily in the months after the initial cancellations in March 2020.5

Some bishops surely began to realize that, to use the words of Cardinal Robert Sarah in a May 2020 letter: “A secularized mentality considers religious acts as secondary activities at the service of people’s well-being, such as recreational and cultural activities. This perspective is radically false.”6

At the beginning of the virus panic, views opposing the public Mass cancellations were opinions widely deemed to be unacceptable, owing to the secular trends and group-think of the time. As the weeks and months have gone on, however, one has seen many opinions moving closer to those who have questioned the public Mass cancellations from the beginning.

There are those who have realized the incongruity of their Mass-cancellation arguments with their professed religious first principles and teachings. The most virtuous of this group will admit the folly of their initial views and attest that they themselves fell victim to the secular trends and capitulated to the fashionable opinions of the time.

Then there are those who came simply to realize that the non-spiritual, practical implications of the cancellations were quickly mounting and that the results would be deleterious for the Church going forward. The Archdiocese of New York, for instance, had announced that their weekly donation offerings were down 50%, while the Archdiocese of Los Angeles stated that it was losing $2 million per week in offerings.7 The budget cuts that are sure to come throughout the worldwide Catholic Church will affect the everyday good work that the Church does and may also hamper future evangelization.

Mass Can Be “Canceled”?

Church teaching has maintained that physical attendance at Sunday Mass and at Masses on Holy Days of Obligation is obligatory for Catholics. In many other Christian denominations, church services, while being encouraged, are not obligatory. In the Catholic Church, however, not attending Mass in the flesh, and lacking a valid reason that would thereby provide a dispensation to the parishioner, has been taught to be a grave sin. Church law instructs that one who misses an obligatory Mass without a valid dispensation must confess this sin to a priest in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and that he cannot receive Communion — except in extraordinary, grave circumstances — until he is absolved of this sin.

Although Catholic law and teaching has not officially changed on the matter of obligatory Mass attendance, the recent public Mass cancellations have created an unfortunate precedent that will surely do damage henceforth. The now-established precedent of Mass no longer being deemed “essential,” to use the fashionable lingo of the virus panic period, will necessarily put into question, or at least make the tendency to follow the law less demanding, in the minds of the faithful-many8 for the current generations’ lifetimes and for time well after their deaths. These sentiments, when the lay faithful-many feel them, will not, however, be caused on account of their own deeds or thoughts.

In addition to creating an unfortunate precedent, the faithful were restricted from a part of life that has been regular and steady for all of their lives. The psychological impact of the public Mass cancellations cannot be overstated. As chaos, confusion, and uncertainty reined around them, the public Mass could have been, as it should have been, the one constant, stable, and certain part of life on which they could count unfailingly. That scenario, however, was not to be, for in the most uncertain of times, it was the one tangible, sensible light that all Catholics always could access — for 364 days of the year (and one Friday service) — every year, every century, that had been cordoned off to the faithful in the United States and elsewhere.

In the Catholic liturgy, there is only one calendar day of the year when the Sacrifice of the Holy Mass is not celebrated, and that is Good Friday.9 Even on this one calendar day of the year, the faithful still congregate at three o’clock Services of the Lord’s Passion at which the worthy of those gathered receive Communion that had been consecrated the night before during Maundy Thursday’s Mass of the Lord’s Supper.10 There is then stillness from Good Friday until Saturday night when the grandest Mass on the Church calendar, the Easter Vigil, is celebrated throughout the world. Thus for 365 calendar days, the faithful have access to, and are present at, 364 calendar day Masses and one Service. For many months in the United States and throughout the world, the faithful, however, had been barred from access to the foot of the cross.

Closed Churches in New York City

To pair the word “canceled” with “Mass” would have seemed, for most living Catholics, and nearly all devoted Catholics, oxymoronic prior to the decisions made by bishops during the height of the pandemic panic. For the public Mass, of course, as in every Mass everywhere, is never canceled, nearly all thought prior to the Wuhan coronavirus closures.

Prior to New York City becoming the United States’ “first wave” epicenter of the Wuhan coronavirus, the native and lifelong New Yorker was accustomed to his abundantly-blessed situation of always having many parishes within walking distance because of the city’s considerable population density. Indeed, Mass was a constant of life. During both public and private tragedies; during disasters, man-caused and natural; during illness, happiness, and sadness; and during the Blizzard of 1996, sky-high crime, blackouts, September 11, and Hurricane Sandy, just to mention a few of the more recent significant events in New York City, the Mass — always — had been there for the New Yorker.

For all those living — the young, middle-aged, and old-aged — in times good and bad, the Mass had always been. Somewhere near, the public Mass was always being celebrated, and if one could physically get there, he could witness it.

When public Masses were first canceled, for most of the faithful it was confounding to consider that for the first time in their lives, there was no Mass to attend; the idea, when put into words, is oxymoronic for the Catholic who places Sunday Mass attendance as regular, steady, necessary, and as obligatory as breathing and sleeping. The Catholic who was taught that it is a sin not to attend the Mass on Sundays and on Holy Days of Obligation, had no Mass to attend. This state was not his choice, but rather it was the choice of the ones who always told him that missing obligatory Masses was a grave sin.

The decisions that led to the shutdown, one-by-one, of the commemoration that transports man from this place called the world and gives him a sensible glimpse of the eternal, can be called nothing less than capitulation to the secular fashionable trend of panic found among the many, the media, and the political classes.

The Prior Mindset of The Mass as A Constant

Throughout every man’s life, changes abound — changes significant, changes small, and changes somewhere in-between. Amid all of those changes, that public Masses are canceled — not a Mass at one particular parish, but all public Masses — is a change that one, prior to the pandemic-related decisions, thought he would never encounter and one that he never even thought possible.

Comparisons, as had been heard, to those in parts of the world who do not have regular Mass are inapplicable analogies, and one could even argue that they are unfair analogies. In those regions, Mass is unavailable not by choice, but because there are no priests to offer Mass. In those remote locations, then, Mass is not canceled, but Mass cannot be celebrated. During the virus panic in the West, however, there were priests and church buildings, and all the else needed, to celebrate Mass.

