Tuesday, May 19, 2020

New Normal: Subjectifying the Sunday Obligation

Anybody tired of the phrase "New Normal" yet?

As part of the New Normal within the Church, I predict we are going to see the total subjectivization of the Sunday obligation. Here's why:

At the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, bishops worldwide dispensed Catholics from keeping the Sunday obligation. This was necessary as the public celebration of the Mass had been suspended in most places, making it impossible for Catholics to keep the obligation anyway.

Catholics who complained about shuttered churches and inability to access the sacraments were taunted and called selfish—in some cases, even by priestsand told to "just" make a spiritual communion and watch Mass on a live stream. In many dioceses, the tone of these bishops' announcements of these directives lacked any empathy for the immense sadness of the faithful at being deprived of the sacraments. Instead they read like bureaucratic memoranda. "Just" watch a live stream. There was a lot of disdain hidden in that "just."

Anyhow, the result of this that tacit inference that the physical attendance at Mass isn't what ultimately matters most; what matters is that "our hearts are in it" and that we at least desire to be at Mass. It also established the premise that the Sunday obligation can be done away with if there is a grave enough threat to health. Given the circumstances, these inferences were certainly not false, but even good things can be twisted.

The next step came when bishops started announcing the tentative re-opening of public Masses. I attended my first Mass in months today, deo gratias. But this is only an interim sort of stage. The bishops understand that the pandemic is not over and that certain populations are still very vulnerable. For this reason, though Masses are being restored, Sunday attendance is remaining optional in most places for the time being. In my diocese, it is still optional until July. Persons who are at risk or don't feel safe can still opt to stay home. Essentially, the bishops at first said, "We don't think this is safe, so we are telling you not to come." Now they are saying, "We think this is pretty much safe, but if you don't feel safe, you're still free not to come." The bishops are asking us to consult our own informed conscience about whether we feel it is safe to return. Sunday attendance is being tossed into the realm of conscience.

Priests are tripping over themselves to assure Catholics it is okay not to return to Mass right now if they don't feel like it. For example:

And again, this isn't necessarily wrong. If the Sunday obligation is still suspended, and the pandemic is still going on, and one feels they might be vulnerable, there's nothing incorrect about this.

However, I do want to draw attention to the way the attendance of Mass is getting shoved into the realm of the subjective, the realm of conscience. The reason is because the bishops consider the current safety of public Masses to be up in the air. It's safe enough to let people return in some sense, but not safe enough that we can go back to normal. Hence we give certain folks leeway to decide to stay away.

Thus, since there is some question about the objective safety of large public Masses, this is where we remain today.

Now, let me predict where we will end up and how this will turn into a gargantuan debacle:

Eventually, the bishops will decide that it is safe enough to reinstate the Sunday obligation. Maybe this summer. Maybe later. But eventually the Sunday obligation will be restored. But after months of non-stop Covid-19 hysteria and media fear-mongering, many Catholics will still "not feel safe" returning to Mass. Indeed, a recent survey found that 1 in 6 Americans will never feel safe going out in public ever again.

This will inevitably result in a large swath of formerly practicing Catholics who "don't feel safe" returning to Mass despite the fact that the bishops declare it safe to return and reinstate the Sunday obligation. These people will be propped up by an army of useful idiots who inundate social media with virtue signaling memes and moralizing soliloquies about how whether to attend Mass is a matter of "conscience" and that we shouldn't be "Mass-shaming" Catholics who don't "feel safe" returning to Sunday Mass. There will be a lot of half-baked cringey attempts to offer theological justifications for this—sometimes centering on the primacy of conscience, sometimes appealing to a slip-shod sacramental theology they probably picked up from reading Patheos. There will be more accusations of Pharisaism towards Catholics who find this objectionable, and your progressive Catholic friends on Facebook will become even more belligerent and annoying. There will be strained, pathetic arguments trying to convince you that watching Mass on a screen is not substantially different than assisting in person.

The bishops will waffle on clarifying the matter and issue contradictory statements, essentially saying that while the Sunday obligation remains in place, one must always follow the dictates of ones conscience. The statements will leave enough ambiguity for persons on both sides of the dispute to argue from. Meanwhile goofy parish priests will take to Twitter to confuse the faithful by affirming the right of any Catholic to abstain from physical attendance at Sunday Mass if they don't "feel safe."

