“Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple.” Words taken from today’s holy Gospel. In the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.
We have entered into that time of Lent known as Passiontide.
From a focus on Christ in the desert being tempted by the devil himself, we now turn our attention towards Calvary. The church is now clad in mourning, with statues and crucifix veiled as Holy Mother Church contemplates the persecution, the torture, and yes, the very death of her divine Spouse. The sky of the Holy Church becomes more and more overcast, says a great monk and liturgist. As one commentary in Passiontide put it, “When thunder threatens, we see gather on the horizon clouds which are a sign of a coming disaster and charged with storm, the thunderbolt of divine justice is about to fall, and it will strike the Redeemer, who has become man for love of His Father and for us, by reason of the mysterious solidarity existing between all the members of the great human family, he offers himself as a substitute for his guilty brethren.” Again, as the Prophet states, himself, “He clothes himself with our sins as with a garment, and he was made sin for us that he might bear our sins in his body upon the tree and destroy it by His death.”
As you can see from the covered images in the church, Our Lord is hidden. He is cloaked. His enemy seeks His destruction in today’s Holy Gospel, they seek to stone him violently. They seek to take His life, and He escapes their grasp by hiding Himself miraculously, for the time of his Passion had not yet arrived. Yes, our dearest Lord escapes for now, but only until the devil’s hour has arrived. And then Christ Jesus will surrender Himself to His enemies, freely laying down His life. In those same purple cloths, which you see in the sanctuary, which cover the statues, and the crucifix we also see here a trace of a very ancient custom, where a large curtain was once hung in the sanctuary, a curtain hung across the entire Holy of Holies, that’s separated from vision at least from sight. The nave where the pews are, from, where actually the sacrifice was being offered. It was hidden from people’s view. In those ancient times, Christians embraced penances, including being cut off from the site of holy things, until their Lenten fast and penance had been completed. In other words, they can only merit a share in the Eucharistic worship and receive their Easter Communion, after they had brought forth fruits worthy of penance. And to this day, we have a veil over the sanctuary in the form of these purple cloths. And only after our penances, our reparation, and restitution for past sins, will those purple cloths be removed. The image of veils, veils covering sacred things, sacred items, sacred images. The fact that Christ’s sacred humanity was blanketed by the holy angels, allowing him to be undetected by his enemies and safe from harm reminds me of a story in some way, of Noah. After the worldwide flood, Noah became a tiller of the soil and he planted a vineyard. Noah then took the fruit of the vineyard and turned it into wine. The Holy Bible then carefully records the following quote, “He Noah, drank the wine and became drunk and he lay uncovered in his tent.” Of course, Noah, a most holy man, Noah not knowing the power of this drink, He did not sin in any way by his actions, but he still suffered the consequences. The Bible tells us that one of Noah’s sons, namely Ham, saw his father uncovered and passed out. Ham showed great irreverence and ridiculed his father in relating the situation to his two brothers. Ham left his father exposed, left his father open to attack and ridicule. On the other hand, the two other brothers, namely Shem and Japheth, demonstrated the greatest reverence and love towards their father in his weakened condition. Again, the Bible states the following quote, “Shem and Japheth, the good brothers, took a garment, laid it upon their shoulders, and with their faces turned away from their father’s exposure, they walked backwards and covered with the blanket the nakedness of their father. Noah, the leader, the father soon woke from his stupor, and realized the great dishonor shown to him by his son Ham. And as a result, the holy man Noah placed a malediction curse upon Ham’s son Canaan, that he would be a slave of slaves to his brothers.
You know the Church Fathers, those great men of old, have often compared Noah and Christ. Both of them are seen as new Adams. Men who begin a new creation after a deluge of water, one flood coming forth from the skies above, and from the openings in the earth below, while a flood of mercy came forth in the form of miraculous water from the sacred side and heart of Christ. Those men knowing Christ provided the saving arc for men to dwell in, one being made out of wood, and the other being the Mystical Body of Christ, which is typified by Peter’s fishing boat. And yes, both Noah and the God-Man, Christ Jesus, drank deeply from the cup of wine to the point of being drunk, and suffering. Our Dearest Lord often spoke of His sufferings as a chalice that he must drink from. And as He said to His disciples, “Can you drink of the cup that I shall drink of? Can you take up your own cross and die with me?” And as He prayed in the garden to His Heavenly Father, when He was allowing his emotion of fear to have a voice, he prayed, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” And like Noah and his disloyal son, Ham, it was Christ’s own kin, Christ’s own people, the Jews who would ridicule him buy and large, they would leave Him exposed, stripped of his garments, naked upon the cross. But the good sons of Noah, Jeff and Shem, are a prefigurement of those chosen and saved by God, who cover up and honor their father.
