Frustration and anger are natural reactions to the restrictive guidelines surrounding something as important as the celebration of the sacraments.
Out of such frustration, an accusation was recently made in an article published in The University News titled “Compromising Catholicism for coronavirus,” which argued that the University of Dallas administration has compromised its Catholic identity by enforcing seating capacity at Masses.
The accusation is serious enough to warrant a serious evaluation.
So, is the Catholic identity of UD in danger?
The most troublesome guideline for attendees is social distancing, which places a cap on the number of people attending Mass.
However, following this guideline doesn’t necessarily equate to a violation of Canon Law.
In a conversation I had with Chaplain and Rector Rev. Thomas More Barba, O.P., he placed the Canon in question, 843§1, in context: “The canons before refer to the authority of the church … to determine the validity of the Sacraments … The church can also set times and circumstances and define, this is what it means for [Mass] to be available.”
The specific Canon in question concerns the serious matter that the people cannot be deprived of the sacraments. It is not as if the sacraments are unavailable to students.
“To deprive the people of the Sacraments does not mean, I was turned away from one Mass time of five on a weekend,” Barba explained.
So far, there has not been a weekend when all of the Masses were full.
Although it might not violate Canon Law, the restriction is painful for ushers to enforce.
“I take no joy from turning people away from Mass, it’s awful, and something I never thought I would have to do in my life,” said Karen Bless, Assistant to the Chaplain and Rector, who is the head usher.
“It’s very antithetical to Catholicism to turn people away instead of welcoming them in.”
Although he has already added a 7 p.m. Saturday Mass, Barba is open to adding another weekend Mass. However, this poses a staffing problem in that many of the student volunteers that serve as lectors, ushers, cleaners, altar servers and musicians are also part of the Sunday liturgy.“It’s more than just turning on the lights, ‘In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” Barba said.
As for the involvement of administration, while the building is owned by UD, the Church of the Incarnation itself falls under the Diocese of Dallas and is a separate entity. Barba explained that “The University did not decide on any of the practical implementations.”
Where there are differences between classroom and church seating, “We didn’t gather together and say, ok, we’re going to have this discrepancy”
Anger may be valid, but we cannot be like the wrathful in Dante’s Purgatorio, blinded by a cloud of anger.
Barba expressed an openness to dialogue and agreed with the need for good communication: “A presumption of goodwill, being honest in what we believe and listening to what the other person says, I think are the ways forward because we’re all frustrated. I am immensely frustrated.”
Returning to the original question: is the Catholic identity of UD in danger? Far from it.
The university is proving her commitment to Catholicism by adapting and putting more effort into the celebration of Mass than ever before. It is up to the students to prove their equal commitment by overcoming the inconvenience of arriving early or attending at an unpreferable time.