Consider the words of Thomas Aquinas, who, citing a Church decree, notes: “Nevertheless, as is said in De Consecr., dist. 1, ‘if a church be not to hand, we permit travelers to celebrate Mass in the open air, or in a tent, if there be a consecrated altar-table to hand, and the other requisites belonging to the sacred function.’”11

In other words, the aim must always be to ensure that the Mass is offered regardless of the surrounding worldly circumstances, and it is the duty of the Church’s shepherds to discern how to ensure that the Mass is celebrated and open for lay public witness.

Indeed, the very first decision when confronting the virus panic should not have been to cancel the public Mass. Rather, the excellent leader would have utilized his honed, educated, and cultivated rational part of the soul to discern how the public Mass does continue. This is the type of practical judgement that Aristotle argued in Nicomachean Ethics the prudent leader possesses, and it is this man who will be able to make good decisions. For those who did not possess the practical judgment requisite to adapt quickly to changes and to ensure that Masses continued uninterrupted, on April 28, the Thomistic Institute prepared a detailed, 23-page document outlining how public Masses can be — and could have been — celebrated while maintaining all of the fashionable physical distancing and other hygienic recommendations put forth by secular health agencies.12 Still, even after such detailed types of guidelines began to be disseminated by groups like the Thomistic Institute, widespread public Mass cancellations persisted.

Capitulating to Secular Panic: The Domino Effect

Prior to the cascading domino effect that eventually led to the public Mass cancellations, some bishops began by offering dispensations from Sunday Mass. For those with underlying health issues, with suppressed immune systems, and for the elderly, dispensations can certainly be a prudent approach for some people in those categories. Dispensations, however, are of another genus than the unprecedented public Mass cancellations. In the case of dispensations, a particular individual is choosing not to attend Mass and is choosing to accept the bishop’s offer of dispensation. This individual choice does not mean that the public Mass is canceled.

In the cases of dispensations, or in cases when, in regular times, an individual misses Mass for whatever the reason, he still knows that down the block the public Mass still is, only that he, alone, is not sharing in it fully at this time alongside his fellow parishioners. Indeed, he knows that the Mass is there and accessible regardless of his non-attendance.

In extraordinary situations, such as when a particular parish is closed, the fact remains that its parishioners know that a public Mass is being celebrated at the next parish and is accessible to them. At the height of the pandemic panic, however, there was no licit Mass to attend on Sunday anywhere in the entire United States.

The timelines of the public Mass cancellations generally coincided with the secular panic caused by the passions of the many (the many include the mass of worldly people, but also their leaders — politicians, the media, entertainment peoples, and other influencers. The term is influenced by Aristotle’s understanding of the many and their influencers). (In some cases, dioceses actually capitulated to panic and announced Mass cancellations even earlier than secular officials.)

Consider the case study of the Diocese of Brooklyn. The bishop first granted a dispensation from the March 15 Sunday obligation and later came to decide that March 15 would be the last day of public Mass in the diocese indefinitely.13 In the Diocese of Brooklyn and elsewhere where stay-at-home orders would be soon promulgated by local and state governments, the Masses were actually canceled before these secular orders. Further, dioceses around the country and world canceled public Masses in places where there were no stay-at-home orders. At the height of the Lenten Season, the pain was further compounded. For instance, the Diocese of Brooklyn announced on March 18 that public Holy Week Masses would also be canceled.14

Two days later, the diocese forbade these among the liturgies and Sacraments still licit: funeral Masses, baptisms, and weddings (baptisms and weddings would be “postponed” and funeral Masses would “be celebrated later” as memorial Masses) and Reconciliation was now “limited to emergencies only.”15 All church buildings themselves were also ordered shuttered, hiding behind closed doors the Tabernacle, that lively gold home containing all hope and the greatest food for man.16 All Catholics in the diocese were even granted dispensations from Lenten Fridays of abstinence.17

The diocese would finally come to announce on June 19 that weekday Masses would recommence on June 29 and that the Sunday Mass would recommence on the July 4-5 weekend.18 The total public Mass cancellations in the Diocese of Brooklyn, therefore, numbered fifteen weeks of Sunday Masses — over the span of 110 calendar days from the first day of cancellations to the Vigil of July 4 and 111 days from the first day of cancellations to the July 5 Sunday calendar day — and over the span of 105 days from the first day of cancellations to the first day of the daily Mass recommencements.

Local prelates were not alone, for the panic spread worldwide and penetrated the Roman gates. On March 20, the Vatican issued guidelines for the Paschal Triduum, with the document stating that for this most important period in the Church calendar year, priests could celebrate Triduum Masses without the people.19 For the glorious Maundy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper, the guidelines stated that both the washing of the feet ritual and the beautifully solemn procession of the Blessed Sacrament after the Mass should be omitted.20

The results of these restrictions can be measured in terms of uncultivated souls and deep yearning for God.

The “City of God” and the “City of Man”

In May, the bishop of Brooklyn convened a lay-led committee that assisted with creating plans for the eventual re-opening of its shuttered 185 parishes and 211 churches.21 The leader of the panel, Joseph Esposito, led New York City’s Office of Emergency Management from 2014-2018.22 Esposito’s practical experience is not in question; rather, one must ask what experience do lay government practitioners have in caring for the needs of the soul? Esposito, for instance, said: “We’re going to be following the lead of the governor and the mayor. When they give the word, we want to be ready to go.”23 The governor, the mayor, and lay committees, however, cannot, are not equipped to, and have no aim to, lead souls to eternal salvation, for they serve the temporal things of this word and not that which is eternal.

