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An incarnate Jesus necessitates incarnate worship

Let me start this off with a big ol 2020 caveat: if you’re concerned about transmitting or contracting covid, whether because of an underlying condition or an immunocompromised person in your life, you should be free to stay home and exercise every precaution. This is not a post telling people with depressed immune systems or chronic diseases to suck it up and start taking public transit again. If you feel safest at home, you should be free to remain there. And thanks to an increasingly digital economy, it is actually conceivable that someone could shelter at home more or less indefinitely.

End disclaimer.

I’ve noticed a troubling trend in coverage, whether secular or religious, identifying people who are eager to get back to in person worship as either foolhardy (at best) or selfishly reckless (at worst). At first I was perplexed because the same voices were generally in favor of (safely) patronizing newly re-opened restaurants and hair salons and other small businesses who had struggled mightily during lockdown. I was further perplexed because my church, at least, mandates the most slavishly observant covid protocol-adherence of nearly anywhere else I’ve been during this madness, including doctor’s offices, airports, grocery stores, and restaurants.

As the lockdown has continued to ease and summer has marched on, I’ve continued to observe a disturbing apathy among believers coupled with outright sneering disdain from the culture at large when it comes to a return to public worship. The latter surprises me not at all, but the former is a bit alarming.

At a glance, I can see two obvious reasons for the reluctance to resume in person services. First, if you aren’t Catholic and you don’t believe there’s anything beyond fellowship, great music, and compelling preaching happening up there on the altar, the stage, or whatever you might call your focal point of worship, then, I suppose that makes sense. While you can’t totally replicate it streaming at home or in a small house church kind of setting, you can probably come fairly close with enough creativity and a good wifi connection.

But we Catholics, you see, cannot.

Don’t get me wrong, we can (and we must, I’d argue with increasing urgency) form small, intimate communities of faith and get in the habit of worshiping together in informal and ordinary spaces like our homes and places of learning. If we don’t share our faith organically with our family and friends in our homes and in our ordinary lives, our faith is not going to survive what is coming. But let us not presume for a moment that the Mysterium fidei can be supplanted by Zoom Bible studies and conveniently live-streamed Masses said by our favorite celebrity priests.

It is wonderful that we have unleashed the gospel anew across what Pope Benedict called “the digital continent” during these deeply troubling and uncertain times over the past 5 months. But we must never forget that our primary obligation as believers places us firmly and messily in the midst of real people in a real building with the Real Presence of Jesus Christ Sunday after Sunday, and yes, in most places the Sunday obligation is still dispensed and so we are not bound by canon law to attend Mass, particularly so where it is difficult or impossible to do so, as is sadly the case in so many dioceses around the world. But if we can go, shouldn’t we?

If we are well enough, if we are resuming our normal lives in so many other ways, doesn’t it feel essential that we return to the pews to worship our Jesus as He asks to be worshiped, in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass?

And doesn’t it seem important to take up space in this way so that other people don’t forget that public worship is, for Catholic Christians, very much an essential service?

And doesn’t it seem important so that we, ourselves, do not forget this?

Again, if you are frail or elderly or have any other reason to be exceedingly cautious in striving to avoid this virus, this is not a adjournment to go out and put your life on the line, so to speak. But if one has resumed in person shopping in stores, visiting doctor’s offices for in person appointments, getting hair cuts and buying bookshelves and potted plants and catching up over drinks or coffee…and if all these things can be done safely and prudently, then shouldn’t we be beating down the doors of our local parishes and begging our priests for the Blessed Sacrament?

Because that is one thing we can’t replicate, remotely.

Or one Person, rather. Jesus comes to us through His word and He is present to us in our vocations, and of course He is omnipotent because, hello, God. But there is only one place we can receive Him physically. Touch Him. Consume Him. Be transformed and renewed by Him.

And it can’t happen over Skype.

Our culture desperately needs to know this. The world needs to know it. Jesus doesn’t make telehealth visits. He spits in the mud and touches ears and pulls hands into bloodied wounds and He rests on our tongues and in our bellies. And worship of Him is not predominately a private, personal affair best kept behind closed doors and safely tucked away in private residences.

The ultimate form of public worship – participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass – is really one of the most fundamentally corporate thing we can do as human beings. It’s the most massively public experience imaginable. Because not only are we united in fellowship with our surrounding congregation, during Holy Mass, we are united with the entire communion of saints, with heaven itself.

And it is essential. Don’t ever let anyone convince you otherwise.

