An open and shut case?

I have been mulling the decision to close churches. Though it maybe the right decision in the present circumstances it still doesn’t sit right with me.

I am not knocking the episcopacy. The decision to close is a heavy cross for them to bear and I know it goes against their instincts as much as my own. It was taken in love and in the interest of protecting the vulnerable not least the many elderly clergy in this country. In terms of ‘health advice’ the decision is easily defended.

But we must also ask at what cost to the faith? I fear it might be a heavy one if people ask ‘where was the church in time of crisis’ and the answer is ‘at home and in isolation.’ This is not where the early church were found when the went to the sick and offered dignified burial to the departed. It is not where the 19th Century clergy were who bravely ministered amidst cholera and typhoid. What would they make of the decision to comply with government directive and shut doors? That is not an easy question to answer given that we have a better medical knowledge than them regarding the risk of infecting others. Like all questions thrown up by this virus- the answers are complex not easy.

Regardless the situation at present is this: Churches are closed yet abortion mills, off licenses and supermarkets are open. The posties, builders and bin collectors work but clergy sit at home. This is uncomfortable because it teases out an alarming fact. Christian worship is clearly being treated as a form of personal entertainment by government and our bishops have accepted that decision. We have been placed in the category of non-essential services- with cinemas, restaurants and pubs – not into the category of essential services with pharmacies, grocers and off-licenses.

What does this say about our NEED for the sacraments? This question must be addressed by the bishops as a matter of urgency because for as long as off-licences are open and churches are closed the only possible conclusion for people to make is that our need for Mass is less than our need for a bottle of claret. And any Christian worth their salt knows this isn’t so. If people can socially space in stores can they not socially space in churches?

This is not a flippant question given that I minister in a parish less than a mile from hospital. A number of my congregation work in that hospital and I am in communication to assure them of my prayers, especially those working on the Covid 19 wards. They are rightly apprehensive being not only medics but husbands, wives, mothers and fathers. Pray for them. Not least as they are deprived of Mass at the exact moment they need it most. I feel rotten and impotent seeing them risk everything to care for the sick whilst not allowed to risk much less myself to minister, in return, to them.

The response of those who endorse church closure will be obvious and wise. We deprive people only temporarily to minimise risk and lower the curve for the health service. And in the coming weeks, as bodies undoubtedly stack up, that decision will seem wiser than ever. And we also must remember the hospital chaplains who are, very much, about the work needed at this time. So I am not encouraging dissent here only, I guess, mourning a loss of congregation and lamenting an inability to be there for people at this time. It hurts.

In obedience and loss then we Christians must hold onto the fact this lock down is but temporary. Church doors will open again. So temporary we can do. Let us use the pause to deepen our commitment. May the absence of what we love make our hearts grow stronger. But we cannot keep this up for very long…

If the lock down is not temporary surely we must think again? Perhaps commissioning ‘virus priests’ to tend the sick and workers? Because church is NOT a non essential luxury for people of living faith. It is essential and we cannot live without the grace communal worship brings. Let me be clear; I would rather contract virus and die in a nation whose churches are open than remain for long in a nation where worship is banned.

A vigil is upon us who value daily Mass. We wait in prayer and obedience. But we cannot wait for very long because man does not live by bread alone.

NB: the photo is from the archives, taken when Fr. Leviseur found the church of Quo Vadis in Rome shut some years ago…he wasn’t impressed!

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12 thoughts on “An open and shut case?

  1. What can one say, where can one start? The battle rages between Christ, our Holy Mother and satan, who by the way must be ecstatic along with his cohort at ALL THE CHURCHES THROUGHOUT THE WORLD not just closed, but locked and barred throughout the whole of the Easter services! All of what you have stated is perfectly true. It beggars belief that alcohol stores and abortion clinics are open??? Or does it! When you think about this vile enemy of the human race, why would he want alcohol to stop flowing, and why would he want the blood sacrifice to him ceased, even for a short while. This End Times battle is for souls, nothing else, after all most everything is screwed on this planet by him anyway, he has made sure of that, with our compliance of course, by the billions.
    “I am the true shepherd” said our Lord while on Earth and the world has never needed true shepherds more than right now. To be a true shepherd means putting ALL circumstances behind tending and feeding the flock. When Jesus returns will He indeed find ANY FAITH in the world.
    For my part I see our blood soaked Savior on Good Friday going from church door to church door turning the handle to see if any are open to allow His flock in. Or will the bishops tuck into there Easter turkey oblivious to the multitudes starving for the bread of life.
    Jesus is with us when we face any trial in this life and this is the last sorting of who will go forward on His right side to the New Earth he has promised. TRUST HIM AND FEAR NOTHING. After all what can man do when we have God inside us!