As St. Paul exhorts: “For those who live according to the flesh are concerned with the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the spirit with the things of the spirit.”24 Likewise, Benedict XVI spoke similarly in a homily to men being ordained to the transitional diaconate.25 The ways of the world, said Benedict XVI, “lures the Church, infecting her members and even ordained ministers.”26 The Holy Father continued: “We are ‘in’ the world, and we risk being also ‘of’ the world, the world in the sense of this mentality. And in fact at times we are. Because of this, Jesus at the end did not pray for the world in this same sense but for his disciples, so that the Father may keep them from evil that they may be free and different from the world, while living in the world.”27

Secular Fashions and Passions Versus Glimpses of the Eternal

The secular orders and pronouncements were also based on the unorderly whims of secular politicians and public health officials. Consider the incongruity of the thinking behind a letter signed by over 1200 health experts who claimed that massive protests of tens of thousands of people for leftist politically-progressive causes were acceptable, but that all other social and religious gatherings were not.28 Those within the Church, especially the ordained delegated practitioners of the soul, who chose to listen to such individuals, it can be said, were most certainly fooled.

Further, secular government officials, even when they allege unbiased, non-ideological, and non-partisan decisions based on “science,” are still making decisions on which “science” to highlight or to dismiss. These officials as well are making determinations on what the “science” demonstrates and predicts. Computer-based models, for instance, are predictions that, in addition to being notoriously unreliable, do not take into account numerous factors, of course the most important of which is the cultivation and salvation of the soul. As one article in the journal Science argues, in addition to the tendency for contagion models to be far from accurate, they consider little outside of the direct impact of the disease itself.29 For instance, the article argues: “Long lockdowns to slow a disease have catastrophic economic impacts and may devastate public health themselves.” Many of the secular lockdown and ecclesial cancellations were based on purported models; these models’ predictions on the virus’ impact to human life also, however, varied widely.30 Two authors who compared the vast differences in some of the relied-upon models during the pandemic also demonstrated how small differences in data input result in considerably varied conclusions and opined: “all models are grounded in user-specified assumptions.”31

The predictions of politicians and public health officials have been notoriously wrong. For instance, it was widely claimed — and for some time became accepted, common “knowledge” — in the United States that the coronavirus would subside in the summer.32 These predictions were dubious. Those who have made numerous wrong “scientific” predictions often simply explain away why their predictions were wrong and then proceed to making new predictions.33

In July 2020, physician Robert R. Redfield, the director of the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, co-authored an editorial in which it was argued that all Americans should wear a mask in public settings.34 Redfield’s mask argument might be logical; however, it was Redfield who stated less than five months earlier, according to a generated transcript, that “there is no role for these masks in the community,” claiming that masks should only be used by, and reserved for, healthcare professionals.35 In that same testimony, Redfield claimed that in terms of the Wuhan coronavirus, “the immediate risk of this new virus to the American public is low”36 and said the same again on March 2 during a press conference.37 After months of denials about their efficacy, mask-use became ubiquitous and required by law in many United States locales and states. The misinformation regarding masks harkened back to some government pronouncements after the September 11, 2001 Islamic terrorist attacks on the United States. After the attacks, the federal government claimed that the air in lower Manhattan was “safe to breathe.”38 A 2003 Environmental Protection Agency Inspector General report would later find that the EPA “did not have sufficient data and analyses to make such a blanket statement.”39

In New York State and New York City, the governor and mayor have also taken unprecedented controls during the pandemic, allegedly for the good of the people.40 The governor, for instance, was granted emergency powers by the legislature that allowed him to make decisions unilaterally, bypassing the bicameral state legislature.41

About one year later, both houses of the New York state legislature, which is controlled by the state chief executive’s own Democrat party, stripped the governor from the ability to issue new executive orders. The move by the governor’s own political party came after his embroilment in numerous considerable scandals, several of which involved his handling of, and actions during, the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic, and following the increasing questioning, by those of many political persuasions, of his capricious virus-related decisions and restrictions over the previous year.42

In the political philosophy of Thomas Aquinas, the excellent leader is a just man whose decisions are based solely in the interest of the common good. The intentions, interests, and moral composition of the governor and mayor (as is the case with most contemporary secular politicians), however, are questionable and, or, unknown. In terms of Catholic Mass and religious gatherings specifically, a U.S. District judge granted a preliminary injunction against some of the New York governor’s capricious limits on Mass attendance.43 The United States Supreme Court would, likewise, come to decide that some of the New York governor’s executive orders limiting Mass attendance were unconstitutional and violated New Yorkers’ religious rights.44 In short, some of the limits imposed by the governor on religious gatherings in New York were found to be illegal and unjust in comparison to the treatment of other groups. This is the same secular leadership to which the Catholic Church in New York and elsewhere deferred in making decisions to cancel public Mass.

None of what is being argued here is in in accord with arguments that have been heard with regard to claims of usurpations of individual “freedom” as a result of mandates to wear a mask and to take other precautions. Even if one is not to be susceptible to the virus himself, or does not have an opposition to contracting it, he still has a duty to others and to achievement of the common good. Therefore, the arguments in this essay are different than some of those that have received particular attention in the Church coming from those who simply are against any restrictions or mask usage. The argument here is that the Mass and the Sacraments are as important as bodily health — and therefore must never be relegated to “non-essential” status — and that the Mass and Sacraments could have been held with, theoretically, zero transmission of the virus. Every single human life is sacred and precious, and therefore any loss of life to the virus is tragic, but if the means involves starving all people of all that which the Church itself declares to be life-giving, then the means are faulty.

Indeed, focus must always be on the protection of life, but simply attempting to avert a man’s physical sickness, but rejecting any aid for his soul, does not make for a healthy man. Secular authorities and the medical industry may be charged with preservation of the physical; the Church is charged with caring for the soul as a primary goal. Canceling the Mass and the Sacraments, and essentially closing the entire lifeblood of the life-giving and life-sustaining Catholic Church, is a dereliction of the latter’s duty, not according to one’s opinion, but rather according to the teachings of that very Church. For, as Benedict XVI declares, it is the “‘daily Holy Mass’ that is the greatest and highest act of prayer, and constitutes the centre and the source from which even the other forms receive ‘nourishment’: the Liturgy of the Hours, Eucharistic adoration, Lectio divina, the Holy Rosary, meditation.”45 Thus, as Benedict XVI notes, the Mass is the central prayer, around which all other prayers are centered.

