This Sunday morning countless souls throughout the Catholic world are faced with the unprecedented and unnerving reality of not being permitted to attend Holy Mass. More and more bishops have felt compelled to make the difficult judgement to suspend the celebration of all public Masses in order to protect the faithful entrusted to their care from the spread of the coronavirus. Though priests will still offer Masses privately for stated intentions and their parishioners, it is dreadful to think how a world already overcome by secularism will be deprived of so much grace from the altar.
It is a great spiritual evil to have the graces of the Mass cut off from so many souls, especially on Sunday, the Dies Domini—“The Lord’s Day”. Like any physical evil, this virus is a consequence of the fallen nature of the world due to Original Sin, and is thus a spiritual evil as well. As soldiers of Christ, we must fight this evil with goodness. How can we best do this? I propose that with so many Catholics unable to go to Mass in light of this global health emergency we should take time to more appreciate what we have in the Mass or in what many have now sadly lost.
In Old Testament times, the Prophet Jeremiah repeatedly condemned the worship of false gods that was so prevalent in Israel. Time and again he warned his fellow Jews that if they did not return to a faithful and holy following of the First Commandment that ruin would befall them.
His prophetic warnings were fulfilled when King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon besieged Jerusalem in 597 B.C., razing the holy city and the Temple of Solomon to the ground. The Ark of the Covenant would be lost forever ever during that tumultuous time. The Israelites were then forced into exile, having to spend seventy years in captivity in Babylon.
Like the ancient Israelites in exile, Catholics who have to go without the Mass because of the coronavirus should use this time to better appreciate what they have lost for a time.
Some of the greatest Old Testament works of the Bible were written during those decades in exile, including including parts of Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezra, Chronicles, and Kings, as well as the Books of Judith and Tobit. The motivation behind these writings stemmed from the people’s realization of all that they had taken for granted in the midst of their loss. While in exile, the Israelites wrote so poignantly of their holy city of Jerusalem and their Temple:
By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion…How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither! Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy!” (Psalm 137:1; 4-6).
This ought be the sentiment of those who must go without Mass this Sunday and Sundays to come!
The Sacrifice of the Mass is the greatest act of worship that can be given to God as it is the same Sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross, which was presented to God the Father for the remission of all our sins. The priest has the power to offer this divine sacrifice, but all the members of the laity gathered before the altar share in the offering. The priest offers the Mass in their name; through his hands they offer the Body and Blood of Our Savior to the Father. The more fervently one participates in the Mass, the more benefits are applied to his soul. As Padre Pio, one of the greatest priests who ever lived, and who was so closely conformed to Christ Crucified so as to receive the stigmata, said: “If we only knew how God regards this Sacrifice, we would risk our lives to be present at a single Mass.”
The Babylonians were eventually conquered by the Persians. The Persian King Cyrus had little interest in Jerusalem, which was considered a mere backwater city of his expansive empire, so he permitted the Jews to return and rebuild their Temple. With Zerubbabel as governor of the Persian province of Judah, the Second Temple was dedicated with great splendor. The priests sacrificed 100 bullocks, 200 rams, 400 lambs and twelve goats—all to expiate the past sins of their nation.
When God finally delivers us from the coronavirus pandemic, may all return to the Mass with the same renewed focus and desire as the ancient Israelites quickly got to work rebuilding their Temple. May we, like them, do so in a spirit of penitence. Just as they offered sacrifices to expiate the sins of their nation which led them into exile, we should participate at the Mass with more reverence and focus, desiring to expiate for how much we may have taken the Mass for granted in the past—especially the Sundays we failed in our obligation to assist at Mass.
The fear engulfing the world over the coronavirus has now deprived countless souls the graces of the Mass. With God’s mercy, the Mass will be returned to them soon but may this trial have them return to the Mass with a deeper appreciation and realization for what it is—the greatest source of grace on Earth.
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