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13 Comments

    • Angela

      So much yes!!! I don’t care about anything else being closed but I need to be able to physically attend mass. Limit 100 and I was surprised it wasn’t even close to that and most who were there were elderly! Seemed rediculous they banned indoor services again (I’m in CA) considering all the precautions that were being taken. So thankful my parish rolled with it and started outdoor masses. But singing is still banned even though we’re outside, 6 ft apart, and wearing masks. As long as I can receive the Eucharist I will deal with whatever.

  • DENI SMITH

    PRAISE BE TO GOD FOR YOUR COURAGE WHEN FEAR IS ALL AROUND US. GOD’S PRESENCE IN THE HOLY EUCHARIST IS
    HIS ASSURANCE THAT HE IS ALWAYS WITH US. HE IS OUR HOPE AND OUR STRENGTH AND HE GIVES US THE POWER WE NEED TO GO FORWARD INTO THE UNKNOWN. WE THANK HIM FOR THE GIFT OF YOU AND YOUR WORDS OF ENCOURAGEMENT AND ASSURANCE. THANK YOU, AGAIN, JENNY.

  • Kristen

    Thank you Jenny.

    Diabolical. It’s the only word for our bishops to shut us off from Our Lord. Then they humiliate the priests, put them behind plexiglass, masks and force sanitizer when this is nothing more than the flu. And they know it. 1.5 million people died of TB last year. Why isn’t anyone afraid of that? That’s right, global cartel takeover with a big plan to vaccinate the world with their aborted fetuses in them. I’m beyond appalled that more people are asleep at the wheel with this communist takeover. Apparently the world believes the corrupt CDC. Including the USCCB.

    It would be nice if we could get the fighting Irish spirit back and speak up. It would be great to go to DC with moms and say ENOUGH. We didn’t question them during the pedi scandals and it went on and on and on….Stop accepting government money USCCB and open our churches. For real!

    Who’s with me?

    • Julie

      I’m with you Kristen! The minute the Bishops folded and close churches, they basically said, “Church is non-essential.” Satan has so weaved FEAR into everyone’s hearts that even the most faithful have forgotten what/where their final destination is (Heaven!).

      However, I also believe that God has given many what they want–and has removed His presence for the time being. God help us! Seriously! The world has turned upside down!

      I also struggle greatly with the social distancing and mask wearing in Church–God did not create us for isolation!!! How can we be community when we struggle to know who we are worshiping with?! How can we be community when we aren’t even allowed to congregate before/during (really!)/after Mass? It’s wrong and it’s time to the Church to step up and say, “Enough!” And as Jenny said, those at risk should stay home.

  • Alyssa

    100% agree. The apathy from believers…. I keep talking people who should understand what you said here and everyone except 2 responded with apathy. It saddens me so much. The few masses available (they have to hold mass outdoors here, no more than 100 people, and it has to be under 90 degrees outside, which we can hit by 10am) are full of those over 65 (men and women who know the risk yet understand the importance of the mass) and 1 or 2 other young families like mine. Where are my catechism students? The parish school families? When (if?) Covid is ever gone or herd immunity reached or a vaccine developed, will they come back? It worries me greatly.

  • Hannah

    “And worship of Him is not predominately a private, personal affair best kept behind closed doors and safely tucked away in private residences”

    Amen.
    I’m a protestant, and one of the greatest weaknesses I see around me is the push that faith can be tucked away and practiced privately. I remember once, going to a Maundy Thursday service in college (been a wannabe-catholic for a while), and was struck with the procession, outside, inconveniencing traffic, as the (often from communist china) international students looking at the entire congregation’s procession behind the cross. There was a kind of wonder in it.
    That no, faith is not this private thing we’ll politely hide. That Jesus matters. That He is real, not some sort of mental self-soothing mechanism.
    If Christians in oppressive countries can risk imprisonment and death to still meet as a body of believers, as the Bible urges us, than we too, should meet.

  • Jonathan

    Thanks, Jenny, for such a thought provoking article. My wife and I debate at to whether I am at high risk for recovery from the virus. She says, “Yes!, I say, Maybe! I think I have allowed the “yes/maybe” discussion to tamper my zeal for the Sacrament and Mass, when in fact, I don’t even stop to think about running to the grocery. Thank you for shifting my self-cemntered view of what should I be getting from the sacrament to the joy I can find in celebrating the Sacrament with my earthly community and the Communion of Saints.

    p.s. I hope nobody minds a guy intruding on this space! 🙂

  • jeanette

    Jenny, even though you are absolutely right, I’ve said more than enough to my bishop on this subject and he kindly responded to me. I can’t speak for all of the bishops in the US, but I’m guessing his answer is what SOME of them are thinking. In a nutshell it was prudence and avoiding lawsuits. However, as much as I love and respect my bishop, I simply don’t agree that this reasoning is correct. The more this has dragged on, the less “prudence” seems to be operating, as we now know the somewhat fraudulent and politically motivated aspects of all of this nonsense.

