Deacon Nick on “Reflections on the Pandemic and on the Mass”

Deacon Nick LaDuca has some insightful reflections on the pandemic and how it has affected Mass as of late. Read his thoughts below!

Reflections on the Pandemic and the Mass

Catholics, along with the rest of the world, find themselves in experiencing the present pandemic, something that in many ways is unsettling, at best.  Particularly in terms of practicing our faith, and specifically in terms of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Our bishops, in facing up to the reality of the pandemic and its consequences, have taken a proactive and pastoral approach in aggressively dealing with that reality.  Recognizing their role as shepherds of their flocks, with the mandate to look after not only their spiritual but physical needs, they have rightly taken into account their physical safety and removed the obligation for Catholics to attend Sunday Mass. While really having no other choice, and recognizing the need for their flock to have some access to the Mass, they encourage by both personal example and their mandate to their priests, to provide their flocks with access to the mass via various forms of media.  Many, if not most Catholics have gratefully taken advantage of this gift.

Yet, this gift of live streaming the Mass, in the face of the waived obligation to attend mass, has created, in my mind an unintended consequence.  Let me explain.

I look at the corpus of Catholics (with nothing other than an intuitive sense, supported by some years of experience) and find them to be of three types.  One type, consisting of about 15% of Catholics are what I would call “die hard” Catholics.  They will get to mass whether there are twelve feet of snow on the ground, tornadoes or gale force hurricanes, etc… Nothing will stop them from attending the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  These Catholics have done nothing but pray that the Church doors will once again be opened to them.

Then there are another 15% or so of Catholics that I would call the “Easter and Christmas” Catholics.  They usually attend Mass only on those holidays. The bishop’s prudent decision to remove the obligation to attend mass has, unfortunately, had little, if any impact on them.

Now, that leaves the other approximately 70% of Catholics that I would call “good” Catholics.  They look to the Church and say, “I am a Catholic, please tell me what I, as a Catholic must do, and I will do it.”  You tell me to go to Mass on Sundays, I will do it. You tell me to confess my serious sins to a priest, I will do it.  You tell me to get married in the Church, I will do it. You tell me to have my children baptized in the Church, I will do it. And now, you tell me, albeit for very legitimate reasons, I do not have to go to Mass on Sundays, but am encouraged to watch the Mass on various forms of media, and I will do it.

What is happening is that many of these “good” Catholics are not only becoming comfortable with “attending” Mass on television, but finding it to their liking.  No more hassle of getting the kids ready; no more hassle finding a parking space in coming to church, or even more frustrating getting out of the parking after mass.  Many say to me, “why not?” 

And what I see emerging, particularly among these “good” Catholics, is the seed of a “protestant model.”  I can choose (with no perceived negative intent) to attend Mass either remotely or in person. If the church can tell me I must, as well as tell me I don’t have to (minimizing, or in some cases ignoring the legitimate reason for the decision), then I see that I have the option to choose for myself. A reality that (at least from my experiences) is seen in the lower number of Catholics returning to Mass, since the restrictions have been eased. A situation that I pray for and ask all to pray to be merely a transitional phase.

Yet, in terms of the choice of whether to attend or merely watch the mass, the challenge I pose to those who are facing it, taken from my own experiences, is ask them:  Do you, for example, ZOOM (as I do) with family members, whether parents, children, or grandchildren? Most say yes.  I then ask them if the experience was positive.  Almost all say yes.  Then I ask them, if you had the choice of ZOOMING with them or being with them in person, which would you choose?  All chose the personal encounter.  Then I said to them, what makes the choice between watching the Mass and attending the Mass any different?

The challenge then, for the Church, and in particular its members, is to face up to this potential perspective of attending Mass as an option and nip it in the bud.  How?  By proactive evangelization. 

The many parish organizations, whether the Knights of Columbus, the various prayer groups, the fraternal and social groups, and from my personal experience in a very special way, the youth groups, commit both their organizations and their members to reach out in their workplaces, their communities, or wherever they interact with other Catholics, and encourage them, support them, explain to them by example, why the Mass is so important and why it is the source and summit of our Catholic life.  When you stop and think about it in attending Mass, are we not responding to Our Lord’s question to His apostles, and by inference to us, “Can you not spend an hour with me?”

~ Deacon Nick LaDuca