  2. Interesting blog Fr Ed Tomlinson. Thank you for posting. Your critics will rail against you, (as per the norm). I was struck by your idea that the Bishops should ‘Perhaps commissioning ‘virus priests’ to tend the sick and workers? Because the church is NOT a non-essential luxury for people of living faith. It is essential, and we cannot live without the grace communal worship brings.’
    The recent highly successful TV series about the disaster that occurred in Chernobyl portrayed the little known account of the commissioning of the ‘Liquidators’ (though many people lacked the freedom to opt-out.)
    I also like another question you raise, ‘What does this say about our NEED for the sacraments?’ and your connection to Public Health Document on agreeable Social activity that allows us to shop for bottles of plonk given that off-licences are open. Churches are closed; the only possible conclusion for people to make is that our need for Mass is less than our need for a bottle of claret. As you say, ‘If people can socially space in stores, can they not socially space in churches? I like the point you make that you’ are not encouraging dissent . . . though questioning implications of what we do but not the decision itself. My personal reflection on the choice for the CofE to ban clergy is one of sincere regret and raises such profound questions which I fear will not be answered. What I think will occur, once the church is open again, is a great rush of ‘didn’t we do well to get through this’ mediocre leadership commentary. Then there will be another ‘mission’ plan to evangelise the very communities we were forced to hide away from in our own home . . .

  3. gov.uk website says that the following is allowed …
    to provide care or to help a vulnerable person

    perhaps that includes pastoral duties?

  4. Dear Father Ed,

    Ideally the Churches would open for Easter but if not at least remain open for private Prayer – if necessary with a limit to the number of people in the Church at any one time. The number could vary according to the size of the Church.
    In the Telegraph Tim Stanley says that the decision to Close churches was taken by the Bishops

  5. Of course it is very sad that churches are closed. However, why not take the opportunity to participate in the huge number of masses, adorations, rosaries, chaplets of divine mercy from churches all over the world being streamed every day on the internet with priests giving wonderful messages of hope. I have just watched a very moving mass from Gibraltar and made a spiritual communion. Let’s not get all wound up about things but spend time with God and many other people through the internet and you will find peace. The Church isn’t dead just because the buildings are closed.

  6. Different Peter here,
    In the 1975 Collins Missal Cardinal Heenan wrote “On a Sunday morning Catholics on their way to Mass, missal in hand, used to be a familiar sight.” Breaking a habit may make it harder to resume. By going to Mass we give witness to our faith. We derive comfort and assurance from the presence of others. So the closure of Churches is unfortunate.

  7. As an Anglican but regular reader of this blog I too am distressed by the closure of churches and the fact that our senior clergy seem to be noticeable by their absence. Those of you who live in families at least have the comfort of being able to pray and read scriptures together, but those of us who live alone. and for health and age reasons are self-isolating, must rely on our certainty of our Lord’s constant presence with us. There is the comfort of wonderful hymns to listen to, but I do so miss the fellowship of public worship and the ability to share bible stories with the children of our two local primary schools in our Open the Book assemblies. We must look to the Apostles and early Christians who endured hardships much more severe than we are experiencing now. With the wonderful advances in medicine, and through many millions of acts of kindness and the skill of engineers who are working to provide the equipment needed to nurse patients through this dreadful pandemic most of us will come out the other side, hopefully with a new outlook. We must also not forget that their others who are suffering quite unrelated illnesses – I have just taken a prayer request for a lady who has been told that the chemo she has been undergoing has not worked and that the cancer has grown: she is due to have an MRI scan next week.
    Maybe when we can worship publicly again it will be with true gratitude for all God’s mercies and with a renewed, not diminished faith throughout the country.

  8. The churches should never have been closed or Mass suspended. I used to do a weekly shop at a town supermarket but deem it unsafe. Instead I go to the local green grocers and butchers once week. it’s fresher and better and I will not be going back to the supermarkets. Similarly it’s no good the church thinking it can suspend our obligation and then switch it back on again. How many will conclude they don’t really need to bother? I went to Mass every week because I found it a comfort and a joy. However when I needed it most the Church was not there for me. I see no evidence of the bishops badgering the government to let it re-open for Easter. If you want to save the church this Easter turn up, bang on the door and insist Mass is celebrated. Keep well apart, wear masks and marigolds, forget the handshake etc but insist on the sacraments.

  9. It is extremely sad that churches are closed and we do not have the sacraments but the faith is very far fron dead as Peter noted above. I have never experienced such a wealth of online Mass, rosaries, and other devotions. Many priests are working extremely hard live streaming, phoning the sick and worried, writing letters, (and blogs like this excellent one) My son Tom was due to be ordained this July and had to cut short his seminary studies. However he is being kept extremely busy in his Guildford Parish, live streams evening prayer and rosary every evening and is inspiring people on Utube https://youtu.be/SGKiefhPuRM
    Guildford Parish are extremely advanced in live streaming if you need any help.

  10. In my view it would have been highly irresponsible not to stop public celebration of the Mass. The giving of Communion would have been problematic. I am not suggesting that infection could come from the Sacred Species but rather via the hands of the celebrant or the chalice itself.
    As regards the closure of churches however, that is a step too far. Notices reminding people to keep two meters apart could be placed at the entrance.
    Visits to churches for private prayer could come under the category of a journey to obtain spiritual medication.

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