Lord, we are the least of all the nations, now we are despised throughout the world, today, because of our sins. We have at this time no leader, no prophet, no prince, no holocaust, no sacrifice, no oblation, no incense….But may the contrite soul, the humbled spirit be as acceptable to you…such let our sacrifice be today, and may it be your will that we follow you wholeheartedly, since those who put their trust in you will not be disappointed (Dan. 3:38f).
The prayer of Azariah offered in the midst of the fire gives voice to our own anguish as notifications are issued mandating that in an effort to contain the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, in addition to Sunday Masses all public ferial Masses are now also suspended for an undetermined time. The texts of the sacred liturgy today speak to us once again. If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts (Ps. 95). The prayer of Azariah was the first reading of today’s Mass. The inability to participate in the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is a source of pain and wonderment too.
There is no dearth of commentary on the political, economic and social impact of this pandemic. Yes, it is being weaponized and politicized but how are we to interpret its impact on the daily worship of the Church? How are we to understand what is taking place, theologically and spiritually? Some prelates have pronounced that to see this pandemic and its consequences as punishment is incompatible with our faith. It may be incompatible with the ‘god’ we have fashioned, the ‘god’ of liberal faculties of theology and religion departments, but such a view is not incompatible with the Lord God of divine revelation.
What are we to make of the suspension of all Masses? Is it possible that God has simply withdrawn His grace from us? Have we been grateful for the privilege of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass? Yes, it is true that the state of things enables us to be in solidarity with the many Catholics who because of persecution are deprived of the Holy Sacrifice; but we have suffered no such persecution. We have neglected to attend Mass with any regularity. We have in fact, apostatized from the Mass. Indeed, it may said that the precept to attend Holy Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation (such as they now are) is observed in the breach. Yes, we have become the least of the nations…because of our sins. We are being sifted like wheat and we are but a remnant. Why should God allow us to have what we do not value or appreciate? In his homily on Psalm 7, St Augustine astutely observes that each man’s punishment is fashioned from his own sin; his offence becomes his penalty. Thus we are not to suppose that punishment for sins issues from the calm and ineffable light of God. No, but He ordains the course of things that the very pleasure a man tasted in his sin becomes God’s instrument for his punishment.
Our offence, namely our almost universal disregard for the precept to assist at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, has become our penalty. Let us ponder this.
Will pastors offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass pro populo not only on the Sundays of this time of suspension but also each and every day for our deliverance from this trial? How has the sacramental theology taught in most seminaries in the last fifty plus years and counting prepared them to offer the Holy Sacrifice in such unusual circumstances? Assembly theology as it is known has almost everywhere reduced the understanding (such as it is) of the Mass to nothing more than a community celebration. Following this theological logic, the celebration of the Mass sine populo (with no congregation) and ad orientem makes no sense at all. God has abandoned us to our own theological madness. He has withdrawn the sacramental grace that our infidelity and neglect have forfeited.
Pray for the restoration of the Mass and for a proper understanding of the august Sacrifice of the Mass as the Sacrifice of expiation without which the world is in greater darkness than it was just one week ago. This darkness is palpable. Unite your prayers to the Masses being offered by your priests who have suffered persecution and exile for their fidelity and devotion to the Mass as Sacrifice. Pray also for your Bishops and Pastors whose task it is not only to feed the flocks entrusted to their care with the food of sound doctrine and of the Holy Eucharist, but also to defend them from heresy and irreligion. As we implore the Divine Mercy of God let these words of St. John Eudes be for all of us a source of consolation:
The greatest effect of God’s mercy, the most precious grace He bestows upon mankind, is to send worthy priests, men after His own heart, seeking only His glory and the salvation of souls. The greatest blessing that God bestows upon a church, the most signal manifestation of divine grace, is to have a saintly shepherd, be he bishop or priest. This is indeed the grace of graces and the most priceless of all gifts for it includes within itself every other blessing and grace. What is a priest after God’s heart? He is an inestimable treasure containing an immensity of good things.
Let us pray for the restoration of the Priesthood and Our Lord will raise up for us shepherds after His own Heart (Jer. 3:15).
This time of trial is no less a time of grace for we can resolve to put our whole heart in following God, into fearing Him and to seeking His Face once more. Yes, we are suffering; but we know that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us (Rom. 5: 3-5). Let us seek refuge in Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart, our sure refuge and the way that will lead us to God; and let us take to heart the consoling words of Our Saviour and Lord: ‘Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom…for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also (Lk. 12: 32-34). Our Treasure is our Tabernacle, the heart of every parish church and chapel where the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus waits for us to console us and to strengthen us. Our churches are still open for prayer. If possible, let us visit Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. If not, we can still unite our hearts to His in the hope that soon we shall be delivered from our trial for those who put their trust in God will not be disappointed.