Crazy? Angry? You decide and I couldn’t care less!

Bring on the Sacrament Machines!

May 12, 2020

Theologians concerned over bishops’ plans for 10-person pandemic Masses

by Joshua J. McElwee

Oh, goodie! I can’t wait to see what the “theologians” have to say. I think anyone who’s read the National catholic Reporter types lately can easily infer that they’re not interested in Catholics going anywhere near the Sacraments again until they’ve figured out how to blow them (the Sacraments, that is) to smithereens. While most of us can’t wait for the Sacraments to arrive again, they’re quite happy in the little virtual churches they’ve created in their own homes which they can manipulate any way they see fit. It’s a dream come true for them.

Several theologians are expressing concerns about a set of guidelines forwarded by the U.S. bishops’ conference to Catholic prelates across the country over how to restart public celebration of the Mass despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Remember when the term “theologian” meant something?

Among the main worries: how a plan for Masses with fewer than 10 people might unfairly segregate peoples’ access to the sacraments, whether such celebrations would downplay the liturgical role of the participating assembly, and if priests might burn themselves out in seeking to lead as many of the small celebrations as possible.

Isn’t it funny how jealousy and envy are always first in the mind of the NcR-friendly theologians? Look, if you can get to a Mass of 10 and I can’t manage to do so, GO FOR IT! Honestly, instigating envy is not helpful. The first thought should be, “We should fight for more than 10 people to be able to attend Mass!” not “Well, ask yourself why these people are going to get to go to Mass and those people aren’t!” Unless it’s a small chapel someplace, at least 50 could probably fit into a church and be very safely distanced, as in one person in each pew. Mandating some stupid 10-person rule for most churches where I live is ridiculous.

Also, isn’t it funny that the NcR peeps are sooooo concerned about priests burning themselves out by saying extra Masses on Sunday? Not downplaying the life of a priest, but the average guy usually commutes, works 8-10 hours a day, then comes home to a family. Is saying a 45-minute Mass every hour on Sundays (and maybe even a couple of vigils) during a pandemic going to be the final straw? Especially when everything else about parish life has come to a screeching halt? Since many of them live alone, seeing their flock might just be uplifting. It is the vocation they chose, after all. And, they might not have to deal with so much counseling of said flock when they can receive the graces of the Sacraments.

So, let’s go over this again. My medium sized parish could easily fit 64 in the pews – and actually a few more in the side pews – all while maintaining the 6-foot distance. Many parishes in my diocese hold close to a thousand (never make that amount). Heck, a 6-foot buffer might be possible for the regular Mass load in some parishes!  So, we all should be fighting the 10-person rule.

Also at question is why the bishops’ Committee on Divine Worship decided not to create its own set of national recommendations, but instead to provide prelates with those independently prepared by the Thomistic Institute at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington.

Uh, maybe because it was quite logical? I realize it’s quite popular to reinvent the wheel but not really necessary.

As Felician Franciscan Sr. Judith Kubicki, a theologian at Fordham University, said: “It should be something coming out of the bishops’ committee. Not something that they’re borrowing from somebody else.”

Again with the jealousy. WHO CARES? And, BTW, in keeping with the idea that the NcR-chosen “theologians” want to create their own little church, Sr. Judith Kubicki just chimed in on this stupid work. Her quote clearly shows that she doesn’t quite understand why the sacraments are to be in person. Theologians! She opts for “the church had never before been confronted with a global pandemic in the digital era” routine. Sorry, sister. Global pandemics don’t change the proper form, matter and intent of the sacraments.

Anne McGowan, a theologian at Chicago’s Catholic Theological Union, said the guidelines did a “pretty good job” balancing public health and sacramental concerns, but added: “I think it probably would be helpful … for the bishops to come up with some of their own maybe more standardized guidelines.”

“It seems like these are being forwarded like, ‘Here’s some things to think about. Good luck,’ ” said McGowan.

And, again, I ask why? As I’ve pointed out, no two parishes are alike. They have different size, staffing, governor mandates, etc.  

The U.S. bishops’ guidelines were first reported by NCR May 3, and were sent to prelates across the country April 30 by Hartford, Connecticut Archbishop Leonard Blair, the head of the bishops’ committee.

They took their cue from the Trump administration’s “Opening Up America Again” plan, which says the country will return to normalcy in three phases, allowing for gatherings first in groups of 10 people, then 50 and then on a more regular, unlimited basis.

Among the recommendations for the first phase: limiting access to the Mass via either a first-come, first-served system or on a rotational basis, asking congregants (but not presiders) to wear masks, and using hand sanitizer during distribution of Communion, which, they suggest, may still be received on the tongue.

