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Radical thoughts about Church property
Thu July 23 2020  4:26pmFaith/Philosophy

Full-tilt panic over covid-19 has reached Nicaragua, following months of ministerial hand-wringing. To my knowledge, no outright church closings here, but that may be mostly because Ortega has not provided the desired cover of government mandates. Daily Masses discontinued at my parish. The main door barred and locked even during the single Sunday Mass; die-hard parishioners must enter and exit through the small side chapel and through quasi-barriers of shoe and hand disinfectants. Those who come forward for Communion must submit to a second alcohol hand cleansing, with Communion on the tongue disallowed. (Of course, some die-hards still bring their dogs to Mass, without face masks; am not sure if their paws are disinfected. Well, after all, this is Nicaragua.) By the way, no hand cleansing required before putting money into the collection bag.

Together with similar or worse clerical cowardice elsewhere, this has me puzzling anew over the crisis of authority in the Church. When I see my pastor discouraging people from attending Mass, but proceeding apparently uninterrupted with the construction of a large and ugly new auditorium, I think to myself, "Perhaps that's the biggest part of the problem." But more on that below.

Did you know that Canon Law strictly forbids the cancellation of public Masses or barring Catholics from attending? Look it up for yourself. Likewise Canon Law mandates that Catholics in a state of grace be allowed to receive Communion on the tongue. In fact, that's still the prescribed norm, pandemic panic notwithstanding. That is to say, the nervous precautions of pastors and bishops today constitute an out-and-out rebellion against the spirit and letter of Catholic Canon Law. And it gets worse:

Important to distinguish between Canon Law and defined Catholic doctrine. Canon Law may change (slowly) as times change; doctrinal teaching may (even more slowly) develop and deepen in understanding, but must never change. That is, once defined, a Catholic doctrine may not be repealed or nullified. Important as well to recognize when the Law is based upon defined doctrinal teaching, and when it is merely disciplinary or even arbitrary. An example of the former is the all-male priesthood, based upon the doctrinal understanding that the priest is Alter Cristus who must adequately resemble the man (vir) Christ Jesus. Likewise, barring folks from attending Mass is contrary to the Law because contrary to the doctrinal teaching on the central need for the Eucharist, and the very purpose of the priesthood. Bishops and priests who deny the Eucharist to Catholics not only violate Canon Law, but spurn the essence, the raison d'être, of their own priesthood.

By contrast, an example of a merely disciplinary law would be the requirement for priestly celibacy, which is already waived in many cases. Likewise the requirement for several years of formal post-secondary education before ordination. These Canon Law requirements are obviously not doctrinally based. Most of the early priests were neither celibate nor degreed. So these requirements could readily be relaxed or scuttled, much like no meat on Friday or the 3-hour Communion fast.

Speaking of arbitrary rules, I cannot find any doctrinal or Canon Law requirement for the construction of church edifices. As far as I can determine, a Mass said in a private home or outdoors is every bit as valid and licit as a Mass said in a consecrated basilica with a relic in the altar. Please correct me if my understanding is wrong.

Which leads to this point: What would be wrong with recovering the ancient norm of meeting in one another's homes for the 'Breaking of Bread'? And what would be wrong with having the Mass said by the homeowner himself, priest, husband and father? I suppose the main difficulty would be, not doctrine nor Canon Law, but overcoming the long entrenched bureaucratic mindset of a professional priesthood.

Radical: Pertaining to the root [of the crisis]

This idea is radical. It may also be futuristic. Open your eyes, pastors, and see that, if the increasingly atheistic governments of the world can close your churches because of a virus, they can do so for any other reason as well. So, forget your precious tax-exempt status, which can also be revoked without warning, and which only tames and silences you as docile government serfs. Put aside your real estate holdings and administrative burdens. The government may soon confiscate your church property, so beat them to the punch. Dispose of the land and buildings while you have the freedom to do something worthwhile with the proceeds. Even were this not the future, Catholic bishops would do well, would be truer to their vocation, as poor pilgrims and strangers in a hostile world. The notion of domestic priests and homeless circuit-rider bishops is both ancient and (perhaps) futuristic.

One thing is certain: There would be no church closings if there were no church buildings to close. More importantly, returning to the custom of a literal Domestic Church (just the family, plus perhaps one or two nearby priest-less households) would also return us to a truer sense of the agape feast, of worshipping together with people whom we know and love personally. Plus, since this arrangement would require a fierce loyalty to essential Christian Truth, it could also lead to a greater sense of worldwide Catholic unity, confraternity and fellowship. As we deliberately draw away from friendship with the world and its temporal riches, we draw closer to Christ and towards one another. (cf.James 4:4)

Would any of this be possible? Would it be desirable? How would this idea work, how might it get started, and how fully implemented? Well, even though this is all probably just Jerry's crazy fantasy, an impossible dream, I do hope to develop these thoughts further in subsequent blog posts.

  
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1 comment:

Lenore Sat Jul 25  1:15pm
L
i agree with you. Father Ricci and Bishop are just very concerned about this pandemic now; which every day increases. Father preached on coming to the Cathedral on Sunday's for the Mass and daily if at all possible but is content that his daily Mass online reaches over 3,000 viewers, some outside of the U.S. and answers their comments online. i am just so very thankful we have our daily Masses now and in a way, we have to leave church right after Mass; eliminates the chatter that goes on instead of the silent thankfulness for our Lord. Father said we could talk all we want outside. They disinfect that pews where we sit, etc. right after Mass. kind of think the chemicals will kill us before the virus. i never even sanitized my hands when i was a Eucharistic Minister at Mass. Love celebrating Mass at home; remember when Father Blase celebrated Mass at our Pine Grove home, holding up the Host with his missing fingers just like the corpus on the cross, i found in our alley and nailed to our wall above the fireplace. a little miracle, the same fingers on the Corpus where the same missing on Father Blases' hand from being frozen when he was in the labor camps. That Cross is hung now in the pantry.

 
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