It’s time to go back

Religion | Friday, May 29, 2020

It’s time to go back to church. This is the reality. If restaurants can remain open for delivery and curb-side pickup, and if grocery stores can remain open with lower occupancy limits and one-way aisles, then churches should be allowed to hold services. Period.

The fact of the matter is that for many people, church is essential. Sunday Mass is as essential to my wellbeing as food or water. That’s a subjective reality based on religious beliefs that I’ve held to be true my entire life, and the fact that someone might disagree doesn’t make it any less true.

But I say this now with a caveat. I’m not expecting business as usual. Im not expecting to see the pews filled end to end at 9 AM, and frankly, I don’t want that. Not yet. It is absolutely important that we continue social distancing. This virus threat is far from over, and I get that. I understand that even as things open up, I probably won’t be able to be at Mass every week.

The problem is, though, that we’ve enforced these one-size-fits-all regulations that just don’t make sense in different contexts. 10 people. That’s the limit here in Illinois. I belong to a parish that could seat close to 1000 people at full capacity.

My parish could easily support 100 people while still safely social distancing. At the very least, 10 families. Families are already isolating together, so what changes if we’re sitting together in church versus together at home?

The Church (as an organization) needs to push back. The Church needs to put some pressure on the government. and fight for a change, because 10 people in a tiny chapel in Wyoming looks a whole lot different than 10 people in a basilica in Chicago.

It’s not unreasonable to have tailored regulations. 1 family in a pew, with two or three rows between would more than cover the social distancing guidlines that we’re practicing everywhere else.

We have to ask ourselves, what is it about going to church that poses more risk than buying groceries? I can wear a mask at Mass. I can wear gloves. I can survive without a hymnal in my hand (though I’ll be a lot more fidgety).

The essential/nonessential divide is an arbitrary line, and though I understand it had to be drawn somewhere, churches, synagogues, and mosques are on the wrong side of it. Going to church on Sunday (while stressful with small children), recharges my batteries. It’s a morale boost for the coming week. I need that right now, and Im certain that I’m not alone.

The thing about the Catholic Mass that raises eyebrows with all of this is Holy Communion. One by one, we process up to the altar to receive the Eucharist–many people choosing to do so on their tongue. That’s a weird thing for me on a normal day, and right now. . .

Communion is definitely in violation of social distancing, and even if my parish can hold 100 socially distanced people in the pews, when those 100 people go up to receive communion from the same person, there’s a lot more risk than if there had only been 10. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to work that one out. So, really, that’s probably why the regulation exists. It’s less about the space, and more about how people use that space.

So, if we’re talking about grey areas in the regulations, then let’s talk about the grey areas of the Mass–or, I suppose, more accurately, the grey areas in how we participate in the Mass. If we’re going to demand that the government bend to our requests, then maybe, just maybe, we should bend a little bit too. Maybe there’s a middle ground here that’s a little less selfish.

What if we put a pause on receiving the Eucharist? We’ve already been doing it for months. What harm is a few more weeks? We can still celebrate Mass without giving the Eucharist to every person in the building. It’s a totally crazy idea, I know, but what if the priest consecrates the bread and wine as usual, and then just takes communion himself? What if the rest of us accept that this is the (temporary) cost of going back to church?

It sucks. I get that. As a lifelong Catholic the idea of going to Mass and not receiving communion is incredibly difficult to stomach. But let’s not forget that we’re called to make sacrifices every day.

Did we collectively forget about Lent? It wasn’t that long ago. The Catholic church has an entire season about prayerful sacrifice bringing us closer to God. The idea of going to Mass and not receiving communion is difficult to stomach, but maybe that’s the point right now.

Maybe not receiving the Eucharist right now is something you willfully choose not to do because that’s the sacrifice that allows us to go back to Mass. Don’t get me wrong, it still sucks, but if you look at it this way, it sucks for a reason. A reason that benefits everyone.