The end of bodily life must be understood. As Thomas Aquinas contends, the highest and proper end for the human being is union with God spiritually. Indeed, the human body must be protected so that cultivation of the soul can be achieved. If one removes the end of union with God, however, there is no longer a proper purpose for the means, which is bodily life. If Church teaching is correct, that man is meant to live for God, and it is through the Mass and Sacraments that one is aided in his quest to reach the proper end, how can these aids which help lead one to that proper end be intentionally and justly restricted to the faithful?

Catholic teaching instructs that it is through the fullness of the Church that the human being can reach his proper end, which is union with God spiritually in the next world. If those tools are taken away, then either a) Catholic teaching would be false, insofar as the means that it offers is actually not needed actively for salvation, or, b) Catholic teaching is correct, but the tools and materials that the Church offers have unjustly been restricted during the pandemic.

The decisions and pronouncements — based on the instructions and whims of secular worldly panic and secular government — made by bishops and others in the Church throughout world will be assessed for long into history.46 Indeed, those who made these decisions will be placed in church historical records for reasons they would hope would not place them there. There is always a great conundrum when practitioners of the soul acquiesce to the world, for the leaders of the “City of Man” know nothing of how to lead the people to the “City of God.” As the Psalmist sung: “Put no trust in princes, in children of Adam powerless to save.”47

Bishops are the shepherds who are to lead their flocks to heaven. The salvation of souls is their primary duty. Indeed, as Church Canon Law declares: “the salvation of souls . . . must always be the supreme law in the Church.”48 The priest or bishop, the only men who can stand in persona Christi, are modeling themselves after the greatest physician of souls. As a Greek-Orthodox prayer included in a recent posthumous book by the estimable exorcist, Fr. Gabriele Amorth, under a list of prayers of liberation utilized by this former chief exorcist for the Diocese of Rome according to the collection by the book’s editor, reads of God: “. . . You are the doctor and physician of our souls.”49 Likewise, as the Letter Samaritanus bonus from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith says of Christ: “He is the physician of souls and bodies . . .”50

In New York, as elsewhere, the governor, mayor, and government practitioners have no such duty or aim in relation to the salvation of souls. These worldly leaders are concerned with the temporal things of this world. Their “lead” must never be taken before that of the Divine Physician’s lead. In the classical liberal state, many are quick to exhort principles of the “separation of church and state” for secular ends when trying to reduce the influence of, or to marginalize the power of, religion. If those who proclaim these words truly believe in them as a first principle, then that exhortation necessarily goes both ways and the state must not infringe on the Church.

The words of Benedict XVI would need to be heeded: “It is true, and we priests experience this: the ‘world’ in an acceptance of the Johannine definition of the term does not understand the Christian, does not understand the ministers of the Gospel.”51 As Benedict XVI says here, the secular world, and especially secular leaders in a secular liberal republic, simply do not, and never will, understand the Church, Her motives, or Her people. Indeed, according to Her own teaching and understanding of Her composition, never can the Church, through her bishops or priests, rely upon the “guidance” from the secular official who, in the words of Benedict XVI “does not understand the Christian . . .”52

Real Witness Would Have Meant Maintaining Public Mass Uninterrupted

According to estimates by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), in 1970, 54.9% of Catholics were estimated to have attended Mass weekly; the number had fallen to 21.1% by 2019.53 Estimates by CARA were that the 2019 Christmas attendance was 64%, while the 2020 Christmas attendance was 20%.54 These numbers, of course, are not statistically comparable, for the 2020 Christmas was considerably different than others. During Christmas, the vast majority of dioceses, however, were holding Mass and the most severe of lockdowns had generally been lifted in many areas. Likewise, All Saints’ Day 2020 had a measly 10% attendance rate versus a 33% attendance rate in 2019. Again, these numbers are not statistically comparable, but they reveal several things. First, that despite the lifting of many harsh lockdowns, Mass attendance remained exceptionally low. Second, that overwhelming numbers of Catholics found Mass to be “non-essential.” The cancellation of public Masses during the height of the pandemic only signaled to some of the faithful-many that Mass attendance was a “non-essential” activity.

Perhaps the greatest action that bishops could have taken during the height of the pandemic was to demonstrate that the Mass was essential; and, in that spirit, proclaim loudly and boldly, that Mass would be celebrated and opened publicly every day, as it always had been over the centuries. That witness, in spite of secular trends and opinions, and capricious secular governmental edicts, would have been a signal that would have brought these actions into the praiseworthy forefront of a two-millennia Church history. Rather, the decisions that were actually made brings this period into one that will be written as a blackened period of Church history. The 2020 CARA data show an indisputable fact: that the vast majority of Catholics — including the group of regular weekly Mass attendees — were not in pews for many months at a time. For these people, and for the family members and friends in their circles who watch them for witness, the adage along the lines of “Mass always is,” and that one’s attendance is required, no longer held true for them.

Government Intrusion: A Crack Opened by Church Leaders’ Decisions

The Church should not be entering into a perpetual battle with the state, for it is surely a more propitious arrangement that the Church and state work together. It is the case, however, that the Church must never capitulate to the whims of the state.

Dangerous precedents have been set by certain decisions during the virus panic. Perhaps the most dangerous precedent of them all is: that the public Mass and the Sacraments are licit only when government says that they are licit.

No human being is perfect, and bishops had to make decisions during a time of great public panic and uncertainty; however, both Scripture and Catholic teaching would suggest that bishops must overturn the precedents that they have created and declare them to be invalid errors. If bishops announce in humility that they were wrong, the precedents become repudiated decisions, signaling to Church history that they should not be followed, rather than standing as they are now: as precedents affirmed as valid.

In accord also with Catholic teaching, the Church must resist government edicts and return to their duty of saving souls. In a May meditation, Cardinal Robert Sarah made clear that government can never dictate to the Church when Mass may take place, writing: “no secular authority can suspend the public worship of the Church. This worship is a spiritual reality over which temporal authority has no control (original bold emphasis).”55

The point here is that Catholics who have viewed the public Mass cancellations as problematic are now battling on two fronts: on the one hand, with government, and on the other, with regard to attempting to bring light to those who suspended the public Masses as a result of secular pressures.

