COVID-19 has really shocked the whole of humanity. It sprang onto us without any warning, like a thief coming in the night. Many of our liberties that we took for granted were curtailed either as restrictions or lockdown. Until recently, many of us did not know what it meant to be ordered not to leave your home.
Our religious freedom was tampered with for the sake of the common good. Places of worship were closed, and that meant no possibility of congregating as a community of believers. Our normal life has been disrupted, and we now have a “new normal” we are adjusting to.
At the moment, the restrictions are easing gradually, and we are allowed to congregate again, albeit, under certain conditions. Many are not eager to congregate, and we want to know why.
1. We are afraid of getting infected when we come to church.
Objection: How many times haven’t we heard the Lord tell us not to be afraid? Or are we trying to say that God cannot save us from COVID-19? The problem here is that we have issues with fear and not COVID-19.
The Lord says, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10). I agree that we may be afraid, but we should not exaggerate it to the point of regarding worship as non-essential.
2. It is not safe to be in church.
Objection: At the moment I can say without any shred of doubt that the safest place to be is in church. You go to the market. What do you see? Some of us board public transport, trotro and taxi. What do we see? We go to the bank and carry out other transactions. What do we see? Political activities are going on. What do we see? People are going about their business without observing the safety protocols, and yet we are able to join them do business because it is important for us.
What about church? Our churches have been fumigated and disinfected. The church floors and pews have been marked and numbered in order to ensure the observance of the appropriate social distancing. Before you are allowed into the church premises, your temperature is taken, you wash your hands with soap under running water and told where to sit.
Inside the church, everyone is wearing a face mask, and even before receiving holy communion, both priest and laity, sanitize their hands. These strict safety protocols are not observed in the market, public transport, and the many places you go, so how can you say the church is not safe?
3. Now there are online Masses so I can watch from home.
Objection: Don’t make the mistake of replacing attended Masses with online Masses. Online Masses, if you like, is a substitute for situations where it is impossible or very difficult to be physically present in church. For instance, a sick person may not be able to be in church physically, and for such a person the online or televised Mass will be of great help. Again, a person who may be on duty can find online Mass to be very useful.
Online and televised Masses come to fill a gap, but they do not replace the real thing, that is, the physical attendance of Mass. Hebrews 10:25 says, “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.”
4. I can receive spiritual communion.
Objection: Try to look at issues and situations from their right perspective. There is a reason for everything. Have you had a closer look at the prayer for spiritual communion? It says,
“My Jesus, I believe that you are present in the Most Holy Sacrament. I love you above all things, and I desire to receive you into my soul. Since I cannot at this moment receive you sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace you as if you were already there and unite myself wholly to you. Never permit me to be separated from you. Amen.”
You said you desire to receive him, and since you cannot at this moment receive him sacramentally, he should come at least spiritually into your heart. Yes, you could not receive him because you were restricted. You could not receive him because churches were closed. You could not receive him because you were on duty at work and could not be in church. This is a prayer for someone who finds him or herself in a difficult or unusual situation.
Are you in a difficult situation now? Are your churches closed? Is your priest travelled. Spiritual communion, just like a televised or online Mass, comes to fill a gap, but does not supplant the real thing. You need to receive Jesus sacramentally, and that can happen when you are physically present in church.
5. I want to be cautious.
Objection: The church loves your life and cares about your safety. The initial suspension of public Masses was an act of precaution so that the lives of our dear parishioners are not exposed to unnecessary danger. Now in every parish there is a COVID-19 team making sure that nothing is taken for granted. Huge sums of money have been spent on fumigation, disinfection, buying of thermometers, sanitizers, among others. If this is not cautiousness, then what else?
By the way, to what extent can you be cautious? Are we saying that all those who were infected with COVID-19 were careless? In fact, most of them were not infected in church, because churches were closed, anyway.
Listen, it is God who is taking care of us. Even the scientists are struggling to understand this novel coronavirus. I am sure that God has saved and protected many of us without our knowledge. It is not by our strength or power, but the Holy Spirit’s power.
6. The safety protocols are too many.
Objection: You rightly called the protocols “safety protocols”. Rather than seeing them as burdensome, embrace them as safety nets. They are there to ensure that we enter into the church with confidence, knowing that all that is necessary for your safety has been put in place. You told me that you want to be cautious, and this is one of the ways of helping your cautiousness.
In fact, what are the safety protocols? Your name and phone number is taken prior to your coming to church. When you arrive, you wear your face mask, your temperature is checked, you wash your hands with soap under running water, you are assigned a seat whiles observing the social distancing. In this comfortable environment, you worship your God. How can you call this too much, or burdensome?
7. I don’t want my details to be taken for future contact tracing.
Objection: Once again, I will say taking your name and address for the possibility of contact tracing is for both individual and collective good. As at now, we know there is no vaccine for COVID-19.
Our medical experts are unanimous that one of the effective ways of curbing its spread is through testing and isolating those infected.
Imagine a situation in which you came to church on a particular day, and the details of all worshippers were not taken, and then later discovered that a COVID-19 positive person was present on that day.
The presence of the one positive person is a threat to all present. What do you think: should those present on that particular day be informed or not? If they are informed in good time, they can be tested, or self-isolate in order not to infect their loved ones in case they are positive. This in the long run will help stop the spread of the virus.
If, however, they are not told and we all pretend everything is fine, an infected person will go around infecting his or her loved ones like a wild fire. So at the end of the day, giving out our details serves the greater good. And as a Christian you must always be interested in the greater good.
8. I don’t feel like coming again.
No objection. We would love to see you in church, worshipping God with us, but unfortunately we cannot force you. Life is all about choices. I wish that you would choose to be in church with us. But is that your choice too? May the Holy Spirit help you make a good decision.
Authored by Rev. Fr. John Patrick TINDANA//AGNUS-DEI MEDIA