And, for the liberals who detest Communion on the tongue, the last suggestion listed cannot happen. In many areas, the pandemic was accomplishing what they couldn’t. They thought they had just dealt the final blow to that horrible, awful, Communion on the tongue, but the USCCB suggested the opposite.

Kubicki and McGowan expressed most apprehension about how parishes would be able to limit access to the newly reopened Masses to only 10 people at a time.

“I think there are real concerns about sacramental access here,” said McGowan, saying any sort of first-come, first-served system “would seem to privilege somewhat those with the luxury of time.”

Isn’t this the same whiney complaint they always have? “Why can’t everyone (fill in the blank)?” Receive Communion? Get married to anyone they want? Believe what they want? Sin as they want? Etc., etc., etc. The answer? It is the reality of the situation. The one thing they have right is we’re living through a brutal time, but they are compounding it by envy. Do they suggest ways around it as many others have? Nope. They just are “concerned.”

The liturgist raised the particular question of essential workers who might only have a short window of time in which to go to Mass, and would not be able to come early to be first in line in order to gain access.

OK, Kubicki isn’t a spring chicken, but I’ve got to wonder why McGowan doesn’t have a little more understanding of how this can be accomplished. There are soooooooooooooo many different tech ways we can go about this. More Masses, on-line sign-ups, etc. Is it ever going to be as perfect as getting exactly what you want when you want it? Of course not. Is it better than nothing, which is what the insane truly want? Absolutely. And, let’s all remember, so far nobody is suggesting removing the dispensation from Sunday obligation. Don’t you think there are a good number of parishioners who might take advantage of the dispensation due to age or co-morbidities? Oh, yeah, there’s that. And on top of that…aren’t we all Catholic? Sacrifice is our game. Don’t you think we can reach out to fellow parishioners who may have not been able to get in and help them do so? Hey ladies, maybe volunteer to help with scheduling instead of stoking the fires of jealousy?

Kubicki, a former president of the North American Academy of Liturgy, was more forthright. “To me, this doesn’t make any sense,” she said.

Anyone shocked?

“How do you tell a parish that only 10 people can come to a Mass?” she asked. “Practically and pastorally, it seems like a nightmare. This is not like a drug store or a supermarket, where you let in 10 people and 10 people leave, or something like that.”

Well, Sister, it goes like this. “Dear parishioners, the governor is only allowing us to have 10 people at each Mass. We will be adding additional Masses to try and accommodate as many parishioners as possible. Please add your name to this list if you’d like to attend and you will be assigned a Mass. If you are unable to make that particular Mass, please contact Mrs. X and let her know which Masses you can attend and she will try to swap you with someone.” Literally not rocket science.

Timothy Brunk, a theologian at Villanova University, expressed similar concern. Imagining that a parish would have to somehow bar entry to the church building after 10 people had entered for Mass, he asked: “Do you station ushers … at the doors to say, ‘Don’t come in?’ “

Uh, yes. Our pastor has been working on a plan and volunteers for weeks. We’ve already had volunteers monitoring the 10-person limits for all these weeks, anyway. What? People want to help their pastors facilitate what they are able instead of whining? What a stinking novel idea!

Brunk, the author of a new volume on the modern practice of the sacraments titled The Sacraments and Consumer Culture, also raised the issue of priests who might work themselves to exhaustion in order to lead as many 10-person Masses as necessary to serve all their parishioners.

I’ve already addressed this. If you’re not married, Mr. Brunk, please don’t. You want to talk exhaustion? Try being up all night with toddlers who decide they want you , but you still have to go to work the next day. You’ll know what exhaustion is. Vocations aren’t always easy, and like the toddler years, this isn’t permanent. Get a grip, stop the wailing, and maybe do what you can to help your pastors get the rest they need in other areas to gear up for a full slate of Masses on Sunday for a while.

Noting that in some regions with a lack of priests there have been high numbers of parish mergers or closures, he said: “If you have a single priest providing sacramental ministry for two, three or four parishes, scheduling more Masses has the potential for turning priests into sacrament machines.”

Oh my gosh. Sacramental machines?! What a drama queen. (I’m totally going to start calling my priests buddies that, though!) In some areas, sure, it’s not going to be easy to add different Masses, but it can be done. Some shuffling may be needed, and some parishes may just have to have multiple vigil Masses instead of a Sunday slot, especially in rural areas where the priest has to drive an hour in between parishes. See? Ideas instead of crying.

McGowan spoke along the same lines, saying that even for priests who would seek to do as much as they can “there are limits to physical human stamina and what’s possible.”

