THIS ARTICLE PRESUPPOSES THAT THE PANDEMIC IS REAL, WHICH IT IS NOT
But even if it were, the way the Bishops have closed Churches
is completely contrary to the Gospel:
Anti-Pope, Anti-Church, Anti-Bishops, Anti-Gospel, Anti-Parishes
Pastoral Remedies in Time of the Corona Panic
By Philip C. L. Gray, JCL
I turn now to apply the principles noted above and answer some of the questions we have received.
1. Does a diocesan bishop have the authority to cancel “non-essential” activities in a parish, such as Stations of the Cross, CCD, bible studies, etc.?
Generally speaking, no. A pastor is the administrator of his parish. Under jurisprudence, it is the pastor, not the bishop, who can set Mass schedules. I have won and lost cases because of that jurisprudence. That being true, it would be the pastor, not the bishop, who is entrusted with making decisions about what is essential and what is not. He should do so with guidelines from the bishop, but not prohibitions. This is the principle of subsidiarity at work. The pastor should also prudently weigh the circumstances, risks and benefits associated with his decision.
2. What are the canonical issues involved with a bishop shuttering churches and suspending all public Masses?
For a bishop to do this, he must issue a decree that is motivated in fact and specific to the circumstances he is addressing. The decree must be properly promulgated and thereby actionable; that is, open to challenge. More at issue is that the faithful have a Divine Law right to the sacraments. Personally, I do not believe such a directive is legitimate but the circumstances for appeal would be too burdensome and probably not resolved until after the pandemic has passed. For this reason, the Faithful are encouraged to find other, more favorable ways to obtain the sacraments while also petitioning their bishop to provide the sacraments. The Faithful should also use acceptable means to persuade a bishop to allow public Masses with prudent measures implemented.
3. What canonical arguments exist in favor of a pastor continuing to celebrate the sacraments for his people?
See #2 above. The vocation of a pastor is to minister to the spiritual needs of his people out of the Word of God and the Sacraments. Just as a parent’s obligations to children are not suspended when a crisis occurs, neither is a pastor’s. The Faithful have a right to receive the sacraments, and this places an obligation on a priest to provide them. In danger of death, the obligation to provide is extended to those priests who no longer have ordinary faculties.
4. Can a person be required to receive Holy Communion in the hand during the Coronavirus?
No, not legitimately. This will be disputed, and the person refused Holy Communion will likely not see a decision in their case until after the crisis is past. A greater concern is that such refusal will become normative. If a person is refused Holy Communion on the tongue, that person will be faced with a hard decision to appeal or not. The SJF is ready to assist anyone in making that discernment.
5. What is necessary to confect the Eucharist, as opposed to what may be in the rubrics or a part of custom?
As per any sacrament, to confect the Eucharist requires valid matter, form, and intention. For the Eucharist, valid matter is unleavened bread (in the Latin Church and most Eastern Catholic Churches) and pure grape wine. The form is the words, “This is My Body” and “This is My Blood” said at the appropriate time. The priest must intend to confect the Eucharist. The “breathing” on the species during consecration is a beautiful custom but is not obligatory. Consequently, a priest who wears a mask during the celebration of Mass, or distributes Holy Communion with gloves, or uses other precautions that do not affect the matter, form or intention, do not harm the validity of the Mass. Such precautions should be taken in collaboration with the bishop.
6. Can a priest use soap or hand sanitizer during the purification of his hands during Mass?
The rubrics call for water. Adding lemon juice or even isopropyl alcohol to the water as a disinfectant would not, in my opinion, affect the liceity of the act. Doing so would be far less offensive to the rubrics than wearing gloves to distribute Holy Communion, which itself could be reasonable during this crisis.
7. Can extraordinary ministers be used in lieu of the presiding priest so the priest can remain socially distant and lessen the risk of being exposed to the virus? Can extraordinary ministers self-communicate for the same reasons?
Yes to both. These measures should be taken in collaboration with the bishop, but if such collaboration is not possible, a presiding priest can make those decisions in extraordinary circumstances. None of those examples affect the validity of the Sacrament.
8. Should a priest disobey his bishop if his bishop orders that all public sacraments are to cease?
This is a tricky question for some and easy for others. The answer should not be taken lightly. A priest vows obedience to his bishop, so the question behind the question is, “What is the obedience he vowed?” As a virtue, obedience flows from Justice. It is giving to authority what is due that authority. As Christians, all of us must be obedient to lawful authority. It’s part of what we believe. On the other hand, all authority has limits, and the first limits that must be respected are the limits imposed by Faith and Morals. When that authority acts in a manner contrary to Faith or Morals, we have no obligation to obey. He may have the power to act, but such acts are illegitimate insofar as they violate Divine Law, either Positive or Natural. The right of the Faithful to receive the sacraments is a matter of Divine Law. Whether providing them at a particular time is appropriate or not is something the minister of that sacrament must determine at that time. If a bishop prohibits the public exercise of sacraments during this crisis, and a priest has concerns, the priest should prayerfully consider the circumstances of the prohibition as they relate to him and the people under his care. He must consider the norm of Canon 18 and other applicable laws, what faculties the Church provides, what opportunities for grace exist for the people, and what his options are. He should express his concerns to his bishop, even asking the bishop to reconsider if necessary. If he chooses not to obey the directive, he must be certain in his conscience that he is being obedient to God. Put another way, a priest should always obey a legitimate directive from his bishop.