Compromising Catholicism for coronavirus

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Photo by Lauren Hill

Upon our return to campus two weeks ago, excitement was high among the student body over going back to a normal–or at least more normal–way of life. 

Unfortunately, the past three weeks have brought some concerning aspects of the “new normal” on campus to light that seem to directly compromise the ideals and values that the University of Dallas purports.

Most alarming of these is students getting turned away from Sunday Mass. 

Ushers have been kicking people out of Mass because the church is at capacity, despite Catholic doctrine stating that no one can be turned away from a sacrament. 

According to Canon Law, “sacred ministers cannot deny the sacraments to those who seek them at appropriate times” (Can. 843§1). 

An article entitled “An Apologia for the Underground,” by Peter Kwasniewski says, “It would be a distortion of the meaning of the canon to claim that the phrase ‘appropriate times’ refers to times when there is no risk of danger or contagion. If such were the case, then the sacraments would never be administered in certain parts of the world where there are wars, famines, diseases and constant religious persecution.” 

Many people who live on-campus do not have the means to go to an off-campus Mass, nor should they need to. The Church of the Incarnation is designated by UD to serve the spiritual needs of its students.

This breach of its purpose is worsened by the irrationality of the capacity limitations. Students are required to sit three seats apart unless they’re roommates, even though they’re only required to sit one seat apart in classes. Why is fitting people into classrooms prioritized over fitting them into Mass at a Catholic school? 

Many people I’ve talked to say that they lie about friends being roommates just so they can get into Mass. The fact that people feel driven to lie (a sin) in order to receive a sacrament is simply deplorable. Unrest among the student body is palpable when it comes to this issue. 

By requiring ushers to turn students away from the Eucharist, the UD administration is negating its duty to love and minister to them.

The unprecedented rules extend into other areas of campus life. For example, roommates are not allowed to move the furniture in their own rooms as part of the coronavirus policies. This makes no sense; roommates already share a room and aren’t required to wear a mask in this space. They also share the same toilet with dozens of people in their dorm hall, which is more of a coronavirus risk than a shifted nightstand.

Additionally, the university has adopted an unnecessarily punitive attitude towards students. 

Authorities are threatening a $100 fine for mask non-compliance (an unrealistic and inconsiderate sum). Students are being reported by peers and threatened with extreme consequences by the school for activities carried on in their own off-campus homes. It is one thing to implement rules on campus, but the school has no business punishing students for what they do in their own homes. 

The general attitude is that of a dictatorial state. 

People, in general, are more likely to respect others’ wishes if they themselves are treated with respect. As adults paying for services and education from UD, the students are especially deserving of respect and consideration. 

As of now, campus life is in a sad state. 

Most days I go on campus to see people warily looking around for authority figures despite doing nothing wrong. Amid the frenzy that the coronavirus has caused, UD has sacrificed its vibrant community life for a community of fear. The fact that people are getting turned away from Mass makes it seem like the school has also sacrificed some of its Catholic identity. 

I think these issues could be resolved with more upfront, logical and respectful communication from the administration, but right now we aren’t getting that.

12 COMMENTS

  1. Hi, Lily.
    I see we have opposing articles. I don’t mind this–in fact, discussion is often most fruitful when it occurs between opposing viewpoints. However, I would like to remind you that the limitations placed on the Church of the Incarnation–indeed, all the diocese, and across the globe–are there for a reason. Of course they can seem impractical to us. And you are absolutely correct in saying that no one should be turned away from the mass, from the Lord Himself. But I would like to point out that there is no turning away; whoever is seeking to go to an already packed mass can simply attend another one, at “an appropriate time,” as you have said. Additionally, if one misses mass on a Sunday due to fear or high risk of Covid, the USCCB has made it clear since March that this is not a mortal sin. The solution for the most vulnerable is to watch mass online–see EWTN or Bishop Robert Barron’s Word on Fire–or to simply attend a weekday, less populated mass.