I can’t possibly be the only one thinking this is over-the-top dramatic? Most of my priest friends miss being with their flock. Just for fun, I asked a priest friend a few questions. Here they are with their responses.

Me: If you had to celebrate six 45-minute Masses on a Sunday during this pandemic, would you keel over and die?

Sacrament Machine: No. I’ve done that regularly in rural areas.

Me: How many do you think you could do on Sunday at a single parish without keeling over and dying?

Sacrament Machine: 10? I’d be tired but could do.

Me: How would you compare it to a regular Joe stocking shelves for 8 hours a day? Farming?

Sacrament Machine: Waaaaaay easier. Some priests are soft men. (I’m assuming he had Jesuits in mind, but it’s just a guess.)

Honestly, I have more than a few priest friends, and I’m relatively sure this is how they all feel. Thank you, gentlemen!

Oh, and just to stop some of you before you start ranting. I am not, of course, talking about he elderly, sick, co-morbidity laden priests. Should be obvious but I’d rather just put out the disclaimer so nobody can waste time ranting on that.

Each of the three theologians also wondered about the guidelines’ suggestion that Catholics could still receive Communion on the tongue “without unreasonable risk.”

Isn’t it cute how they held off on this one until near the end?

Kubicki proposed that in order for a priest to give Communion to those requesting to receive it on the tongue, he would need to sanitize his hands after each person. “What kind of liturgical practice is that?” she asked.

Bahaha! Really? Now you’re suddenly worried about liturgical practices?  Please. Also, why is the Sister fine with not sanitizing when touching the communicant’s hand? Is she vying for the drop method? A priest can place in the hand or tongue without touching either. However, it has been suggested that the priest sanitizes IF he touches hand or tongue. And? Oh, yeah. It all comes down to that she doesn’t think public Masses should resume at all. I keep forgetting.

“At least one bishop appears to agree with Kubicki. Knoxville, Tennessee, Bishop Richard Stika has requested on Twitter several times in recent days that people receive the Eucharist in the hand. In a May 8 post, he said they should do so to protect themselves, “the minister of Communion and the next person.”

Requested? Not sure I’d characterized it as that. More like threatened.

“Very Catholic and Christ-like,” the prelate described it.

Umm, Christ touched the lepers and the sick (with much chastisement), but those who wish to receive His Body and Blood on the tongue are somehow un-Christlike? I hope I’m there when he has to explain that statement to Our Lord.

McGowan said that if she had drafted the Thomistic Institute’s guidelines, she might have encouraged those wishing to receive on the tongue to place themselves among the last in the Communion line as a way of reducing the risk to others.

I would be FINE with that. See? Creativity can be used. We actually did this for many flu seasons in an elderly parish. Worked out just fine.

Brunk mentioned that a separate set of guidelines from the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions suggested that reception on the tongue be temporarily prohibited. He said he would like to know if the members of the bishops’ committee had reviewed the federation’s guidelines, and if they might also be officially distributed to the country’s prelates.

Apparently, the bishops didn’t ask the “Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions.” Why should they listen to their ideas over the Thomistic Institute? How many MDs are in that group? Oh, didn’t he know that this was more than a bunch of theologians who put this together?

Here’s the nice list on the Thomistic Institute site. 
Dr. Timothy P. Flanigan, M.D. (Prof. of Medicine (infectious diseases)

Alpert Medical School of Brown University); Fr. Nicanor Austriaco, O.P. (Prof. of Biology, Providence College)

Dr.Thomas W. McGovern, M.D. (Catholic Medical Association National Board Member, Former

Clinical Research Physician, U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases)

Fr. Dominic Legge, O.P. (Assist. Prof. of Theology, Director of the Thomistic Institute, Dominican

House of Studies)

Fr. Dominic Langevin, O.P. (Assistant Professor, Editor of The Thomist, Dominican House of Studies) 

Fr. Paul Scalia (Vicar for Clergy, Diocese of Arlington)

Fr. Gregory Pine, O.P. (Thomistic Institute).