False Comparisons

A considerable amount of rhetoric for the public Mass cancellations has incessantly cited past (and still current orthodox Catholic and some cultural) practices of limited reception of the Eucharistic as support for the public Mass cancellations. Indeed, the frequent reception of Communion is a contemporary, and largely Western-spread, idea. It is indeed the case that for a large bulk of Catholic history, lay reception of the Eucharist was considerably limited. Church law to this day instructs that Catholics must only receive Communion once per year.

This Eucharistic reception argument, however, adds no weight in favor of the public Mass cancellations. For one, infrequent Eucharistic reception is part of both Catholic liturgical history and Church law; infrequent public Sabbath worship is not part of Catholic liturgical history and is disobeyed by Church Law.

To cite the facts that canonically, frequent reception is unnecessary and that historically the lay faithful have received limitedly, both of which are true, as some sort of support for the cancellation of the public Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, is an inapplicable attempt at rationalization. The issue is not about Communion reception practices, but rather about the blanket cancellation of the public Mass.

Thomas argues that the Sacrament can be received both spiritually and actually.56 The idea that one can receive the Sacrament spiritually, however, lends neither support nor opposition to claims regarding the necessity for a) access — if one avails of it in substance or not — to the physical Sacrament and b) if the layman can be restricted to all access to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Thomas argues the following: “But because many persons are lacking in this devotion, on account of the many drawbacks both spiritual and corporal from which they suffer, it is not expedient for all to approach this sacrament every day; but they should do so as often as they find themselves properly disposed.”57

Thomas is arguing, then, that although individual men may not be disposed properly to physical reception, the properly disposed may receive physical Communion. To receive physical Communion requires, obviously, access to physical Communion.

Thomas Aquinas and the Mass

Thomas Aquinas provides some insight into the necessity of the Mass in the Third Part of his Summa Theologica. On the topic of the Eucharist, Thomas writes that: “Now since, owing to our daily defects, we stand in daily need of the fruits of our Lord’s Passion, this sacrament is offered regularly every day in the Church.”58

Thomas goes on to clarify that: “Christ’s Passion is recalled in this sacrament, inasmuch as its effect flows out to the faithful . . . [and] the faithful receive daily the fruits of His Passion…[for consecration] takes place every day, both that we may partake of its fruit and in order that we may have a perpetual memorial.”59

Thomas here states that “the faithful receive daily” and that they “partake” in this “perpetual memorial.” Indeed, one kneels below the altar and witnesses the priest above, standing in persona Christi, as he consecrates, the result of which is the real presence of God, to use Thomas’ words, “contained verily, and not in figure only.”60 The layman is present to witness the Mystery and to show reverence as Christ becomes present.

If all that the Church teaches in its library of works has consistently and constantly instructed the faithful that for salvation, they require the Church, the Mass, the Sacraments, and all else offered by the Church, how can actions that so obviously contradict this very first principle be just? In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle discusses the importance of always having a proper first principle. Following the proper first principle, one must make proper deductions. As Aristotle argues, if the first principle is wrong, then that which comes after will be wrong. If the first principle is right, but is then challenged successfully by that which comes after, then the first principle reveals itself to be weak.

The first principle taught from pulpits about the necessities of the Mass, the Sacraments, and of putting God and the cultivation of the soul first before the body, have been decimated considerably now in the minds of the faithful-many by actions taken by that very Church’s leaders. Church leaders will face great difficulties in the future convincing nominal Catholics that they must attend Mass unconditionally when they themselves canceled public Mass for months with little debate. Church leaders will have greater difficulty convincing the faithful-many that God must always come first when the Mass and the Sacraments were restricted on a whim.

Church leaders will, further, find it difficult to instruct the faithful-many on the great importance of that which sits in the Tabernacle when some dioceses locked all Church doors and access to the Tabernacle even for private adoration. It will be harder than ever to convince the faithful-many that all happiness is found in God, through His Church, which is found by way of proper cultivation of the soul, if the people were left to sit alone in isolation in a time of great need.

When the very most basic first principles are questioned, confusion results and leads to the questioning of all declared truths. The many also begin to lose trust in the legitimacy of proper moral teaching authority.

Light for the Senses, Taken Away

There shall be no need for debate on whether a private Mass is licit in and of itself, for of course it is licit and this cannot be denied. Rather, the question is if all Masses can be deemed exclusive of witness and if it is licit to abolish all public Masses, thereby excluding the faithful from true witness (a screen does not allow for true witness).

Jesus, of course, is a constant. Prior to the virus panic, the Catholic public Mass was also a constant. Jesus is constant spirit; the public Mass was a tangible constant for the senses. Men had taken away the latter. The Church teaches that God’s sanctifying grace is lovingly given to man in the Sacrament of Baptism, and that, when lost, this grace may be restored through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Likewise, teaches the Church, the actual grace provided to man through the other Sacraments is jeopardized when one cannot access the Sacraments, thereby leaving men in peril. Where access to these Sacraments and others have either been barred or restricted, the layman, according to Church teaching, is left deeply wounded. Again, as posed throughout this essay: Either the teachings are false or the teachings are not being adhered to, thereby causing great suffering for the lay faithful.

All Catholics, regardless of their views on the cancellations, must lament together, for something that always was, something that always had seemed like a constant amongst the volatility of earthly life, is no longer a constant in its full, priorly-understood sense.

Man will be able to cope with the virus pandemic and all that it has caused. All of the changes to the very basic routines of life, not to say without difficulty, shall eventually pass. The obstacles are surmountable and man will continue living. Eventually, not without grave damage already done, public Masses will again be celebrated everywhere and without onerous restrictions.

