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Charles Lewis: Mass is essential to our Catholic life

  • December 9, 2020

Once again our Catholic churches are closed in Toronto. Perhaps by the time you are reading this that will have changed. It is unlikely, but possible.

This is not really the issue. What we should be asking ourselves is why our Holy Mass is not considered a true necessity in the functioning of society. Why it may even be just as important than the ability to pick-up groceries or even more important than the right to pick up a high-priced cup of specialty coffee

We get that the Province of Ontario wants to stop the spread of COVID. In doing so it had to decide what could stay open and what had to close. I do not doubt for a minute that Premier Doug Ford and his response team sincerely want what is best for the people of our province. To do that he had to make tough decisions and I admire him for that.

I also appreciate that Cardinal Thomas Collins, our Archbishop of Toronto, must consider not just Catholics but the society we live in. He believes, as he should, that we must love our neighbour and that we are not separate from the society we exist in.

He has been gracious, a characteristic so often missing in our society today. To have done otherwise would seem churlish when so many are getting sick.

But I think Cardinal Collins and the Church should never have been put in this position to begin with. The province should have looked at religious services as something fundamental to a decent, healthy society, rather than thinking of it as something extraneous to our lives.

First off, our churches acted with absolute responsibility when the 30-per-cent attendance rule was in place. At St. Michael’s Cathedral, for example, everyone was carefully spaced at more than acceptable social distancing. Masks had to be worn. When going into the confessional, disposable latex gloves had to be worn.

And it worked.

“There is no evidence that we are aware of that Catholic churches in the Archdiocese of Toronto have been a source of community transmission,” Neil MacCarthy, director of communications for the archdiocese, told me in an e-mail.

I would venture to say we were as safe as any indoor venue in the city, maybe the safest.

Even though it was done with the best intentions, I think the province’s decision to limit attendance in places of worship to 10 — making public Masses impractical — is an indication of just how far our society has lost touch with God and the human need to express our faith in the most profound and physical ways.

Even though our faith is personal it also inspires many of us to do good in society. It inspires us to be generous with our hard-earned money. It lets us see the world in such a way that is clear-eyed and compassionate.

Some might argue that not going into a church for Mass does not need to change all that. But that is where we are not fully understood by our government, which represents the greater secular societal view.

It is not going into a building that is necessary but our need for sacraments. The little wafer we receive or the absolution in the confessional is not just another thing. For us it is life itself.

My friend, Msgr. Owen Keenan, said it perfectly in a recent story in The Catholic Register.

“While virtual is important, ours is an incarnate faith. God took on human flesh, and therefore being together to adore and praise God, to offer Him our communal worship, to sing and pray and to receive His incarnate self in the Eucharist is essential. Virtual can only do so much,” he said.

We have seen courts in the United States and France saying that governments have been overly zealous and that the freedom to worship is essential. Both decisions recognize that there is scientific expertise that goes into lockdown measures but that the government’s response to that science can go too far.

I am not suggesting that everything be thrown wide open. We should take a hit just like other groups in society. But reason and evidence dictate that some restrictions work. Which is not the same as a complete shut down.

We should pray that our political leaders and the society they lead will one day understand what the Mass means to us … and that they care.

(Lewis is a Toronto writer and regular contributor to The Register.)

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