Covid-19: A Crisis for the Church

WHILE NOT DARING to speak for prelates, I feel fairly confident in saying that the Covid-19 pandemic caught most parochial clergy off-guard, and monasteries too. Witness the mad scramble to make provision for a congregation not merely forbidden from attending Mass, but from even entering their churches. (This raises the question of the purpose of our church buildings and to whom, at least morally, they belong, and to what degree we are accountable to God for their use; but that is not for now.)

The move to restrict the liturgy was no doubt a justifiable one. But the move to shut the churches completely came not from the government but from at least some of our own bishops has left many people disturbed. The government had been prepared to exempt churches but it was the bishops’ conference that approached the government asking for churches to be closed. It remains to be shown how an empty church with no more than a handful of people in private prayer, able effortlessly to practise social distancing, is more dangerous than a supermarket.

So, many of us have found ways to stream our daily Mass to allow parishioners, not excluding others of course, some sort of access to the “source and summit” of the Christian life, and a type of access also to their church. Given the age profile of many parishes, this has been of limited benefit in practice, but better than nothing. Some have been able to spend money on the necessary equipment, while others have made do; I use an old phone with a decent camera propped up on a Lenten offering stand. We have had to learn how to arrange things so that everything is at hand and visible in one frame, as there is no one to move the camera during the Mass. Continue reading “Covid-19: A Crisis for the Church”

An Omission Rectified: the Pandemic Mass [updated]

NATURALLY I CLAIM NO CREDIT, for to do so would be a heinous crime against truth. However, having so recently lamented the omission in the modern missal of any votive mass for time of plague or pestilence, as there had been of old, there has emerged from Rome a decree instituting a votive Mass “in Time of Pandemic,” as well as an intercession for the same purpose in the Good Friday litany.

The Latin Mass texts and their official English translation, as well as the readings for the Mass, are below:

The Good Friday intercession is as follows:

The texts with approved translations in the principal languages can be downloaded for printing, the first link for the Mass texts, the second for Good Friday:

There are things about which to quibble. One is their specificity, viz. “the current pandemic.” It would have been preferable to keep the focus on plague and pestilence in general, as is traditional. The ultra-specificity in bidding prayers at Mass one often hears is more exclusive than inclusive. But that is another matter…

The more major quibble is the theology they manifest. Gone is any reference to sin or evil; clearly the authors will not countenance that pandemics, plagues and pestilences are things that could result from human deeds, or rather, misdeeds. Their failure to do so flies in the face of scripture which is rather clear on the matter. It is a pity, not least because in this season of Lent (to maintain the specificity the texts prefer) we are called above all to repent of our sins that we might not suffer their just consequences. But I touched on these theological issues in the previous post.

[UPDATE] The original version of the Latin prayer over the people had a typo, spotted by the eagle eyes of the New Liturgical Movement. The image above has been updated with the corrected image provided there. Some might wonder if, since all Masses at present, in Anglophone countries at least, are “private,” this is mindless pedantry. Speaking for myself, I am continuing to turn to the empty nave and praying over the people; they are there in spirit and by desire, and the prayers retain their value.

The documents are now downloadable from Divine Worships website, and include the correction.

Plagues, Interdicts, Omissions and Possibilities

IN THE MID-14th century the Black Death swept through Europe. Between 30 and 60% of Europe’s population perished, and perhaps even as many as 200 million people died if the Near East is included in the calculations. It would be scores of years before Europe’s population recovered. The Church in many respects did not meet the challenges of the time.

In part this is because in many places as many clergy as peasants succumbed to the plague. But in many places the clergy did not wait to die; they fled. Robert Gottfried, in his work on the Black Death, reports that in the dioceses of York and Lincoln (NB Lincoln reached as far as Oxford and the Thames) 20% of the parochial clergy. Many of those who remained in their posts succumbed. The result was that the numbers of clergy could not meet the needs of a society united in the faith and practice of one religion. Despite the losses of the faithful clergy, clerical reputation suffered immensely. Says Gottfried:

Many parish priests fled, leaving no one to offer services, deliver last rites, and comfort
the sick. Flight might have been intellectually explicable, but it was morally
inexcusable…[I]n a world in which performance of an appointed role was very important, many clerics no longer seemed to be doing their jobs.

The Black Death: Natural and Human Disaster in Medieval Europe (1983), pp.84; 94.

Gottfried is not alone in his assessment of the records that can be found of the period; Philip Ziegler affirms that,

[the clergy] lost in popularity as a result of the plague. They were deemed not to have risen to the level of their responsibilities, to have run away in fear or in search of gain, to have put their own skins first and the souls of their parishioners a bad second.

The Black Death (1969), p.211

Even before the plague had abated surviving clergy began to gather up the now-unclaimed clerical spoils. The ranks of the clergy were filled with young men, of poor education and little if any experience; some could not even manage to say Mass properly. Pluralism was rife. As society recovered from the scourge, the Church was ill-equipped to take the lead. Divinely-inspired charity, which had so well-endowed many a parish church and monastery, began to be directed elsewhere after the plague, not least to hospitals which provided the care and nurture that the clergy had so singularly failed to provide. Continue reading “Plagues, Interdicts, Omissions and Possibilities”

Mass, Covid-19 and testing the Faith

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. Continue reading “Mass, Covid-19 and testing the Faith”

An Ill-Starred 1960s Ad Campaign

An ad campaign is probably trivialising what was clearly a campaign not to sell a product but to advocate for the traditional liturgy when the tide was perceived to be turning against it. The average person in the pew might believe the Church went from the old Mass to the new almost overnight. Seen in the context of the entire history of the Church some might argue it was little short of overnight. Nevertheless there were 5 years of official transition from the old liturgy to the new, with a new Ordo Missae in 1965, which was further reformed in 1967. Contiguous with this official universal reform was a melange of official, semi-official, unofficial and illicit experimentation and adaptation. Most of this was centred on and moulded by the local churches, almost invariably involving the introduction of the vernacular to the Mass to greater or lesser degrees.

In 1967 the Latin Mass Society had clearly taken fright. Continue reading “An Ill-Starred 1960s Ad Campaign”

The Burden of the Homily

RECENTLY A PRIEST—not a fellow monk—lamented how hard he was finding it to “get anything” for a homily from this Sunday’s readings. The first reading covers an attempt to kill the prophet Jeremiah, the epistle is from Hebrews reminding us of the cloud of witnesses who urge us on in the race of Christian living, and the gospel shows Jesus revealing he has come to bring fire to the earth and division to society, an awkward gospel for purveyors of “gentle Jesus, meek and mild.”

The priestly lament is a reminder of how much a burden the homily has become to many a hearer, and perhaps even more to many a preacher, in the celebration of the ordinary form of the Mass. This is almost invariably the fruit of a misunderstanding of the homily that has taken on almost dogmatic status: the homily must always and only be about the readings of the day. Continue reading “The Burden of the Homily”