    To this end, Fr. Thomas More and the campus ministry have worked for more mass times to be implemented. There is no pushing away mass-goers, but simply, “come back soon, when we are ready for you.” I’m sure campus life is sad, as you say. But I’m not on campus currently; as you may have seen from my article, I’m at home due to my being at high risk. I don’t mean to whine about this, but simply to show you a different perspective from someone directly affected by a predisposition faring poorly if infected with Covid. I have had to turn away from UD, to sacrifice part (possibly all) of my senior year, because of this. It’s not a bragging point, it’s not a sob story. It’s a duty, no matter how unpleasant.

    I applaud the Church of the Incarnation for their steadfastness in following CDC guidelines in tandem with Christ’s love for each of us. I don’t think the UD admin in this case are lacking in respect for their constituents; I think, contrarily, that they are showing a marked amount of it by ensuring their safety. I agree with you that none of this is fun, Lily. But the fact is that it is something we must do. I’m hardly an enthusiast of 2020. But it is the year of our Lord, as every year is. Let us live it in humility, and seek during this terrible year the health and safety of all, even at the price of our own comforts and frustrations.

  2. Hi Grace,
    Thank you for your comment.

    I’m not speaking to those who avoid Mass because they’re worried about coronavirus exposure, I’m speaking for those who try to attend Mass and cannot. As Mr. Kwasniewski (a celebrated Catholic author) said, “appropriate times” are not when there is no risk, but rather when the priest is not occupied with another pressing matter.

    The Catholic Church has never restricted people or turned them away from Mass over 2000 years of very real risk. The martyrs incurred more death risk than those attending mass during the pandemic, and they willingly did so, because as Catholics our duty is to prepare our souls for union with God and adore Him in the most perfect sacrament of the Eucharist. The Church does not follow the CDC, it follows Our Lord.

    For those students who do not have the opportunity to go to Mass until 7 pm, getting turned away means that they don’t get to attend Mass on Sunday. The restrictions show a great disregard for other obligations that may prevent them from attending at a different time. Despite the dispensation offered by the USCCB, many Catholics still take the injunction to attend in person Mass on Sunday very seriously.

    Again, I am not speaking to denigrate those who cannot attend due to preexisting health conditions, but those who are able to attend should be able to. Even if the Church of the Incarnation had overflow seating outside on the grass or in Gorman, that would be better than just turning people away and asking them to come back later.

    As to my comments on the general state of the University of Dallas, my issue is not with the fact that they do have certain restrictions, but with the way they are informing students and enforcing them.

    I do not speak to immunocompromised students in my piece, because they are personally responsible for their own health, and most have made the unfortunate but necessary decision, like yourself, to stay home this semester. I do not lack empathy for these students, but they are not the audience I intended to address. That being said, I am deeply sorrowful for you and all the other students who are forced to be online and away from their friends and community for such an extended period of time.

  3. Hi Lily,

    Thanks for writing this article. As with any important issue, debate from all sides is good. However, I believe you have mis-represented Catholic teaching on this matter. Canon law gives the bishops clear authority to legislate norms and restrictions around the celebration of the Mass and the administration of the sacraments, includes the current restrictions at the Chapel of the Incarnation. These rules are mandated by the Bishop Of Dallas, who, as the ordinary of this diocese, is the competent ecclesiastical authority for regulating the administration of the sacraments.

    While you are correct that Canon Law does state that sacred ministers cannot deny the sacraments to those who seek them, the full text of the Canon is: “Can. 843 §1. Sacred ministers cannot deny the sacraments to those who seek them at appropriate times, are properly disposed, and are not prohibited by law from receiving them.” ( https://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG1104/_P2T.HTM ) I would draw your attention in particular to the final clause, “prohibited by law from receiving them.” Additionally, Canon 841 states that “Since the sacraments are the same for the whole Church and belong to the divine deposit, it is only for the supreme authority of the Church to approve or define the requirements for their validity; it is for the same or another competent authority according to the norm of ⇒ can. 838 §§3 and 4 to decide what pertains to their licit celebration, administration, and reception and to the order to be observed in their celebration.” Both of these canons show that the Church possesses the authority to regulate the celebration and administration of mass. The Bishop of Dallas is exercising this authority now.

