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DETROIT (ChurchMilitant.com) - A growing host of Catholic leaders are recognizing the mortal danger of cutting the sacraments off from the faithful and are urging bishops to restore them immediately.
In an open letter dated April 1, moral theologian Dr. Janet Smith and other prominent Catholics — including Patrick Coffin, Matt Fradd, Abby Johnson, Philip Lawler, Dr. Monica Miller, Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, Steven Mosher and Matt Walsh — implore the bishops of the United States to do everything they can to make the sacraments more available amid the Wuhan virus outbreak.
"The bishops, our spiritual fathers, must take active and public roles in bringing to our wounded world the sacramental graces needed to survive the COVID-19 pandemic," they say. "While safety and cooperation with civil authorities is necessary, we must do everything we can to have access to what is essential for our spiritual lives."
"It is not an exaggeration to say that the health of the world and the salvation of souls depends upon [the restoration of the sacraments] ... The sacraments are the spiritual 'personal protective equipment' of Catholics and enable us to be in the field hospital of the sick and dying," they add, alluding to Pope Francis' metaphor for the Church.
The letter, published on the "We Are An Easter People" website, puts forth nine urgent requests to the bishops:
Dr. Smith told Church Militant that she has not yet heard from any bishops.
But underscoring the need to be creative in searching for safe ways to negotiate the pandemic while still keeping the Faith, Dr. Smith applauded efforts like "parking lot Masses," which are possible without violating federal or state separation guidelines. She urged bishops to reach out to doctors and hygienists about safe ways to distribute and receive Holy Communion.
She also lauded day-long prayer and fasting opportunities promoted by the archdiocese of Lansing.
The moral theologian emphasized the importance of regular communication by the bishops with the faithful flocks of their dioceses to say what they are doing to continue the life of the Church, suggesting weekly videos explaining what's being done and what the faithful can then do.
Merely being dispensed from Mass is not a solution that satisfies the souls of the faithful, she pointed out.
In a press release, Dr. Smith spoke of "the sacraments as gifts of inestimable value," saying, "They open up for us the gates of Heaven and bestow upon us graces that enable us to be loving disciples of Christ our Savior."
She also reiterated the importance of the intervention of bishops in "pressing governments and hospitals to rescind policies that deny priests access to seriously sick and dying patients," adding, "This is a matter of religious liberty! We should be free to practice our religion."
"Catholics are being deprived of what is central to our Faith — the sacraments," she said summarily.
A local priest wishing to remain anonymous highlighted the importance of a response to the letter by the bishops.
He pointed to the Biblical mandate, found in all four Gospels, given to the Apostles for the administering the sacraments of the Church, saying that immediately before Our Lord's ascension into Heaven, He called the disciples around Him commanding them to "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations. Baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:19).
"All disciples are commanded by Jesus Himself to baptize, as baptism is the foundation and first sacrament of the Church, to continue on in His person the sanctification of all peoples, at all times and in every age," he said.
The priest also directed the laity to "Pray to God the Holy Spirit, to inspire the good priests and bishops to wrest control of the Church from the operatives who have hijacked its administration," recommending this prayer: "Come, Lord Jesus, and renew the face of the earth!"
Founder and president of the Ruth Institute Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, one of several project endorsers, also weighed in by corroborating the importance of being creative during this difficult time. Speaking to Church Militant, she said: "I want to encourage bishops around the world to think as creatively as possible about making the sacraments more available."
Dr. Morse added: "I want to encourage the laity as well. The only thing more disheartening than the clergy not making the sacraments available is the laity being indifferent to the sacraments being unavailable."
Dr. Morse also encourages Catholics to sign the letter, saying: "People need to sign this letter to let the bishops know that they care."