The fact that the public Mass can be canceled, however, will be the enduring idea that shakes the foundational souls of all living Catholics and beyond. For some, this development, in no exaggeratory terms, is the one that will disturb their souls for the rest of their earthly lives. For the Catholic, the real trepidation during the height of the pandemic in many places around the world was that if he died, he may not have been granted a Catholic funeral before burial. With funeral Masses being illicit in many places during the shutdowns, the devout Catholic who usually is not fazed by the prospect of bodily death would be fearful of dying but for a different reason than worldly peoples. For it brings great comfort to many men to know that after bodily death, for one last moment before the time of Resurrection, one’s body will be present under the altar during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass celebrated at his beloved parish. During the closures and cancellations, trepidation surely came to these men as they considered that this funeral Mass, at which the Church publicly commends one’s soul to God, and prays for his release, if there, from purgatory, was “canceled.”

Likewise, no worldly pandemic can distress the Catholic soul as much as the circumstance of Holy Week 2020, when the lay faithful could witness no Palm Sunday Mass, no Mass of the Chrism, as well as no Maundy Thursday Mass, Good Friday Service, Easter Vigil, or Resurrection Sunday Mass.

What else is there to look forward to in this “valley of tears”61 if one can no longer find solace in the Masses and Sacraments that connect man’s soul to the permanent?

Prior to the virus cancellations, priests and bishops always made clear that watching or listening to the Mass would never fulfill their Sunday obligation, which is a sin not to fulfill. At the height of the virus panic, however, such a “distance Mass” was one’s only licit option in the United States and in large parts of the world. In May, Cardinal Robert Sarah cautioned: “God is incarnated, he is flesh and blood, he is not a virtual reality.”62

None of the words in this essay are meant to apply to any decision-making as a result of the virus situation outside of the Church. Even if one were to agree with decisions made by the governing class in the secular world, it must be remembered that the Mass, the Sacraments, the Church building, and access to the Tabernacle, are not of the secular world. They cannot be canceled or shuttered in the same way that insignificant entertainment performances or luxurious shops and restaurants can be closed. The means to man’s ultimate end cannot be canceled and cannot be shuttered. To say otherwise means either that one is rejecting Scripture and the teaching of the Church or that one is asserting that Scripture and the teaching of the Church are false.

Barred from the Foot of the Cross

Most of Jesus’ disciples, students, and friends ran away at Golgotha. Taken as a whole, the Gospels name specifically only Mary, Mother of Jesus, John, and three other women who remained at the foot of the cross while other unnamed women were also reported present nearby the Cross. The faithful Catholics who desired to attend Mass regardless of the virus situation are like Mary, Mother of Jesus, John, and the other women. The difference is that they had been barred from standing at the cross.

All Catholics must stand in collective mourning for the loss of that one worldly thing, the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, that aimed man towards the heavens, and, which, they thought, attendance at which was the one physically-consumable material constant of life on which they could count.

The worldwide cancellations can only suggest that the intercessions of Saint Michael and Our Lady of Knock, Mary, Queen of Heaven, she who provided comfort to many Catholics when they were barred from the foot of the Cross, are gravely needed at this time. The protection of St. Michael is required because the wicked defiler rejoiced when millions around the world did not attend Mass during the closures of the Mass to the public and rejoices now as others are not attending, and will not attend the Holy Sacrifice in the future, because of the effects of the cancellation and closure decisions.

As a result of the decisions made during the 2020-2021 coronavirus pandemic, the Church will have difficulty defending the teaching that physical attendance at Mass is to be the most essential item on a Catholic’s weekly calendar. The Church requires promulgation of formal Church teaching that regrets and repudiates the Mass and sacramental cancellation decisions. For the public Mass and sacramental cancellation actions that were taken are contrary to the teachings heretofore promulgated. This essay has used only Church teaching to establish its claims, and the conclusion is that either the public Mass and sacramental cancellation actions taken during the pandemic were wrong or the teachings are wrong. Until a declaration is made, the teachings will not again be taken seriously by a number of the faithful-many, thereby leaving souls in peril.

The light of Christ must be illuminated for man no matter the worldly circumstances. The Mass provides the Catholic with the spiritual food necessary for his daily battle “against the wickedness and snares of the devil.”63 An enduring constant, the Mass always gave men a heavenly-like stability and regularity. Since the cancellations, the public Catholic Mass is now the Mass that always was there, and they will always wonder in fear if it will be there tomorrow.

