COVID-19 threatens U.S. parishes, but liturgically-obsessive personalities put lives at risk in favor of their idolatry.
The human-to-human transmitted Wuhan COVID-19 is spreading throughout the United States. Comparable to the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, COVID-19 is serious. Not the most serious issue faced right now by the globe, definitely not deserving or needing hysteria, but serious enough to take precautions, such as avoiding unnecessary contact (for example, shaking hands at the Sign of Peace). Various diocese are issuing guidelines on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in liturgical settings.
But some Trads disregard science and safety. They are hellbent on pushing reception of Holy Communion on the tongue—the only proper way, according to them. And if “martyrs” happen, good. Certain priests and other online personalities dangerously preach a “lethal providentialism” written of in this important piece from Rebecca Bratten Weiss. Romanticizing the faith is going to get people killed. How ironic, given how many insisting on disregarding safety protocols in their idolatry for liturgical practices also swear to be “prolife.”
COVID-19 and Reversing Vatican II
For decades there has been a great drive to get Catholics to recognize the practice of receiving Communion on the tongue as normative. It goes parallel with clericalism and the sex abuse scandal, by the way. By that I mean that theologies of reception and the dignity of lay people is important. Therefore we must ask: are we babies that need to be fed? When you share a meal, do you cut it up for your guests, and spoon-feed them?
On May 29, 1969, the Congregation for Divine Worship allowed the practice of Communion in the hand. In 1975, responding to several episcopal conferences, Paul VI explicitly approved the practice. This was all long before the COVID-19 problem.
But soon afterward came the long pontificate of John Paul II (called “saint”). And the machinery of “the reform of the reform” was put to the slow and arduous work to undo, er, I mean “correct” Vatican II. This continued with his successor, Benedict XVI, who forbade anyone receiving Communion from his hand by their own hands. Only reception on the tongue was permitted.
Kill the Freedom
Many priests today want reception on the tongue mandated. Today happily freedom reigns—Catholics are free to receive Communion by tongue or by hand. And all ministers of Communion are to respect their choice, fortunate for us facing the spread of COVID-19. But many priests today would remove their choice. These people would reverse a practice for decades and refuse people Communion unless they cowed to their preference.
That this becomes an issue when we are facing a breakout of COVID-19 shows the depths of the psychological problem inherent in all types of fundamentalisms.
Sacramentality & A Eucharistic People
Who we are as Catholics stems from our sacramental life. We are a Eucharistic people. We find our identity as Eucharist—not only the Consecrated Species, but as the Gathering come to celebrate in Communion. Eucharist in this sense is our Source (where everything comes from) and Summit (where everything goes to).
How can we ever understand the seven sacraments of the Church without first understanding the principle of sacramentality? Can we really begin to comprehend those seven sacraments of the Church without first having a sacramental vision that sees God everywhere, in the messiness of matter-energy? The whole universe surrounding us is a Sacramentum mundi, a great sacramental system filled up with God. If I divorce the sacraments of the Church from the sacramental vision, I am guilty of idolatry. I will also confuse the mediation of grace with magic.
That kind of magical thinking that leads to dangerous ideas about protections from pandemics, for instance.
There is nothing so important for a Catholic than Eucharist—the Liturgy. To be part of a Eucharistic family is everything. We assemble as family and share Christ. Eucharist isn’t just the Host. Christ is already present as we gather together. Of course, sharing the bread and wine transformed into the body and blood of Christ is Eucharist also. But Eucharist is more than just the Host. If it was just the Host, then why not just show up for distribution? There is more to Eucharist than simply providing Hosts for consumption and to be “imprisoned” in Tabernacles.
Control Freak Idolatry
Sadly, some seek to control everything. They want to control who gets to come to the Table, and who is forbidden from taking part. Reading 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, they twist Paul warning greedy-rich people refusing to share with the hungry at the ingroup-glue feast (what we call “Eucharist) into a return to Father Zeus who strikes people dead if they receive Jesus as sinners. And many of these believe Donald Trump to be “prolife” and “Godly!” They have turned Jesus and Paul 180 degrees around.
Their image of God is a controller, a micromanager. And their image of God creates them. It’s idolatrous. It’s sick. And in light of COVID-19, it’s deadly.