In recent days, a piece of publication, supposedly written by one Msgr. Eric Barr, has been making the rounds on social media, and it has gotten people talking. I decided to have a closer look at it and see why people are in a frenzy about it, and I got the point. It has a sad and pessimistic outlook – meaning, bad news sells faster. I am responding to this piece, not to the person behind it. Since it has been put out there, that means, we can react to it as well. And I am especially happy that the writer is neither a Ghanaian nor someone I know personally and so I can respond comfortably without the fear of stepping on a local toe.
I will begin by saying that, they are coming back to Mass. Let me say it again. Catholics are coming back to Mass and they will come back when the pandemic is over. I am saying this, not because they have started filling my Church at St. James, Osu-RE, but because the few who mustered the courage to show up physically when the restrictions were lifted give me hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Reasons for Coming back to Mass
The Church has never been afraid of “smallness.” And this has been the way of God, right from the Old Testament to the New Testament. There has always been the remnant of Yahweh through whom God accomplish great and mighty things. And it is not surprising that the Church has always spoken against proselytism, that is, forcing a person to accept our faith.
We prefer to share the good news with people, and invite them to it, but we never force them. In his message for World Mission Day 2019, Pope Francis, among other things, said, “This divine life is not a product for sale – we do not practise proselytism – but a treasure to be given, communicated and proclaimed: that is the meaning of mission.” First the reasons why some Catholics will come back.
The Value for Life
There is no doubt that “the Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life” (LG 11). For us Catholics, we can say that the Eucharist is our everything. No wonder St. Thomas Aquinas calls it the Sacrament of sacraments. It gives life.
The Eucharist, on the other hand, requires healthy (or living) people to celebrate it. What is the point in endangering people’s lives in order to celebrate a “life-giving” event? Are we not pushing it to the point of fanaticism. Even with all the restrictions in place, we are told that 24 priests, 4 deacons, and 2 nuns died from the coronavirus in Mexico. We have not added Italy, Spain, and the rest. The value for life impels us to disperse for a while until the unseen enemy is vanquished.
No Crisis of Authority
I read with dismay when the author said, “The bishops have produced a crisis of authority.” Poor bishops and priests – they are always taking the flak. If I am not mistaken, the last pandemic to have hit humanity before COVID-19 was the 1918 influenza. We are told that some 50 to 100 million people died in that pandemic.
The point is, none of the bishops in active duty today was around during the 1918 influenza pandemic. There is no textbook material detailing how the Church survived that pandemic. Let us say I have not read any. This situation then became new waters for the leadership of the Church to navigate in order to give us a safe voyage.
Are we saying the majority of Church leaders who asked us to avoid Mass with the people for some time were all wrong? The truth of the matter, however, is that many people stopped going to church before the church doors were closed. With the keys of Peter and the sword of Paul still governing the Church under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, I will submit to the authority of the bishops over my own opinions. And this is what every true Catholic must do.
The Great Blessing of Televised Mass
Is there any Catholic who truly believes televised Mass is a replacement to attended Mass? In fact, as far back as December 4, 1963, the Church prophetically promulgated the decree on the media of social communications, Inter Mirifica. The Church, it must be noted, sees the media of social communication as one of the wonderful technological discoveries.
The number 2 of the document states, “The Church recognizes that these media, if properly utilized, can be of great service to mankind, since they greatly contribute to men’s entertainment and instruction as well as to the spread and support of the Kingdom of God.” If the Church had taken this prophetic, conciliar document seriously and implemented it widely, as EWTN and the rest, we would have been able to reach many of the people of God, even as they stayed home.
It is sad to read this statement from the author: “I actually lost a priest friend because I wouldn’t let him post his TV Mass from his parish on my FaceBook page.” This is so unfortunate. Did he refuse to share this because of his convictions, or because of his worry that his parishioners would see another priest doing what their pastor is supposed to do? I leave the conclusion to you.