  1. “Can I confess? Or be anointed? Here’s what’s suspended — or not — in your diocese,” Catholic News Agency, April 1, 2020,–or-not–in-your-diocese-61864.
  2. Stephen Beale, “Large Archdioceses Still Don’t Know When Faithful Can Go Back to Mass,” National Catholic Register, May 15, 2020,
  3. Ed Condon, “Las Cruces bishop first in US to resume public Masses amid pandemic,” Catholic News Agency, April 15, 2020,
  4. “Three more U.S. bishops announce return of public Masses,” Catholic News Agency, April 23, 2020,
  5. Jim Graves, “Back to Church: Public Masses Resume, With Restrictions,” National Catholic Register, May 14, 2020,
  6. Cardinal Robert Sarah, “The virus, faith and suffering. ‘Be careful not to turn the Mass into a show,’” Il Folglio, May 7, 2020, The meditation, published in Italian, was translated by Google Translate. As in any case regarding non-human language translation, prudence would dictate that one should only glean general ideas from such passages.
  7. Francis X. Rocca, “Pandemic Deepens Catholic Church’s Financial Crunch, From Vatican to Parishes,” Wall Street Journal, April 24, 2020,; Dean Balsamini, “New York Archdiocese church donations plunge amid coronavirus,” New York Post, April 11, 2020,
  8. This essay divides the terms “faithful” and the “faithful-many.” These two terms are not being used as synonyms. For Aristotle, “the many” comprise the classes of non-excellent (non-virtuous) persons, or persons of lower stature. Excellent persons are of higher statures. Thus, to define the use of these terms in the broadest, least-technical way possible, the “faithful” would comprise all observant Catholics. The “faithful” are then broken down into the “faithful-many” and the “serious faithful.” The “faithful-many” would consist of average, “ordinary” Catholics who have minimal deep understanding of Catholic theological and philosophical principles, while the “serious faithful” consist of those with deeper understandings of the Church and her teachings.
  9. The use of the term “calendar day” here is deliberate. For there is no Mass on Holy Saturday, but the grand Easter Vigil is held on Saturday night. Although the Easter Vigil is still celebrated on the calendar day of Saturday, in the Church liturgy it is considered a vigil evening, or an anticipation of the Sunday celebration. The point being made here is that every single calendar day of the year, the faithful can be witnessing a Mass or Service: 364 calendar day Masses and one calendar day Good Friday service.
  10. “The Roman Missal and the Celebration of The Lord’s Passion on Good Friday,” United States Conference of Catholic Bishops,”
  11. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica III, q. 83, art. 3, ad. 1,
  12. “Guidelines on Sacraments and Pastoral Care: Part III – Phased Restoration of Public Masses,” Thomistic Institute, April 28, 2020,
  13. See “Coronavirus Updates,” March 13, 2020; March 15, 2020, Diocese of Brooklyn,
  14. See “Coronavirus Updates,” March 18, 2020, Diocese of Brooklyn,
  15. See “Coronavirus Updates,” “For Immediate Release #2,” March 20, 2020, Diocese of Brooklyn,
  16. See “Coronavirus Updates,” “For Immediate Release #2,” March 20, 2020, Diocese of Brooklyn, It should also be noted that New York City consists of five boroughs, which are conterminous with five counties. Three of the boroughs — Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island — are in the Archdiocese of New York and two of the boroughs — Brooklyn and Queens — are in the Diocese of Brooklyn. The pain has been especially acute in Brooklyn and Queens, where every church building was ordered shuttered. In Manhattan, the Bronx, and Staten Island, church buildings could remain open, which at least allowed the faithful to pray in front of the Tabernacle and before other relics and sacramentals. In the Diocese of Brooklyn, all access to prayer before the Tabernacle and any other relics and sacramentals within church buildings was prohibited.
  17. See “Coronavirus Updates,” “For Immediate Release #1,” March 20, 2020, Diocese of Brooklyn,
  18. See “Diocese of Brooklyn Churches Can Re-open for Weekday Masses on June 29; Celebrations of Sunday Mass Can Begin on the Weekend of July 4 & 5,” June 19, 2020, Diocese of Brooklyn,
  19. Hannah Brockhaus, “Vatican: Easter date cannot be changed, despite coronavirus,” Catholic News Agency, March 20, 2020,
  20. Cindy Wooden, “Vatican issues decree for Holy Week liturgies with pandemic restrictions,” Catholic News Service, March 20, 2020,
  21. “About Our Parishes,” Diocese of Brooklyn,
  22. Paula Katinas, “Bishop Seeks Roadmap to Reopen Churches After Coronavirus,” The Tablet, May 5, 2020,; Katie Honan, Mayor de Blasio Taps FEMA Veteran for Emergency Management Post,” Wall Street Journal, June 4, 2019,
  23. Katinas, “Bishop Seeks Roadmap to Reopen Churches After Coronavirus,” The Tablet, May 5, 2020.
  24. Rom 8:5.
  25. Benedict XVI, “Holy Mass for the Ordination to the Priesthood of 19 Deacons of the Diocese of Rome: Homily of His Holiness Benedict XVI,” May 3, 2009,
  26. Benedict XVI, “Homily of His Holiness Benedict XVI,” May 3, 2009.
  27. Benedict XVI, “Homily,” May 3, 2009.
  28. See “Open Letter,”
  29. Martin Enserink and Kai Kupferschmidt, “With COVID-19, modeling takes on life and death importance,” Science 367, no. 6485 (2020): 1415,
  30. See Kevin Dayaratna and Norbert Michel, “The Challenges of Forecasting the Spread and Mortality of COVID-19,” Heritage Foundation, April 15, 2020,
  31. See Kevin Dayaratna and Norbert Michel, “The Challenges of Forecasting the Spread and Mortality of COVID-19,” April 15, 2020.
  32. Sarah Toy, “Scientists Hoped Summer Temperatures Would Tamp Down Covid-19 Cases. What Happened?” July 13, 2020, Wall Street Journal,
  33. Toy, “Scientists Hoped Summer Temperatures Would Tamp Down Covid-19 Cases. What Happened?” July 13, 2020.
  34. John T. Brooks, Jay C. Butler, Robert R. Redfield, “Universal Masking to Prevent SARS-CoV-2 Transmission — The Time Is Now,” JAMA, Published online July 14, 2020, doi:10.1001/jama.2020.13107.
  35. See Transcript, “CDC Director Discusses How Individuals Should Respond to the Coronavirus,” February 27, 2020,,
  36. See Generated Transcript, “Coronavirus Disease 2019: The U.S. and International Response,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, February 27, 2020, (see also Steven Nelson, “CDC director downplays claim that coronavirus spread is inevitable,” February 27, 2020, New York Post,
  37. See Generated Transcript, Press Conference: March 2, 2020,,
  38. United States Environmental Protection Agency, Office of the Inspector General, “Evaluation Report: EPA’s Response to the World Trade Center Collapse: Challenges, Successes, and Areas for Improvement,” August 21, 2003,, p. 19.
  39. United States Environmental Protection Agency, Office of the Inspector General, “Evaluation Report: EPA’s Response to the World Trade Center Collapse: Challenges, Successes, and Areas for Improvement,” August 21, 2003, p. i.
  40. Bill Miller, “Critics Hope to Rein In Emergency Pandemic Powers for Cuomo, de Blasio,” The Tablet, August 11, 2020,
  41. Bill Miller, “Critics Hope to Rein In Emergency Pandemic Powers . . .”The Tablet, August 11, 2020.
  42. See Paula Katinas, “As Scandal Grows, Cuomo Says ‘No Way I Resign,” The Tablet, March 9, 2021,; Paula Katinas, “Cuomo Declares: ‘I’m Not Going to Resign,” The Tablet, March 3, 2021,; and Nolan Hicks and Bernadette Hogan, “New York lawmakers strip Gov. Cuomo of emergency powers,” New York Post, March 5, 2021,
  43. See footnote 42.
  44. Paula Katinas, “Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Diocese of Brooklyn, Citing Gov. Cuomo’s Executive Order Violated First Amendment Rights,” The Tablet, November 26, 2020,
  45. Benedict XVI, “Homily of His Holiness Benedict XVI,” May 3, 2009.
  46. Although this essay focuses mainly on New York City and the two dioceses that cover the city, the examples throughout the country and world are numerous and plentiful. Consider the similar sentiments emanating from the Archdiocese of Baltimore, which, in mid-May announced a re-opening plan. Soon after, the governor of Maryland allowed churches to re-open on May 15. The archdiocese did not, however, rush to ensure that the morning of May 15 church bells were again summoning the faithful to Mass. Rather, the Baltimore Archdiocese released the following statement: “Regarding today’s announcement by the governor, our Phase I guidance will not be altered until we’ve had a chance to fully understand how the governor’s announcement practically impacts our parishes, which are working to procure necessary supplies and to adapt church facilities so they are safe and in compliance with governmental and public health regulations.” See Christopher Gunty, “Archdiocese of Baltimore makes plans for first phase in reopening churches,” Catholic News Service, May 14, 2020, Just to sample a few others, the Archdiocese of Boston stated through a spokesman that it would re-open churches only when state authorities said that it was “safe.” In Georgia, where some businesses, like exercise gymnasiums and beautician salons, were allowed to re-open in April, a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Atlanta stated that plans for lifting restrictions on Masses were still in the works as of mid-May. A spokesman for the New York State Catholic Conference, which represents all of the dioceses in New York State, said in mid-May that the conference had received no guidance on re-opening from Governor Andrew Cuomo, but, nonetheless, would continue “to work in conjunction with state health officials on a reopening plan.” See Beale, “Large Archdioceses Still Don’t Know When Faithful Can Go Back to Mass,” National Catholic Register, May 15, 2020, In the Archdiocese of Newark, the bishop finally opened church buildings again at least for individual private prayer on May 17, and this just over a week after the announcement of the closure of ten Catholic schools in the archdiocese. Prior to Ascension Thursday, the Newark bishop even transferred this Holy Day of Obligation to the following Sunday, stating that he did so “to ease the pastoral work of livestreaming during this difficult time.” The public Mass cancellations — even of online Masses on a Holy Day of Obligation in the Newark case — can be seen as an unfortunate representation of the state of zeal in the Church. See “Directives for Re-Opening Churches,” Archdiocese of Newark, May 11, 2020; Press Release: “Archdiocese of Newark announces consolidation of school community and closure of 10 Catholic schools,” May 7, 2020,; Cardinal Tobin, “To the ‘Faithful of the Archdiocese of Newark,’” May 11, 2020,
  47. Ps 146:3.
  48. Code of Canon Law (Washington: Canon Law Society of America, 1983), c. 1752,
  49. In Father Gabriele Amorth, Appendix B, “Prayers of Liberation Used by Father Amorth,” in The Devil Is Afraid of Me: The Life and Work of the World’s Most Famous Exorcist, ed. Marcello Stanzione (Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 2020), 139.
  50. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Samaritanus bonus: “On the care of persons in the critical and terminal phases of life,” September 22, 2020,
  51. Benedict XVI, “Homily of His Holiness Benedict XVI,” May 3, 2009.
  52. Benedict XVI, “Homily,” May 3, 2009.
  53. Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, “Frequently Requested Church Statistics,”
  54. Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, edited by Mark M. Gray, Nineteen Sixty-four research blog: “The End of 2020,” December 30, 2020,
  55. Cardinal Sarah, “The virus, faith and suffering…” Il Folglio, May 7, 2020. (Again, the meditation, published in Italian, was translated by Google Translate. As in any case regarding non-human language translation, prudence would dictate that one should only glean general ideas from such passages.)
  56. See ST III, q. 73, art. 3, resp.,
  57. ST III, q. 80, art. 10, resp.,
  58. ST III, q. 83, art. 2, resp.,
  59. ST III, q. 83, art. 2, ad. 1,
  60. ST III, q. 83, art. 3, resp.,
  61. See the “Hail, Holy Queen” prayer. Available at Vatican News,
  62. Inés San Martín, “Top Vatican cardinal dismisses ‘take-out communion’ as ‘insane,’” Crux, May 2, 2020,
  63. See the “Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel. Available at EWTN online,
Gerard T. Mundy About Gerard T. Mundy

