By the end of last week, every diocese in the United States had cancelled public liturgies in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Along with the disruption to the Church’s fundamental work of providing the sacraments, every other area in which Catholic institutions are involved, from healthcare to education, has been disrupted, with students returning home (when they can) and medical workers stepping up their hours dramatically.
The decision to suspend public Masses has not come without controversy, though it simply isn’t true that this sort of sweeping cancellation has never happened before.
R R Reno, the editor of First Things, implored churches at least to stay open. “Many steps short of suspension and cancellation can be taken to ensure that prayer, worship, and the administration of the sacraments are done in responsible ways,” he wrote.
Anecdotally I understand that this is already happening in some parishes. We should not take the bishops’ decision to suspend public Masses to mean that priests have abandoned their congregations. They have not.
Beyond their emergency duties of ministering to the sick and dying, priests have found creative means to administer the sacraments, like drive-through confessionals. Then there’s the option that dances right up to the line of obedience: a private Mass, in the church, with the door unlocked, that parishioners might happen to know about.
The liturgical and sacramental life of the Church aside, lay people should be thinking about how to take care of the most vulnerable in their communities. Many parishes have large numbers of elderly people, who are especially at risk, both from the virus and the social impact of quarantine. Life may return to some semblance of normalcy for some people, but the time in quarantine for the elderly is likely to be longer and riskier. Reach out to them, and see if they need any help with errands.