    As Catholics, we believe that Jesus established the Church with a visible hierarchy (the pope and the episcopate) and endowed these offices with power to govern the Church. Catholics residing within his territory may disagree with the restrictions he has established for the attendance of Mass, but we are bound by obedience to follow them.

    • Hi Gregory,

      Thank you for your comment!
      First I would like to question whether you take “law” to mean civil or Church law. Interpreting that clause to mean no one can receive the sacraments when prohibited by civil law is simply untrue. If that were so, then every group of Catholics who clandestinely celebrated Mass in an area where Catholicism was banned violated canon law. That means that the martyrs died committing a sin.

      If you interpret it as meaning Church law, then there is still room to evaluate whether the current Church coronavirus restrictions are valid.

      In times of distress and sickness, the sacraments are even more necessary. During the Black Plague, which was far more deadly than coronavirus, Mass was held in town squares, and people clamored for and demanded the Eucharist, even when certain bishops tried to stop the celebrations. It is the duty of the laity to demand and seek the sacraments and ensure that no terrible breach of authority is taking place. It has never been the job of the laity to sit in silence.

      St. Catherine of Siena is a prime example of this. Despite being a humble tertiary, she bravely spoke out against the Pope living in Avignon. She left a quote for posterity saying : “We’ve had enough of exhortations to be silent! Cry out with a hundred thousand tongues. I see that the world is rotten because of silence.”

      Humility and obedience are admirable virtues oriented towards the truth, therefore these virtues cannot be used to prevent Catholics from receiving the ultimate Truth, Our Lord in the sacraments. The scandalous misalignment of priorities which have resulted in the current Church policies regarding coronavirus must be spoken against. These restrictions violate 2000 years of teaching that the sacraments are more important than any danger or unpopularity that may ensue from administering and receiving them.

      St. Augustine said “an unjust law is no law at all,” and a law barring or discouraging people from the Eucharist is most certainly unjust.

      There is a fine line between obeying and respecting the authority of the bishops and letting ourselves be denied the sacraments. This is a case where the laity must use their voices to speak out against this unjust chapter of Church history in a respectful but forceful way.

  4. Hi Lily,

    I went to the mass at 7p on Saturday. It was SUPER empty–probably about 40 people total. If you’re worried about missing mass maybe you can come with me to the 7p this Saturday! I doubt it will be very crowded.

    Best,
    Kathleen

  5. Hi Lily!
    Awesome article. It was really well written. Though an unpopular and controversial topic, it is a conversation that needs to be had and considered by all. The question becomes “what is more important, our spiritual or physical well being (especially with a virus that isn’t as serious as recent studies show). Overall thank you for speaking out in love for your faith and community

  6. As a student on campus, I agree to everything that this article states, most especially in regards to the mass. It seems unfair to me that I cannot attend the mass I decide on each Sunday. As a student without a car, I have no way to get to an off campus mass. I could find someone with a car, but what if they already went to mass and don’t want to drive to another parish? And what if I can’t make it back at every mass to hopefully get a seat? Watching an online mass in my dorm is not a substitute for me. I am very lucky I get to be on campus, and as an on-campus student, I should be able to participate in the liturgies. I am not high risk for Covid, so not attending mass on the grounds that it’s not a mortal sin right now isn’t a good enough reason for me. This article’s statements are all ones I have felt and experienced. I’m grateful for Lily’s article because it expresses part of what my experience has been so far at UD.

  7. Thanks for the insightful thoughts, Lily. You make excellent points that we as a school, nation, and Church have so easily overlooked. It is frustrating that aspects such as public health and public reputation have been valued more than our spiritual health. If we really believe it is Christ in the Eucharist at Mass, shouldn’t it be paramount to everything else? What would the martyrs say to us?

  8. Lily, thank you so much for writing this! All of my freinds on campus and myself have been having similar thoughts since returning and I am so happy someone finally voiced them! I hope you can write a follow up article soon.

  9. Amazing article! Thank you for putting into words what so many students have been feeling about these issues. I absolutely agree with your points and I hope you continue speaking with such conviction about this- your voice is valuable and is being heard by the entire UD community. Keep it up!

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