And likewise, on Good Friday, Our Lady covered up her unveiled son stripped of His garments, as a loving mother, and as the greatest disciple of all. Now at this moment of time, this Passiontide period within the Church’s liturgy, many people are enduring their own passion. People infected with this dangerous virus, family members dealing with ailing brothers and sisters, grandparents and parents, health care workers putting in extraordinary amounts of time and effort, and yes, facing real dangers, people losing their jobs, it is truly a most difficult time for everyone. The cup of suffering is being drunk by more than a few. In addition, some drastic decisions have been made by both secular authorities and Church authorities, including the closing of schools, the closing of various places of eating at attainment, the sending home of all non-essential workers. And yes, the temporary suspension, at least of a public celebration of Mass and the sacraments and public devotions.
Knowing the liturgical significance of these days of Lent and Passiontide, as well as the great upcoming feast of Easter, many have questioned the decisions made by our Bishops. In fact, an article from a Canon lawyer is making its way around the internet, and this article is falling into the hands of various traditional Catholics including some of our own good parishioners. The article written by the Canon lawyer suggests that priests, speaking to us, should simply ignore the directives of our bishops and open up masses to the public as a courageous act. Rashly put, just do it. Well, thank you for a Nike-themed act of revolution in defiance. As some of the enemies of the Church have said, “never waste a good crisis, take advantage of it,” right? The Canonist further adds that if state officials and law enforcement agencies come to close up shop, priests and people should be willing to be arrested, as they are obeying God rather than men. Again, just do it. Don’t worry about the fact that authority, all authority, including temporal secular authority, comes from God. Just do it. Oh, how this good woman Canon lawyer sounds so much like Ham in some way. Exposing supposed shameless behavior of Bishops and officials drunk with fear. This canon lawyer, real Catholics defy Caesar, they don’t render to Caesar, they defy Caesar. They resist the precautionary measures of the state. They ignore what they would refer to as pansy prelates. And they demand public worship of God, which he thinks has essentially come to an end. For the Canon lawyer, there is no more worship of God, it’s ended. Well, having read this article, I find that it is filled with much revolutionary thinking, which should never find its way into the heart and mind of any traditional Catholic who is always counter-revolutionary in his mindset. Despite the protests of the Canon lawyer, the bishops have not canceled Masses and the worship of God. In fact, there were still liturgies offered every day in our parish. You see, in reality, there is no such thing as a private Mass. For all Masses are liturgies, public acts of the worship of God. So call it what you want. Mass seen “a populo” without the people. Mass is solitary, but don’t call it a private Mass. God is being worshiped every day through the Sacrifice of the Mass. Confessions are still being heard albeit by request. Extreme Unction is still being administered. In the article, the Canon lawyer seems to contradict herself. She praises the Polish bishops for multiplying masses for the faithful on Sundays, in order to allow for a lighter crowd at each mass. But then this candidate admits that the Polish bishops do have the right to limit the number of participants at the mass and could forbid people from entering once a certain number has been reached according to the norms established by the state.
It’s a contradiction. With this principle in mind, could bishops limit each mass to just a server or two, or perhaps a deacon, or other priests or two servers for mass in which only 10 people may participate? Think about it for a bit. In the back of every church, a sign is posted by the fire department listing the numbers allowed at a service according to state regulation. Remember, the Mass and the sacraments are not magical things. They’re supernatural channels of God’s good grace. The Church is not some sort of preternatural realm, a new Eden, where somehow sickness flees, at least ordinarily. Again, bishops are not ending the Mass. We’re not under siege by the bishops or the state. Rather, the Masses offered are largely “sine populo”. In the article the Canon lawyer then adds that the laity are being unjustly treated due to the limiting of numbers participating, where the priest alone communicates while quote, “the laity go hungry,” as she puts it. Just to remind the Canon lawyer and all of us of liturgical reality, the laity are not needed for a valid Mass. All that is needed is the priest, and he alone shall receive Holy Communion for he has no option. If he the priest did not communicate, there would literally be no Mass at all. He must offer up the victim and he must consume the victim. The Protestant revolutionaries of the past condemned Masses without the people, but tradition and the Council of Trent approves them. We should be thankful therefore that the One Sacrifice of Calvary is continually being represented upon the altar in an unbloody manner, that has not stopped.
