NOT ANOTHER pestilence post on the information superhighway?! Yes, but it will be brief and have a different point. Notice please, to begin with, that the title says “the faith” not merely “faith.” The distinction is important for the point to be made.
Every plague, pestilence, disease, affliction, cross et cetera, is a test of faith. Contrary to progressive theories, the biblical data is clear that God tests the faith in him of humans as a family and as individuals. It is also clear, by the way, that he does lead us into temptation, also as a test of faith. But that is another story. The challenge of every cross is to trust in God that he wills our good, the good that perhaps we cannot see for ourselves, but is no less real for that. To endure a cross willingly is an act of faith in God as all-loving and all-wise.
But a cross can also test the content of our faith. We all believe in God, I presume of you readers. (If you do not, feel free to join the rest of us.) But what exactly do we believe about God; and about his Church and her life?
There are many examples at present of churches being closed and Mass suspended, though recent papal remarks may slow that trend. Where Mass remains mostly now Communion will be by the Host only and the option for the handshake of peace converted to a nod or a bow, or even omitted altogether. People’s reactions to these will tell us much about the content of their faith.
If some say Mass must be suspended in repose to this pestilence, what do they really believe the Mass is? Is it for them just a communal celebration of togetherness under a divine umbrella? Or is it more fundamentally the sacrament of our redemption by Christ on the Cross? Mass is geared to a congregation but it does not need a congregation to have its spiritual, supernatural value and effect. Whether a congregation is there or not, the offering of Mass is redemptive for the world and pleasing to God. Just as the priest represents God to the people, he represents the people to God.
Mass does not always need us; but we always need the Mass.
Suspending Mass will achieve little good and much ill. The prudent, Catholic thing to do is dispense with the obligation to Sunday Mass and so allow people to employ their common sense and devotion, or lack thereof.
Likewise, some lament, occasionally with some emotion, the withholding of the chalice? So what do they believe about the reception of Communion? Do they have faith in the one Christ who is received entire and whole be it by Body or by Blood alone, or both? Or do they have more faith in the ciborium and the chalice themselves, seen as a set never now to be divided at Communion? In other words, is faith more in the form than in the substance of the sacrament? Catechesis is some places has been so woeful in recent decades that some poor souls actually believe, at least implicitly or unconsciously, that receiving from both the ciborium and the chalice is necessary for the true experience of the sacrament, an experience more natural, in reality, than supernatural.
Underlying all this is a hermeneutic of rights over and against that of duty and worthiness. Modern people hate to feel their rights are infringed, even if those rights do not really exist as they believe them to. We are less punctilious about our duties.
This plague may be a good opportunity to learn, or re-learn, that Mass works even if only the priest communicates; that our Sunday obligation anyway is to Mass not Communion; that Communion is a privilege not a right, and the only people who have any claim to some right to it are those without un-repented serious sin; that Christ is given whole and entire under either the Body or the Blood, there being no divisible “bits” of Christ we might miss out on.
The challenge of every disaster is to make it an opportunity, not least an opportunity for growth in faith and in the knowledge of the faith.