In my parish of St. James Catholic Church, Osu-RE, the pastor and I streamed our Masses throughout the week online. We get overwhelmed by the responses from people. The messages of consolation, and hope; the testimonies and the urge to persevere. But for this possibility of “televised” online Masses, how else would the people have been reached with the word of God?
A quick point here. The author tried to console himself by trying to say that Pope Francis felt uncomfortable doing a televised Mass. I’m sorry, but that is overstretching the argument. It was new to all of us, and we felt uncomfortable, but it was the best option at the time. I have no doubt that if the Vatican Press Office would make their analytics available, it would show that the Pope had more viewers during that time of televised online Masses. And, the good news, I didn’t need to travel to Rome to celebrate Mass with the Pope!
The Restrictions on Attending Mass is for Our Own Good
Thanks be to God that now the restrictions are being eased gradually to help us return to our “normal” life. Now we can meet in church, albeit, under certain conditions. Why these restrictions? It is for our safety. In fact, I feel comfortable going to church because of the safety protocols in place.
If I wash my hands with soap under running water before entering the church, observe social distancing in there, wear face mask to reduce the spread of droplets, sanitize my hands before receiving holy communion; and you also do the same, wouldn’t we feel comfortable worshiping together? Imagine a situation of coming to church without the enforcement of these safety protocols. Who would like to be in such a situation?
There will be a Return
I am glad the author says of his own piece, “Now, this is a bleak assessment.” He is right. Life is always about choices. And we have the choice to be positive or negative. I have trained myself to be positive. That doesn’t mean I live in some kind of Utopian world. Not at all. I can see the gathering of the dark clouds, but I don’t lose sight of the silver lining. I see through the tunnel, it may be very dark, but at the far end, I also see the light. John F. Kennedy says, and I quote, “We are not here to curse the darkness, but to light the candle that can guide us through that darkness to a safe and sane future.” I have chosen to be optimistic. What about you?
A Time to Stress Better Music, Preaching and Lay Evangelization
Thank God that finally, I have reached a point of convergence with the author. During the period of restrictions in Ghana, when public worship was suspended, I conducted a little survey to see how pastors were reaching out pastorally to the people of God. My emphasis was on the word.
It was obvious that some priests were employing all kinds of creative ways to reach their parishioners. In fact, the Archbishop of Accra, Most Rev. John Bonaventure Kwofie, had a book compiled, printed under the title, “Devotional Prayers for Difficult Times.” These books were supposed to be purchased by parishes and distributed to parishioners to use for their private and family prayers. The parishioners who got hold of these books could not hide their joy of having their pastors think of them in these difficult times.
The survey also showed that, some parishes went to sleep. Nothing much was going on. And for this, some parishioners are really concerned and felt abandoned. So here is the question, “Which one would you prefer: a pastor that tries to reach you through online Mass or one that does nothing for fear of reducing the value of the Mass or the liturgy?” We must rise to the occasion, and try to read the signs of the time.
The decree Ad Gentes on the mission activity of the Church states, “The pilgrim Church is missionary by her very nature, since it is from the mission of the Son and the mission of the Holy Spirit that she draws her origin, in accordance with the decree of God the Father” (#2). We have stressed this umpteenth times, that the missionary activity of the Church is not limited to the clergy but the entire Church – clergy and laity. All of us must get involved. Formation programmes must be rolled out to the laity, and they must also make themselves available to learn.
This pandemic reinforced and made real the constant reminder to families that every family is a domestic church. Many families have had the opportunity to pray and celebrate the Eucharist, even if online, together. They may not have received the Body of Christ physically, but thanks be to God, that the Church foresees circumstances, such as COVID-19, and provides the opportunity to receive communion spiritually. Otherwise, why was that prayer made?
When restrictions were lifted for limited numbers of people to be in Church, I called my mother, a woman of simple faith, with the intention of telling her to stay at home for a while. I was too late, she had already gone to church the previous Sunday, notwithstanding the safety protocols she had to observe. This humbled me, knowing that I was stepping on a holy ground. These are the people who give me hope, and for them I can boldly say, “The true Catholics will return to Mass.”