We are grateful for the comments and review of

Rev. Msgr. Robert J. Vitillo (Attaché, Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the UN in

Geneva and Secretary General, International Catholic Migration Commission)

Dr. Thomas Cesario, M.D. (Prof. of Medicine (infectious diseases), Univ. of Calif. Irvine School of Medicine );

Dr. Paul Cieslak, M.D. (Infectious Diseases & Public Health, Catholic Medical Association member)

 Dr. Daniel Sulmasy, M.D., Ph.D. (Prof. of Medicine, Georgetown University)

Dr.Suzanne Strom, M.D. (Associate Clinical Professor, University of California, Irvine)

Fr. Christopher Pollard ( Diocese of Arlington

Fr. John Baptist Ku, O.P. ( Assoc. Prof., Dominican House of Studies )

Now, I went through the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions’ guideline and did not find much of a list, but here you go:

In collating this brief guideline, I have drawn on the wisdom of multiple diocesan guidelines and policies; I have curated the discussions on the FDLC Listserve. In addition, I have been enlightened by articles and online webinars. Special thanks to Dr. Jerry Galipeau, Mrs. Vickie Klima, Father J. Michael Joncas (Wait! Who? Is the guy who wrote On Eagles Wings a famous virologist too???), Father Michael Nolan, Matt Reichert, and Dr. David Shapiro, MD

Uhhhhhh, can anyone see the difference in the doctor list? Especially in the area of biology, virology and infectious diseases??? I don’t even know who most of these people are, much less the author and her specialties.

Although neither the federation’s nor the Thomistic Institute’s guidelines are mandatory for bishops to follow, Brunk observed that by being distributed by the bishops’ conference “the Thomistic Institute guidelines have a sort of ‘Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.'”

And I think I just explained why.




24 thoughts on “Bring on the Sacrament Machines!”

  1. Our parish has been having Masses with 9 members and the priest. We use and email invites go out to a certain number of parishioners per week
    People sign up for the Mass they can attend.

    Starting this coming week there will be 12 Masses per week. Pews are numbered and each person is assigned a number and all are spaced out. It works! I have an awesome pastor who wants his parishioners to receive the sacraments as much as we do.

  2. Since I am home everyday, I would be happy to get to Mass on any day. If the obligation for Sunday is continued to be dispensed for some time, I would be happy to pick another day. At least I could go to Holy Communion. Maybe the Priest could come early so any of the 10 people might go to Confession too. My Church could also easily hold 50 people. My state has not been as restricted as many, and I am hopeful Mass will resume soon.

  3. Brilliant!! So wonderfully jibing and sensible. I have been blessed in an unexpected way. In England, churches generally are not open to the public, even for private prayer or adoration. Yet, Catholic priests, most I believe, have been going into their churches to celebrate Mass each day, the vigil and on Sunday. (The Archbishop of Canterbury, on the other hand, threatened their ministers with some sort of sanction if they entered their churches at all.) Our wonderful ‘Sacrament Machine’ has consistently celebrated Mass and just happens to leave the door unlocked when he does so, somehow – no one knows – a few parishioners (I plead the Fifth Amendment here!) sneak in and just happen to be there when the Mass is celebrated. Hmmm?Somehow, they just happen to be at the altar when, low and behold the Holy Sacrament just happens to be placed on the tongue. Or….so I’ve heard.

  4. Ed/Carole Hummel

    In good weather and with large spaces that accommodate the 6 ft. rule, why not
    some Masses held outside or rent the football stadium and thousands could

  5. vincent capuano

    Maybe one size fits all rules don’t work? How about scheduling a scaredy-cat ninny Mass for those suffering PTSD from paying too much attention to the fear mongers on CNN and then another regular Masses for those willing to assume the 0.00016 chance of dying in order to receive the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ.

    You know recusant Catholics in England in the 17th century risked hanging drawing and quartering, the Vandée Catholics 18th century France risked the guillotine, and Eastern Europeans Catholics in the 20th century risked the communist gulag in order to go to Mass. Maybe we just need to toughen up and assume a minimal risk to participate in the source and summit of Christian life?

    1. Teach Acceptance

      @Vincent Capuano – very christian response of you to denigrate those who have real fear of this virus. Is is possible that those who have lost a family member or close friend and witnessed how horrible their death was alone and without comfort, may not want to take the risk? How brave you are to be willing to consider putting others at risk so that you may do what you want. Bravo!

      1. Debra Brunsberg

        Actually, if those who are at risk or who do not wish to take a chance on any exposure by going to Mass, they may stay home. There is no risk to anyone unless they wish to take that risk. So, you, in your quieter way have just sarcastically accused him of wanting to put people at risk. Not seeing a lot of Christian harmony with either of you.

        1. Teach Acceptance

          They may stay home, but what if their family members wish to attend and, therefore, expose them? Anyone who takes the risk, risks exposing others.

          1. You aren’t even going to try to understand are you TA. As was said those who do not want to risk it do not have to go. I have a family member who still goes to work every day and comes home every day. We all take precautions in the house and all precautions can be taken in a church also. If one does not want to risk bringing home the virus IF they get infected at Mass they can also refrain from Mass. It has NOTHING to do with wishing death on anyone else and the mere suggestion of it does not help anyone at all and is an example of hysteria stirred up by the media.

