In his latest “From the Chapel”post, Scott Richert writes that “the elderly, those with underlying…
From the Chapel — May 20: Lord of sea and sky
“From the Chapel” is a series of short, daily reflections on life and faith in a time of uncertainty. As people across the world cope with the effects of the coronavirus — including the social isolation necessary to combat its spread — these reflections remind us of the hope that lies at the heart of the Gospel.
Today, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new, detailed guidance on how states and localities should implement the Trump administration’s plan for the easing of COVID-19 restrictions. The guidance had been expected for a while now, but reportedly was delayed because of debates within the administration, especially over the guidance for churches and religious ceremonies that appeared in a draft. In the end, the section concerning religious ceremonies was simply removed from the final document.
Portions of the draft, though, did leak, and one of the most interesting recommendations (to me, at least) was for churches to hold worship outdoors. Early on, as states started to restrict in-person gatherings, some churches held drive-in services, and over the last couple of months, Catholic churches have proved creative in offering outdoor adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, drive-up confessions and fly-over blessings. I had hoped that parishes would revive outdoor processions, morning and evening prayer, and socially distanced May crownings, but I’ve only seen a few reports of such activities.
All of these outdoor activities are still worth considering, even as parishes begin to reopen for public Masses. The reality is that, despite the best efforts of dedicated priests, pastoral teams and parish volunteers, some churches will become coronavirus hotspots. A parish in Houston that reopened for public Masses on May 2 has had to suspend them after five priests contracted COVID-19, and another died. Two of the priests had taken part in the public Masses, and all of the parishioners who attended those Masses now need to be tested. It’s wishful thinking to suppose that this parish will be the exception that proves the rule.
There’s historical precedent for the Church heading outdoors during times of epidemic. Both St. Charles Borromeo and his cousin, Federico, in two separate plagues in Milan, closed parishes and ministered to their flocks by holding Masses in public squares where they could be seen from residences. Socially distanced processions with the Blessed Sacrament and miraculous icons were held in many cities of Europe during times of plague. Indeed, the cross venerated by Pope Francis during his extraordinary urbi et orbi blessing in March miraculously brought a plague in Rome to an end after it was carried through the Roman streets.
Yesterday, I mused about what effect a “Great Reopening” might have if enough Catholics who have been missing the Eucharist prepared themselves for its return by first going to confession. Now imagine how we could turn any minor setbacks in the reopening of our churches into a public expression of our faith by taking our worship of the Lord of sea and sky outside.
Scott P. Richert is publisher for OSV.