Guest post by Gerard M. Nadal.
The most difficult thing to imagine is churches with no daily or Sunday Masses. No sacraments. The recent shutterings in the face of this virus have shocked the minds and the souls of clergy, religious, and faithful alike, and not a few on social media have attacked the bishops. Some have said that Jesus would never allow for transmission of this virus during the Mass.
As both a Catholic and a microbiologist, I’m not so certain about such sentiment.
During the Black Death in Europe monasteries were devastated by the bubonic plague when the monks went out to tend to the sick and bury the dead. I recall hearing of one monastery where the monks all died. Dead to the last man. I call upon Mike Aquilina, who wrote the history of how the Church invented and built Western Medicine from the first century, recounted brilliantly in his book, The Healing Imperative, and ask that he supplement with his knowledge on the matter.
The simple truth is that physicians, nurses, first responders, and clergy all die standing their posts in pandemics. It’s the heroic part of their heroic virtue.
The bishops are looking at a graying population of priests, the overwhelming majority of whom are in the danger zone for dying from this virus because of their age and underlying health conditions. If the laity are upset by the temporary suspension of public masses and Eucharistic reception, what do we think will happen if a significant portion of our clergy die? Further, how horrifying a thought that an asymptomatic infected priest or deacon could spread this virus to hundreds, or even thousands of people before falling ill himself.
The priest/deacon as lethal vector.
Yes, it can happen in the midst of performing the sacraments. Just ask the thousands of monks who died in the plagues of Medieval Europe. Ask the 80% of Eastern European priests and religious slaughtered by the Nazi’s for helping the Jews.
The only thing worse and more heartbreaking than a priest or deacon going down in the line of duty during a pandemic is the thought that through his sacramental ministry he became a lethal vector. And so it is that the bishops made the difficult but proper decision. Consistent with Sirach 38, they heeded God’s admonition to consult and listen to the physician in time of illness.
It was a tough call, but absolutely the right one to make.
Dr. Gerard M. Nadal currently serves as the President and CEO of the Coalition on Abortion/Breast Cancer. He blogs at Coming Home: Science in Service of the Pro-Life Movement.