The Prayer of Christ at Mass is still satisfying the divine justice and appeasing the divine wrath at this time. Again, we’re not being persecuted at this time, either by the bishops or by the state. We are not the Cristeros. We’re not in the Vendee, at least not yet. We should stop with this siege mentality that pits sides against each other. Have we read the paper lately? Or seen the news on television? There is literally a national emergency that has been declared where the president has invoked warlike powers. The Church is not of this world, that is true, but she lives in this world. obedient Catholics are also obedient citizens. In the article, the comparisons between the situation and past ones, is both ridiculous and extreme. comparing this precautionary measure with communist suspensions of worship in totalitarian states is beyond the pail. And it does a great disservice to those who actually suffered under real bloody persecution. Comparing St. Damien of Molokai and the leper colony in Hawaii that he served with the present situation is also ridiculous. St. Damien was on a quarantined island, where no one was allowed off that island. And also that saintly priests oftentimes, were not able to celebrate Mass for the people every day, especially as his own leprous condition worsened. There is nothing unjust in these decisions made by bishops. It might be an overreaction, maybe even a wild overreaction, but it’s not unjust. But seeing the damage that the virus can do, including in one case, killing over 20 priests in just one diocese in Bergamo, Italy. I don’t necessarily see it as an overreaction. Every person in our parish who was in the medical field has agreed with it.
But as a final dig to end, the Canon lawyer adds that “If priests and bishops are not offering Masses where the people are invited and involved, then what are the bishops and priests good for anyway? They’re absolutely useless.” Well, thank you for expressing your real sentiments in such a blunt way at this difficult time. You know, our good Bishop has been a priest so I can only speak for him. Our good Bishop has been a priest for nearly 50 years.
Do you really think he enjoys suspending the public presence at the celebration of Masses? He offers Mass every day. He’s a high priest, and remembers his flock at every single Mass. He loves offering a sacrifice with his flock with him. He wants to feed the sheep. He loves preaching and teaching from his bishop’s chair. He loves being a bishop. But the bishop is not just a priest. And he’s not just a teacher. He’s also a king, a shepherd. And a ruler who actually governs. The bishop is an icon of Christ the King for us. He is a Moses leading us through the desert of this world. His office is to be reverenced and not dismissed by some Canon lawyer blogger. As many priests have said, “The people call us Father. But do they really mean it?” No, the governance of bishops and priests means little or nothing to most people. Priests are simply vending machines for many. “Give us the sacraments Father, but don’t govern us as if you are in charge.” People have asked that I should pray for guidance during this time that I should ask the Holy Ghost what to do. Should I defy the bishops and the state and their rulings? Through my prayer to the Holy Ghost?
Well, I’ve already been guided. I’m under obedience to an authority and he has not asked me to do anything sinful or unjust. Our bishops have given some directives at this time, Masses seen “a populo,” confessions by request,
a special prayer that has been offered in a time of mortality and a time of pestilence, which we offered every single Mass. We’re ringing the bells at 3pm for five minutes in length in order to encourage people to pray. Again, another directive of the bishop, we’re looking for his guidance. Father and I, the staff, this parish, we’re not Mavericks. We’re not Mavericks. That’s not the type of priests we are. And so we have asked and requested for outdoor confessions. I’ve asked for it, the response from authority has been no at this time. People have asked for outdoor Masses. But should we go to unconsecrated spaces on a windy day like this? Perhaps defying the bishop, not following the spirit of the law certainly? What about the damage that could be done to the very sacrament itself upon the altar? This is a difficult time for all of us. We need more Japheths and Shems, who reverence their fathers and less Hams who ridicule them. Masters are being offered each day and as a result, the hand of divine wrath is being stayed. And the Heavenly Father is being given infinite worship through his divine Son. No Mass is ever really private. For we are told in our Morning Offerings that we pray every day that we can unite with all the Masses said throughout the world each day and practice spiritual communions. Extreme Unction is still being administered, confessions are still being heard. No Bishop is forbidding priests from ministering the sacraments in the time of need. We are still here for you, and we wish to serve you as Fathers. This time, we are in the desert. So don’t be like the Jews of old who murmured. As the rule of Saint Benedict often stated, a good monk should never have extended murmuring. We can’t help feeling upset at times. But the extended focus upon this upset leading to murmuring is not helpful. We are in the desert and the Holy Land in Jerusalem will be open to us soon.
In the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.