Parishioners taking part in an outdoor Mass kneel on the frozen ground of the parking lot at Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral in Montreal. Photo by Peter Stockland

Editorial: For love of Christ

  • January 20, 2022

The beautiful paradox of Catholic faith is living itself out in Quebec where church pews are empty by State decree but parking lots outside Christ’s houses of worship are filling with prayer.

“You are here as witnesses,” Montreal Archbishop Christian Lépine said in his homily to about 200 Catholics outside Mary Queen of the World Cathedral for noon Mass in -21 windchill last Sunday. “You are witness to the beauty of our faith.”

For Montreal’s Cathedral goers, that beauty manifests itself even — indeed, especially — in the Soviet-aura grimness of the surroundings where they have come to worship since Premier Francois Legault’s government ordered all churches in Quebec to lock their doors at Christmas.

The liturgy takes place in the service-entrance parking lot, tucked away behind a fence on the back side of the building. Many who come kneel on the frozen asphalt. They refuse to let the inconvenience of ice interfere with the familiar physical patterns of the Mass.

Nor is it just at Mary Queen of the World where the flame of faith burns unquenchable. Archbishop Lépine noted that about 20 parishes in Montreal are now holding outdoor services. The numbers are growing both in attendance and availability at Masses that were initially an impromptu work around to the government’s ad hoc ordinances against the Omicron virus.

The original proclamation compelled houses of worship to admit only those carrying vaccine passports, a requirement that forced clergy to begin policing rather than pastoring their flocks. Cardinal Gérald Cyprien Lacroix appealed for solidarity in complying with the State’s imposition on the Church. Still, it had terrible potential to cause deep divisions. It threatened to separate parishioners into “inside-outside” faithful.

Yet when the doors were slammed shut by government decree, Archbishop Lépine and others saw the gift the Holy Spirit had given. An outdoor Mass on Christmas Eve was the genesis for daily outdoor Masses in Montreal and then throughout the province. As journalist Brigitte Bédard reported on Quebec’s LeVerbe website, the result was Des messes inclusive sous la neige  (“Inclusive Masses in the snow.”) The Word, spread by word of mouth and social media, called the faithful to “spontaneous outdoor Masses” from Saint-Bernard Parish in Rouyn Noranda up north to Chateauguay on the south shore of the St. Lawrence across from Montreal, Bédard reports.

What might have produced long-term acrimony or discordant protest against the State, and by ricochet against ecclesial authority, has become a bounty of Gospel joy even as fingers grow frigid in mitts, and toques protect against frost-bitten ears. That spirit can, should and must inspire Catholics far beyond Quebec. As a Church, we struggle with the cold shoulder the secular world gives our faith. But here is a beautiful witness of Catholics bearing up against real world cold and physical challenge out of sheer love for Christ.

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