    Aside from listening to the good bishop (and he is good in every respect), I listened to others. My brother, for instance, is an Assembly of God pastor, and early on he said the same thing about lawsuits, as his leadership discussed the potential situation of a person related to a member of the church but having no love for the church could potentially file a lawsuit if a member got sick or died. Okay, that is true, but all you have to do is have a waiver that people can sign so that one cannot sue for participating. If parents can sign waivers to send their kids on a field trip, I’m sure we can manage to sign waivers to participate in mass or any other parish function. That is a no brainer.

    However, listening to the general public will clue us into the bigger problem. Their (false) claim that WE don’t have a right to infect the whole community (outside of our church community). In other words, while they are free to run around in public at will, going shopping, banking, dining at restaurants, etc., WE are the horrid spreaders if we dare to engage in public worship. Well, isn’t that the most amazing virus: it is more infectious at churches than out in public. It is more infectious among people OUTDOORS WEARING MASKS 6 FEET APART NOT MOVING FROM THEIR SPOT EXCEPT BRIEFLY FOR COMMUNION ONLY THERE ONE HOUR OR LESS AND NOT OPENING THEIR MOUTHS TO SING AND HARDLY SAYING A WORD OTHER THAN THE OCCASIONAL RESPONSE. Excuse the bolded words, but that is to highlight their ridiculously bigoted thinking and ignorance. This is all just bigotry, nothing else. And the reason you see people with the attitudes that disturb you is that these lockdowns have been very effective in creating LUKEWARM believers. That is the goal. It has absolutely nothing to do with this virus.

    So, the bishops are kind of caught in a hard spot. Scandalize the world by daring to buck the system, or do the right thing and have mass. I know what I’d choose, but as my bishop would be glad to point out, I’m not a bishop!

    Anyhow, our county has 1/2 million people and there have “only” been 50 or so deaths, and most of those were since after June 23, when we “only” had 5 deaths. Of those deaths, 40 of the 50 were in nursing care settings. The main people we are supposedly trying to protect, the elderly and vulnerable, are not being protected at all. It’s a joke that is seriously not funny at all. It’s sickening to watch this unfold every day.

    Yes, we need to go back to mass, indoors, and be smart about it, just like we are during ordinary flu season. Smarter, because we know not to come to mass sick, to not put our hands all over everything, not to cough or sneeze on people, not to get in too close to others. Most flu seasons people get sick and die. It’s sad, but it is how things go. Suddenly there is this interest in “saving lives” at all cost. Even the cost of overriding our constitutional rights. Go figure.

    The political drama keeps swirling around this whole mask thing as well. The people who are so sure about the masks are the very same ones who think it will protect them well enough to forgo keeping out of your space. It’s really dumb how people take these things only half seriously, but are sure they are following the science. Reading one’s local paper’s comment section is the best way to gauge the thinking of people on the subject. And in a “progressive” town like mine, they unload with nasty comments on a regular basis against people of faith. There’s your problem.

    In any case, I just don’t know why we aren’t standing in front of all of our parish churches with signs saying “LET US IN!” Simple slogan. I’m sure it wouldn’t look good in the press, but they wouldn’t cover the story, they’d just snap a picture and accuse the local nutty Catholics of spreading the virus.

    Ask for outdoor adoration. Pray. Be with Jesus.

    We need to start a movement, because I hate to see what is going to happen in the coming months. Forget Advent. Forget Christmas. Forget Lent 2021. Forget Easter 2021. That’s their goal. Bishops need to see the writing on the wall. It’s time to fight back vigorously. However, we are law abiding people. If we did what the other protestors have been doing, I think we’d get different results…but we don’t operate that way, we are Christian, and that is precisely what they are counting on to keep us in our place. They know over time it will make our numbers dwindle or our churches fall into financial ruin. They know what they are doing.

    God is helping to expose the sinister behavior of those who would harm us, so pay attention closely.

  • Fiona

    “Don’t get me wrong, we can (and we must, I’d argue with increasing urgency) form small, intimate communities of faith and get in the habit of worshiping together in informal and ordinary spaces like our homes and places of learning. If we don’t share our faith organically with our family and friends in our homes and in our ordinary lives, our faith is not going to survive what is coming”

    Can you write more about this, especially what this might look like in a practical way? It resonated with me for sure but I am trying to envision it and would love to hear your thoughts.

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