July 19, 2020

Dare We Go to Mass?

Dare we go to Mass? We are told that somehow not going to Mass in times of crisis is the most responsible and heroic thing we can do. Patronizing authorities assure us that this prevailing premise should not be called into question or else we are labeled fideists. And no one wants to be considered simple minded or fanatical. A host of experts would have us forgo liturgy because the singing might kill us and partaking of the Bread of Life might spread death. When we attend, we are ordered to cringe behind masks, at alienated distance from one another, cow-towing as if we should not be bold in our worship of the Risen Lord. Its Abitene 2020, yet unlike those young African martyrs of early Christianity, our post-modern hearts do not ache with the realization, Sine Dominico non possumus (without the Lord's Day, we cannot go on).

Why is Mass so necessary in the midst of pandemic and societal collapse? In dystopia, would it not be safer to worship in a more socially acceptable, even entertaining way? After all, instead of braving death to hear homilies about seemingly antiquated moral systems, social media provides designer deities who confirm the current think of the culturally hip. Who needs priests to offer mass when health officials and celebrities are the real mediators of human salvation? Or bishops to teach when a community organizer is able to offer a more politically acceptable word of hope? Or a pope to safeguard divine truth when any university sociologist can shame us before the herd's more accessible and relevant superego? Let's face it, fanciful though it is, this ideological idolatry makes one feel mighty: subordinating our dignity to the latest fetish saves America from evil politics, humanity from pandemic, and the world from pollution.

Unlike the Mass, these psycho-socio agendas never deal with any true challenges to one's own mediocrity. Rather, some social prophet provides a scapegoat, one opportune enough for social media platforms, such as any saint or father figure with a public statue. The self-serving inconsistencies of these agendas are rarely called into question because they distract from one's own (painful) self-contradictions. Not dealt with, the interior cacophony of anxiety and rage surges out against the weak and powerless -- and it is precisely for such as these that, the night before He died, the Lord made Eucharist.

When one is bereft of worship that is right and just, what opportunities for manipulation our current agreed upon religious incoherence presents! Yes, the worship of designer deities inevitably leads to that singular form of oppressiveness that only narcissique self-satisfaction can attain. The burning of churches is often replaced with killing the Christians who worship in them. Despised more than any other institution, most of all by those who are themselves Catholic, attacking the Church is lauded as some enlightened moral obligation. St. Junipero Serra statuary has not only been defaced with the triumphant approval of media and political personalities, but those indigenous communities who are grateful to him for bringing the Gospel of Christ are not so discretely ignored in the public square. And so we live in the echo of "Crucify Him!" Could it be otherwise? When progress is limited to idolatrous sensibilities, it cannot not long suffer the truth, especially when truth confronts one's own self-loathing emptiness. Only the coming of the Eucharistic Christ provides an antidote for such misery.

With Catholics failing to stand together for the salvation of the world, it is not by coincidence that we now live in climate of moral oppressiveness spiraling into open religious persecution. Rooted in systemic manipulation, all different forms of bad religion appeal to the imagination of both oppressor and oppressed -- and as long as one lives in this dream of alienating shame, one never is woke from the dynamic of suspicion, accusation and blame. Without the Word of the Father to lift up our hearts, one's own empty boorishness is deaf to the cry of my brother's blood to heaven. While we blame each other about the pandemic or bigotry, a pathway for meaningful discourse is overshadowed by myth induced malice. It is to help humanity escape this labyrinth of anxiety and despair that Catholics must go to Mass.

We go to mass for the saints. These are the selfless few who put their lives on the line so that we might enjoy blessings we ourselves did nothing earn. To be indifferent to their memory is to be ungrateful to God. These saints are a sign of hope, reminding us that what is noble is also worthy of the sacrifices we share as a people. The Sacrifice of the Mass makes their sacrifices present to us again.

We go to Mass for the poor and vulnerable. The Crucified God has chosen to disguise Himself in their plight - and without the Mass, we can never recognize Him. These poor are especially loved by the Lord and our solidarity with them in their weakness reminds us that before God, no matter how blessed, we are all in need of a savior. When we lift up our hearts together, the most vulnerable member of a community is never a social problem to solve, but a neighbor to serve and a friend waiting to be made.