Essentially, the Sunday obligation will transform entirely into a subjective matter of conscience.

But as for us, here's the thing we ought to remember when these absurd arguments cross our screens: whether something is "safe" is not a matter of conscience or feeling. If I have a room that has a clearly lit exit sign, a working fire suppression system, and multiple easily accessible means of egress, then (from a fire safety standpoint), that room is safe. It doesn't matter whether you "feel" safe from fires in the room.  The room is safe. It doesn't mean it couldn't conceivably catch on fire or that something totally unexpected won't happen—after all, life involves risk. But it does mean that by all objectively measurable criteria, the room is safe. It's not a matter of one's opinions or feelings.

The same goes for the restoration of the liturgy. The reason the bishops are currently allowing us to defer to our conscience about Mass attendance is because there is some degree of uncertainty over how safe the situation is objectively. But whenever the bishops do decide to restore the Sunday obligation, it will be because they assess that the situation is now objectively safe. Whether or not someone "feels safe" is not relevant. Safety is an objective state of affairs, and if the bishops restore the Sunday obligation it will mean that state of affairs is such that there is no reason for Catholics to abstain from attendance any longer. Catholics will have no licit reason to refuse attendance at Sunday Masses, regardless of how they feel.

But by that time it will be too late. Catholic social media hacks will flood us with an avalanche of sewage from all quarters that essentially reframes the Sunday obligation as entirely a matter of conscience in the age of corona. And good luck ever getting that horse back in the stable once it's out.

Welcome to the New Normal.


Evangeline said...

I have been annoyed so many times with that phrase "new normal", almost since it started being used. To me it sounds like people who don't want the "old normal" and are rather enjoying the effort to change it. We need to be suspicious of anyone who uses it. In 1918 we had a pandemic, people quarantined and wore masks, etc. It took four years to really get over it, but that didn't change "normal". Normal is normal and it should be a goal, not given up as if half the planet broke off and floated away.

I personally felt quarantine was justified, and based on what we knew (Wuhan and Italy) locking down seemed warranted. Who knows. It's so easy now to say it wasn't. We should be extremely cautious, I don't blow off this virus. I think it's very serious for many people of varying ages. Even children are now getting inflammatory diseases and a few have died.

When the church allowed the Holy Mass and the sacraments to be deemed "non-essential", that was a defining moment. No bishop should ever have allowed that to happen, let alone a pope. To judge the contemporary church by the ancient church is a shocking comparison, because there is no comparison. The men of old were real priests and the church was a real church, the church, that God intended. They have made of her a laughingstock, a shell. She has been hollowed out intentionally. The actual Catholic church would not have stopped public Mass, and they certainly would not allow Holy Mass to be called "non-essential". The men today want it to be non-essential. They probably like that term, many of them.
For my part, and I'm nobody, believe me, I don't worry anymore about Mass or anything. I know God is in His heaven, and He looks after me (us). I have zero respect for what is called the Catholic church today. We can't demand faithful priests and bishops and get them. They are a joke. When the men who run the church from the pope on down in large numbers don't want and don't practice Catholicism, this is where you end up, as a non-essential entity.

Anonymous said...

i'd argue the lockdown at most made sense for a couple weeks, a month was pushing it. Italy got a lot of repeated videos, but even over there they closed hospital wings. Bergamo was bad but nearby huge Milan not so much. more sensible countries had more balanced approaches, some certainly interestingly open (Belarus, Sweden), others with only some controls (Taiwan, Japan for a while). then again i was always skeptical to a degree, specially when i saw the thousands of spring breakers not dying out nor spreading disease massively when they had to return home due to classes being out. certainly the virus is real, however the amount of asymptomatics being so massive indicated it is only dangerous for some. normally we would toss it in the bin of "modern respiratory infectious diseases", keep only the vulnerable locked down with pay and service if needed, and move on. can't believe the Church folded on public worship so easily, almost as if in tune... and goodness knows we've had both public confession before, as well as masses more ridiculous than a drivethru mass (wouldn't surprise me if a priest did it in the 70s lol).