            Some one has to risk buying groceries do we not and risk bringing home the virus? Or are we going to let someone else take the risk of getting the virus for us? Very Christian eh? Precaution against infections is always proper but hysterical reactions are not. Stay home and let other families deal with the virus as they see fit. If they are so willing to risk infection for wanting to go to Mass then it behooves us to believe they will do so in a manner that minimizes the risk to their loved ones. But you know what? No solution will ever be good enough for some people.

            1. Teach Acceptance

              Bob, what I was responding to was the name calling by Vincent. “Scaredy cat ninny mass for those suffering from PTSD”. Pretty sure Jesus wouldn’t be doing that kind of name calling.

              1. “They may stay home, but what if their family members wish to attend and, therefore, expose them? Anyone who takes the risk, risks exposing others.”

                And I was responding to this.

              2. You already addressed his name calling as being unchristian and my adding anything to it would not have been productive. But again this ” No response? Is it ok with you?” is so childish that it could almost be funny. Do you respond to every little personal affront that you hear around you or do you allow people to work these things out between them? Does that mean those affronts are okay with you if you don’t respond? Please. Grow up.

                I responded to you because you generalized that those of us that would risk(with precautions) going to Mass and risk infecting others as uncaring or selfish. Those weren’t the words you used but they were implied. So again, take the mature road and allow people to make their own decisions about their own lives and their loved ones. If you want the government or so other entity to make your decisions when it comes to your faith then so be it, just allow the rest of us the same privilege to choose to decide for ourselves.

            1. Excellent! I understand the story of making ones peace with God. I am someone who has many underlying conditions, but I can’t live without the sacraments. I do not want to. Let not your hearts be troubled.

          2. Debra Brunsberg

            I think you are making this more complicated than it is. Do most people want to put their family at risk? Do most people want their elderly grandparents to possibly be exposed? You are at the heart of this problem. You think that people need to be told what to do. You do not believe that faithful Catholics love their families. You think that no one has a conscience. You seem to believe that the government has your best interests at heart and therefor you should do whatever you are told. That is what the Nazis, the Socialists and the Communists forced upon people. We know better. We will tell you what you can do and one of the first things they did was to shut down religious practice. You are either of God or you are of the world. Each person has the right to worship God and participate in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Jesus Christ suffered and died for US! This fear and cowering is not of God. Trust people to act responsibly. You have no idea how many people are already dying of despair and depression.

        1. Teach Acceptance

          I’m not saying they got it at the church, but I am saying that they were positive and therefore exposed others.

      1. 18412 of the 29 MILLION in TX have caught COVID but these 2 caught it sitting WAY more than 6 feet apart in Mass. Couldn’t have possiblly caught it anywhere else.

  6. In reading recent posts, I would like to point out one or two things to consider, perhaps. First, ‘Mad Mom’s’ point, I think, was aimed at self appointed ‘theologians’ in the Church, typified by the NCRep. writers who are either among the 70% who do not hold the truth of the real presence and play down its importance and the need to commune with Christ’s body and blood, or see it as extraneous to other things. These ‘theologians’, often, are willing to give a higher consideration to civil authorities and capitulate to the general mood and reticence on the part of many to venture forth and worship in reality once again. It is easier for them simply to stay away and be comfortable with virtual Mass, rather than find a way for the faithful to return to Mass responsibly, and join them. Secondly, it seems to me that no one who has commented here, whether they are willing to go to Mass or continue to fear doing so, are in the same mindset as these ‘theologians’ who ‘Mom’ has rightly taken to task. From what I read in the comments, some struggle, while others do not. Some are confident and ready to go, others find themselves struggling with fear. It seems to me that both are sincere and, in an equal sense, greatly desire to be at Mass. However, some are ready while others struggle. We simply must not allow the liberty of those who are stronger to ‘become a stumbling block’ for those who find the idea of going to Mass with others too difficult at the moment (see I Corinthians 8). Instead, perhaps those who seem to have overcome their reluctance to go out and have confidence to return to Mass, might, by their example, end up being a help and an encouragement for those who struggle.

    1. I admire your stance as to encourage those who struggle by example. I believe I have promoted the idea that those of us hesitant of going to Mass at this point in time should NOT be obligated to be present at Mass and those of us willing to accept some risk as well as being cautious of those around us be allowed to attend, however, what I have read from one commenter makes no such distinction: No one should be allowed to Mass at all. It’s their way or the highway. It is not being stronger that becomes the stumbling block. On the contrary, the strong are called to help the weak by way of faith and courage against the risks this world entails knowing that this world is not the end of all things. We keep our eyes on the prize while avoiding the obstacles blocking the way.

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