As I’m sure you are aware, the governor of Illinois has stated that church services cannot begin until there is a Covid-19 vaccine or effective therapy. Yesterday the governor of Michigan outlined her own draconian plan.
Waiting until there is a vaccine or effective therapy means having no church services in such states for more than a year. Of course abortions have been permitted the entire time of the pandemic. Surely it’s obvious even to the most pessimistic and atheistic epidemiologist or infectious disease expert that such differences in treatment have nothing to do with slowing the spread of illness. They simply favor abortions over worship.
When commanded by the authorities to stop preaching about the risen Christ, St. Peter said “we must obey God rather than man.” Hasn’t the time come for our church leaders to be asking whether they should say the same thing?
I think the time is long past when they should be asking that question. As to the answer, though, dramatic responses short of civil disobedience are still possible. Suppose worshippers scrupulously obeyed ten-person or fifty-person rules, but in selected churches, priests celebrated Mass after Mass after Mass, ten or fifty congregants at a time, so that everyone who wished could participate. To reduce the heroic demand on overworked priests and ministers, variations could be worked out. Perhaps not all the services could be Masses.
Wouldn’t that be a strong witness? Why isn’t it happening?
In places where no indoor meetings at all are permitted, another possibility is to hold church services outdoors, for example in parks or in parking lots, with the congregants six feet away from each other, wearing masks. My own parish, in the diocese of Texas, is resuming public indoor Masses on a small scale, but asking those who are over sixty-five not to attend. So another advantage of holding some worship outdoors is that more could attend and even older people who might otherwise be at risk could participate.
As I mentioned in a previous post, in some places worship is already being held outdoors. Why isn’t this being done everywhere that indoor services aren’t possible? I would like our bishops to tell us that.
Suppose these things were more widely done. It would be interesting to see whether officials in the more draconian states treated such worship as though it were an act of civil disobedience, even though no state regulations had actually been broken. In some states, as in most of mine, the authorities would be – have already been – cooperative. In others, they would be – have already been -- tyrannical.
Actual disobedience to the law should not be considered until all things short of disobedience have been tried, so that it would be difficult for even the most confused citizens to think that worshippers were merely hooligans who cared nothing for public health. Give official bullies a chance to show their true colors. The time to plan disobedience is when the authorities refuse to allow worship even within the bounds of reasonable public health restrictions.
But even so, there is a right and a wrong way to practice disobedience. In the first place there must be no disobedience except to rules that are actually unjust. Worshippers would have to rigorously keep that six-foot gap, and wear those masks, so everyone would understand that they did not reject public authority for the common good.
Priests would have to cooperate with their bishops, publicizing widely ahead of time what their churches would be doing, why they would be doing it, and why nothing less would suffice. They would have to do whatever was necessary to avoid giving the appearance of disrespect for just laws. Force and insult would have to be met with prayer and blessing. Any who were arrested would have to offer no resistance, no shouting, and no hard words. As during the Civil Rights movement, it would be necessary for the participants to be prepared ahead of time spiritually, because otherwise such discipline would be impossible.
Let us hope it does not come to this!
But let us not just wait to see what happens either. The precedents being set for the oppression of faith during the epidemic will some day be invoked when there is no epidemic. Why is there no sense of urgency?
You shepherds of the flock, are you paying attention?