Gerard T. Mundy is a writer and teaches philosophy at a private college in New York City. His essays have appeared in Public Discourse, the University Bookman, Crisis, the American Conservative, and the Federalist, among others.


  1. Avatar Tom McGuire says:


    This was a hard read, a lot of repetition, and so focused on the law. Little room for compassion and concern for human conditions when faced with a pandemic. Yes, drastic change in our life of faith has taken place because of decisions made by human beings who are never perfect. Every time I see a doctor, I remind them that I consider what they are doing art, not science. So women and men of goodwill both ordained and not, will make decisions that are not perfect in regard to how people are to be kept safe in time of the pandemic. I am 81 years old and was glad that the Bishops, lay Church leaders, and government officials made decisions to do what they thought best for the physical health of people. It was not all about law, but also compassion and care of the whole person from both ordained and every missionary disciple. The work ahead will be difficult but the goodwill and deep compassionate love of the Eucharist will be the guide to bring the people back to Eucharist. I pray with deeper faith than ever before.

    • Avatar David Oatney says:

      “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering (for he is faithful that hath promised),
      and let us consider one another, to provoke unto charity and to good works: not forsaking our assembly, as some are accustomed; but comforting one another, and so much the more as you see the day approaching.” -Hebrews 10:23-25 (DRC)

  2. This was an exceptional article featuring great research and writing. The points were made so clearly and it contains in one place point after point arguing what many of us were thinking. There was such a void when the churches were closed. Canceling the Mass was the most uncompassionate act that could be taken toward people who live for God. Where was the compassion for our souls? Thank you for this article!

  3. Avatar Deacon David Oatney says:

    Thank you for speaking the hard truth that the eternal salvation of souls is vastly more important than “pandemic regulations.” The duty of the Church in this world is to save souls. We need to return to that duty.