Unvaccinated parishioners celebrate Mass outside of Montreal’s Corpus Christi Parish Feb. 13. Photo by Peter Stockland

Do not doubt division done

By  Anna Farrow
  • February 16, 2022

"What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; and there is nothing new under the sun."

- Ecc 1:9

Pace the author of Ecclesiastes, it felt like something new was happening under the winter-weak sun last Sunday. In Quebec, all places of worship have been closed by government decree since Dec. 31. Two weeks ago, the Archdiocese of Montreal communicated the “good news” that the churches would re-open once again. But, as with everything to do with COVID-management, re-opening involves restrictions and one of those is the implementation of the vaccine passport.

So, as of Monday Feb. 7, Catholics desiring to enter a church in the province were required to present a QR-code proof of vaccination and a government photo identification. Those who are not vaccinated against COVID-19, or those who choose not to present those documents, may not enter (the mandate ends Feb. 21).

Government mandates that interfere with, or eliminate the ability of, the faithful to gather for Holy Mass are certainly not new. History provides us with an endless supply of examples: the time of the Penal Laws in Ireland, Stalinist Russia, Mexico under the Calles laws of the 1920s, to name just a few. But has it ever been required to provide proof of a medical treatment to enter a church? Has a government ever before acted in such a way to divide brother from brother?

And there is division, do not doubt it. It is visible. At our small parish, Corpus Christi, one part of the corpus sat inside the building during the 10 a.m. Mass while another part stood and kneeled in the snow in -19 temperatures outside. What begins as division at the altar will make its way into the dynamics of parish life. From the priests to the Board of Wardens, from the choirs to the liturgy committees, the division between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated will be made. Bone from bone, sinew from sinew the decrees tear apart the body.

Is it divisive to point out the division? Some would say so. But we gain nothing by refusing to acknowledge what is obvious to the eye. The prophet Jeremiah chided the prophets and priests of his day, “They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace” (Jer 6:14).

We are told, “peace, peace,” but we cannot even exchange the Peace. We are told it is manageable, it is just for a short time; and, through the power of technology, we have the ability to participate in the life of the Church remotely, just as we have been working, and socializing, and learning remotely. In our case, the “technology” involved one of us leaving a van door open so an FM broadcast of the Mass from the interior of the church could be heard by those of us out in the cold.

Like the belief that technology will resolve all, we know the promises of easy better days are just hopeful musings. We have learned a number of lessons over the past two years. One is them is that the things which truly feed us, our bodies and our souls, cannot be served up on a screen. As Catholics, we should know this.

Bread, oil, water, the touch of skin, these tangibles are necessary for our Catholic faith. No one is baptized without water poured over the head. No priest is ordained until the bishop marks the palms of his hands with oil. No marriage is valid until flesh is pressed to flesh. Not one of the seven sacraments can be performed or received virtually. You do not fulfill your Sunday obligation by sitting on your sofa, in your pajamas, watching a livestream of a Mass. There is no Meta version of a Catholic life of faith.

By the grace of God, our stretched-out corpus at Corpus Christi is holding together. But there is ample evidence around the province that the Body of Christ is allowing itself to be severed, one limb from another, not with a knife but with a needle.

(Farrow is a Montreal writer who helped organize the first outdoor prayer services following the closure of Quebec churches in December.)

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