A priest reflects on the cancellation of the Mass
Friday, Mar. 20, 2020
Diocese of Salt Lake City
Fr. Martin Diaz
SALT LAKE CITY — No priest would celebrate Mass in a burning building. In a similar manner, these days any large gathering of people is a hotbed of disease. From such a gathering, like the burning building, many will escape unharmed. However, some will be burned and others may die.
Unlike the flames of the burning building, the coronavirus is able to leave the gathering with those unharmed and infect those who chose to not attend any large group setting.
Considering these circumstances, Bishop Oscar A. Solis put the common good first and directed that all Masses and Church-related meetings in the Diocese of Salt Lake City be discontinued for two weeks.
In the 1980s I met a Dominican priest from South Africa. While preaching, he said that back home a homily had to be at least 45 minutes long; otherwise, the people thought you had nothing to say. He explained that many people walked for two days to attend Mass, and walked two days home after Mass. Therefore, a five- to seven-minute homily was just not enough. The unspoken but well-understand corollary was that not everyone was able to attend Mass weekly, or even that weekly Mass was available to everyone.
We, on the other hand, live in a society where many people are able to choose the parish and Mass time that best fits their schedule. This plays into the individualism that permeates our society. Individualism is a sin against the common good.
Worship is an obligation of the community to offer sacrifice to the Father. It is humanity’s relationship to the Father that is in the Mass. In the Eucharist we offer to the Father the one perfect sacrifice: Jesus at the Last Supper – Jesus on the Cross. The Eucharist is the source and summit of our relationship with God and one another because the sacrifice of the cross is the beginning of our redemption, and the sacrifice of the Last Supper is the ultimate unity of humanity – one bread, one body.
Catholics in Utah, as in other states, have had the Mass taken away from them temporarily. For a few, perhaps, this will be a welcome relief. For the many, it will be a time of heartbreak. Something very special and very holy will be missing from their lives. The requests for a “home Mass” have soared. People have asked about underground Masses. People have promised to tell no one if I just tell them where there is a Mass. Some priests will not be celebrating Mass as there is no community with whom to celebrate. Other priests daily will celebrate a private Mass with one other person (a Mass without anyone is outside the teaching of the Church). At the Cathedral of the Madeleine we are celebrating daily Mass at 8 a.m. and livestreaming it. On Sunday, the 11 a.m. Mass in English and the 3 p.m. Mass in Spanish will be livestreamed. In keeping with the prohibitions against gathering, only the altar assistant is permitted to attend the daily Mass. On Sunday the cantor and organist also will be present. The plan is for Bishop Solis to celebrate on the Solemnity of the Annunciation, March 25, at 11 a.m. Find these Masses at the Cathedral Facebook page.
People could think of themselves first and ask why there is no Mass for them. To do so is to place themselves above the common good. We can be happy that our shepherd is looking out for all Utahns. The Catholic community, along with the rest of Utah, has been asked to endure a two-week cooling-off period.
What beautiful solidarity is being offered to you.
During this time of “walking,” you may make a spiritual communion. This is a centuries-old practice. Because of the grave and serious cause presented by the danger of coronavirus, Bishop Solis has dispensed Catholics from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass during this time, so there is no sin in not attending. A spiritual communion allows us to unite ourselves with God through prayer. I encourage you to make a spiritual communion not only on Sundays, as you watch the Mass being broadcast or listen to it on the radio, but also daily. Pray the Liturgy of the Hours or other prayers. Pay a personal visit to your local parish and pray before the Blessed Sacrament.
Let us continue to pray with each other and for each other during this time of trial.
The Very Rev. Martin Diaz is rector of the Cathedral of the Madeleine.