We go to Mass because, contrary to the prevailing voices of demonic accusation that echo within the limitations of idolatry, our Christian faith teaches us to believe first and foremost that we are not condemned but forgiven, and at a great price. Thus, defense of human dignity and a dignified way of life flow from what God yearns to give us when we come together to worship.

To go to Mass is to stake out a claim that will not, come what come may, ever condone boorishness - no matter how wrapped in indignation. In Christianity, there is no proletariat who can claim innocent victimhood - before the Cross we are each of us judged as thieves and liars. The blood of Abel is on our hands. Yet before the Cross to which the Mass brings me, I also see, in the very face of all my self-contradiction, there is truth - and this truth raised up on the Cross has taken the form of mercy. Mercy is more powerful than any unjust system or effort at social manipulation. Going to Mass unlocks this unconquered power, participating in the Eucharist opens floodgates of astonishing wonder and confident sharing in Christ's great sacrifice unleashes torrents of Divine Glory on the world.

In the Mass, I stand as a child of the Most High God. Before the immensity of His Love that has called me to true worship, I find the courage to work for reconciliation and to believe in the power of kindness even more than the threat of a disease. Not worthy that the Lord should enter under my roof, I accept responsibility for what I have done and failed to do, and as Christ calls to me at Mass, I climb down from my pride to repair what damage I can out of devotion - for He desires to sup with me. At Mass, I give the Lord the opportunity to heal broken situation that we call the world. Even more, as I approach the altar, I find the courage to forgive the debt that I hold over my brother ... for however great it might be, a greater debt was paid for me.


  1. A wonderful article I have been waiting months to read. Indeed, "the blood of Abel is on our hands," and it is the blood of the Incarnate Word, the Crucified One that can cleanse them--and our hearts--and make us whole.

  2. A wonderful article I have been waiting months to read. Indeed, "the blood of Abel is on our hands," and it is the blood of the Incarnate Word, the Crucified One that can cleanse them--and our hearts--and make us whole.

  3. Yes, Mass is all of the important and necessary points you made and I terribly miss the community interaction. Churches are going the extra mile to sanitize and socially distance parishioners. Even the Eucharist can be celebrated in a safe way. However, saying that "cringing behind masks" to try to keep ourselves and our families safe is certainly not giving up all we hold that the Mass means.
    You cannot equate a pandemic and bigotry to each other. Bigotry is reprehensible and a "learned" behavior." Social distancing and wearing masks is a way human beings can protect each other and show love for one another. This pandemic is temporary and will eventually die out (hopefully ,an inoculation soon). Mass will continue in the hearts and minds of Catholics long after the pandemic is in the rear view mirror.

    1. Dear Teacher57, I appreciate what you are saying about cringing behind masks - except that it is happening. Wearing masks is not a problem - for indeed it can be a way of loving my neighbor. But making people feel like they need to cringe is a problem - and sadly there are plenty of news stories every day that stir anxiety rather than concern for neighbor - and this is not healthy. Indeed, public health policy is imposed without consulting religious leaders, and some of the policy is simply inconsistent, incoherent and even inhumane. Indeed, it was in many cases, the same health experts who advised that going to church was a dangerous threat to public health who also stated that public protest was not - and this is strange. What is even more strange is how much religious hatred was tolerated by public figures in these protests at a time when public policy limited Church attendance. This represents a fundamental societal failure in a time of crisis that America has not seen before. This is why I put these two realities of prayer and protest together. You are right: they are not morally the same, but there is a moral relationship that needs to be thought through for the sake of the common good. As I have written before, prudence and due caution must be observed in the face of a pandemic, and experts and health officials have an important role to play. But they also need to earn our trust, collaborate with our religious leaders realizing the unique expertise that they bring to the table, and treat religion as an asset rather than a risk in dealing with the pandemic. I hope your prophecy is true about mass attendance and it is the reason I wrote this piece ... but unless we more effectively teach that the mass is an essential public activity in which the whole church is called to actively participate, there is little reason to believe that there will be many practicing Catholics after the pandemic is over -- and the loss of religion in America will be far more dangerous for our society than a passing contagion.

    2. Thanks for the post, and your response. Your voice rings loud and clear, proclaiming truth. Our countries loss of faith is clearly evident with each glance at the daily news.

  4. Beautiful response!! Right on the money.