Kurt said...

I dunno. Everyone I know who did go to Mass and reads these things from bishops and pastors is anxious to return when safe. For that matter, everyone I know wants to go safely back to their jobs too.

Unknown said...

The author's analysis is persuasive, and I'm convinced that the future it predicts is tragically likely. I've been trying in my own small way to put the brakes on the overall tendency to create Catholicism Lite, but my small way is extremely small and only seems to affect my immediate family.

Anonymous said...

the problem Kurt is, what is truly safe? who defines it? and, who can keep us safe from the inevitable safety council?

Kurt said...

Science and medicine define safe. Now, extending a Protestant world view that every person can pick up the Bible and interpret for himself would be the idea that everyone can make up their own medical standards.

Anonymous said...

^^Kurt, the "science and medicine" question is not settled, specially not if controlled by factions. the WHO itself now switched to the Swedish model that makes masks and lockdowns optional, admitting that the virus was never that bad. compare responses between "experts" in Taiwan and China, between Germany and Italy, between Sweden and Britain. Japan and Korea didn't even go as hard as we are. even in countries we're now told are "bad" (currently Brazil), it's 0.05% deaths. i myself am still waiting for the Florida spring breaker deaths that barely ever happened.

at any rate, is being Catholic = doing what the experts say all the time? gee we should just be secular scientistics and religious Zionists then, since those are the ones with authority in those fields.

we obey because it's right; not because obedience is right in itself all the time; because you can find yourself obeying the wrong master. true, one must not defy authority, except when God's authority needs to be defended above all. ergo, streaming from monasteries for the sick and letting open masses for the healthy should be okay? people go to supermarkets and face greater risks and more people coming in, while churches are empty most of the time. the priests dropping the host on your tongue is safer than the cashier handling your things, or you touching the drivethru atm. aren't spiritual sustenance and ecclesial worship even more essential?

Anonymous said...


trust the experts now, Kurt? or do you pick which and when too? besides, livestreams will definitely continue, you can still catch them.

Kurt said...

true, one must not defy authority, except when God's authority needs to be defended above all.

Exactly. God's authority is not being challenged. God is not commanding us to do actions which may risk our health. Science and medical authorities will continue to inform our Church and civil leaders as they discern this matter. Self-centered ethno-nationalists looking for a culture war need to cool their jets.

William said...

There has always been a risk to health in every age, society, time, and place. I drive approx. 20 miles one way to church. That means I have 40 miles of driving round trip wherein I might get into a wreck. Multiply that by at least 52 and it would be easy to argue that I am definitely taking an unreasonable risk regarding not only my safety, but also that of my wife and baby daughter. Yet this is just what everyone did before we were all going to die from a super-duper commie virus. But now it's all different. Now it's scary. Now it's been revealed just how pathetically petrified we all are of catching a cough. BTW people die of coughs too. Since when has death been the worst thing that could happen to a Catholic? Today will go down in Catholic history as the era of the wimps...nothing particularly redeeming about us. Just notable as being impressively wimpy...

Anonymous said...

Kurt, better stop driving cars then. heck, avoid public transport, you don't want to know how many germs can get on one bus. in fact, clean every doorknob you see.

also, those are the same scientific and medical authorities that tell us that gender is a construct and there is nothing wrong with practicing homosexuality?

self-centered fearful conformists people looking to make everyone like themselves need to chill. besides, the rioters are proving the virus isn't that deadly, just like the spring breakers a couple months ago. not to mention, them rioters started the culture war without any ethnonationalist help, all they needed was a stupid white cop doing something blacks more usually do to other blacks.

but anyway yeah, just make the monks livestream the masses and sacraments for the vulnerable (like yourself?). an innovation to be sure, but makes much more sense than squirt gun baptisms or drivethru confession.

Anonymous said...

and yes indeed William, in fact pneumonia and other respiratory tract causes of death have gone down below normal rates, as covid death count goes up. seems... fishy.

Dash said...

Well put.

Kurt said...

Others can have their QAnon theories, but Holy Mother Church has made the judgment to suspend Sunday Obligation and I respect the Church.