Do Bishops Need to Cancel Mass and Other Sacraments?

News: US News
by William Mahoney, Ph.D.  •  •  April 6, 2020   

Canon lawyers weigh in

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DETROIT ( - Some canonists disagree with the American bishops' decision to cancel public Masses nationwide, arguing social distancing and other precautions can easily be observed at Mass.

In the wake of the Wuhan virus, bishops have suppressed public Masses throughout the country and begun to suppress confessions and other sacraments, leaving some canon lawyers questioning the necessity of such sweeping measures.

One canonist, preferring to remain anonymous, told Church Militant the bishops could easily integrate social distancing into physical acts of worship inside Church buildings.

"If people vulnerable to the coronavirus can go into a pharmacy or a grocery store while maintaining the necessary physical separation of social distancing, they can and must be able to do so in a Catholic church, chapel or oratory within which is reserved the Most Blessed Sacrament," he said. "The bishops do not even have the good common sense that the CEO of Giant Foods, the CEO of Krogers and the CEO of Walgreens have. These secular leaders understand the need to eat and to have medicine."

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"Any Church can have exposition and adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament all day long, and periodic holy hours or adoration visits and still comply with the 10 people social distancing limit," continued the canon lawyer.

He went on to cite St. Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica on adoration requiring bodily actions and a definite place.

"The bishops presume that the spiritual (non-bodily) dimension will — indefinitely into the future — take care of all needs for religious food and medicine; this is cowardice or presumption," said the canonist.

What is at stake is not only public health but the salvation of souls.

Can. 843 §1 reads: "Sacred ministers cannot deny the sacraments to those who seek them at appropriate times, are properly disposed and are not prohibited by law from receiving them," meaning the faithful have a right — in addition to a duty — to receive the sacraments.

"Catholic faithful have a duty and a concomitant right to do so, and Our Lord Jesus Christ has a right to have and to receive such latria [adoration given to God alone]," said the canon lawyer.

Similarly, a second canonist told Church Militant the same precautions taken when buying food, gas and other necessities — such as washing one's hands for roughly 20 seconds and keeping a distance of six feet from others — could easily be observed for Mass in most situations.

He added that, in danger of death, the sacraments must not be denied the one seeking them.

Philip Gray

Another canonist, Philip Gray, president of St. Joseph's Foundation and director of Catholics United for the Faith, told LifeSite News a priest can follow his conscience over a bishop's suppression of Mass.

"If the priest believes in his conscience — because primacy of conscience is a matter — if the priest believes there is a violation of divine law by the bishop's directive, he has an obligation to the divine law," he said. "We're talking about the life and death of the soul."

In mid-March, whistleblower and former U.S. nuncio Abp. Carlo Maria Viganò expressed his disagreement with canceling public Masses.

"The scenario is all the more disconcerting as what is at stake is not only public health but the salvation of souls — and for some time now we, as pastors, have stopped inflaming the hearts of our faithful with the desire for eternal salvation," he said.

"We have thus deprived them of those supernatural gifts which make us capable of facing trials here below," continued Viganò, "even the assaults of death, with the power of faith and that spark of inexhaustible and unshakable hope which comes to us from our yearning for the destiny of glory for which we were created."

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