Reopen the Churches—Or Our Lady Will

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Note: This past weekend, as many parts of the world continue to suffer from restrictions on the Mass, thousands of Catholics in approximately seventy cities across France—up from nearly 40 the previous weekend—gathered in front of cathedrals and churches for the third consecutive weekend to remind the government that Mass is essential and to pray for a return to public worship. Despite the reservations of some of their episcopal confreres, three bishops put in an appearance: Archbishop Vincent Dollman, who addressed the people in Cambrai, Bishop Philippe Christory of Chartres, and Bishop Marc Aillet, present for a second time at the pro-Mass rally in Bayonne.

Widely reported in French media, the protests seem to have made an impression: on November 24, Macron announced that public Masses would once again be permitted as of November 29. But Catholics were dismayed to learn the maximum number of faithful allowed is 30—regardless of the size of the church: the same for Chartres Cathedral and for a tiny chapel. The ruling will likely mean many Catholics, both regular and occasional attendees, will be unable to attend Midnight Mass for Christmas this year.

Macron’s ungenerous ruling follows two important legal victories obtained last week. As Crisis reported, the government forbade protestors to pray in public, threatening severe sanctions; Catholics were told to do so would be considered a violation of the 1905 Law of Separation of Church and State. The matter went to court, and two last-minute legal victories were obtained in Paris and in Clermont-Ferrand, ruling that the 1905 Law of Separation does not in fact forbid prayer or even outdoor Mass at a protest. But police blocked the Clermont-Ferrand rally anyways, citing public health concerns.

American Catholics have read recently at First Things about efforts made by Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco and Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn to ensure the Mass remains public. In the United Kingdom and Ireland, the government has forbidden Catholics to attend Mass at all, and heavy restrictions on public worship remain in many parts of the world. None of us can afford to ignore our fellow-Catholics’ plight, not only because of charity but because as the coronavirus crisis drags on, we may well find ourselves in the same boat. The best and surest means of regaining universal freedom for the Mass is prayer, especially the Rosary.

Or so we were told, again and again, with dazzling eloquence, by Catholics at pro-Mass rallies across France in recent weeks. Some were clerics, but most were lay Catholics, lawyers, professionals, philosophers, academics, fathers of families, proclaiming in heartfelt and occasionally impassioned words that our spiritual need for the Mass is at least as important as our physical need for food. In Montpellier, organizers read aloud from Solzhenitsyn’s 1978 Harvard Commencement Address, with its terrifyingly accurate analysis of the de-spiritualization of the West. In Saint-Malo, the Breton port from which Jacques Cartier set sail to the New World, the father of a family stood before the cathedral and gave the following address, well worth reproducing in full.

The gentleman who delivered this speech (and authorized its translation and reproduction here) is the father of a family and a dedicated member of the Militia Immaculata. He wishes to remain anonymous.

Welcome, all. Before taking a moment to reflect on the purpose of our presence here, I would like to ask each of you to take care to wear masks and respect distancing rules between families [required by law in France]. Thank you.

We also thank the police officers here present for their kind protection at this assembly.

This second assembly of believers and faithful Catholics is anything but a protest of activists, as we explained last weekend.

You know—as everyone who reads the news knows—that we were not sent by our clergy. Nor are we people who, as some have claimed, simply want to have our own way, to do as we please, or whose main concern is to “do their own thing on the side”: no. [An allusion to dismissive remarks about pro-Mass protestors made by Archbishop Michel Aupetit of Paris.]

Yes, we are attached to the Mass. Attendance at Mass is a legitimate aspiration for every Catholic, a necessity of life and even a duty. This is why we demand, we insist on, the possibility of assisting at Mass in our churches.

Is it strange that we want to assist at Holy Mass, to ask heaven’s help in the epidemic that has struck? Only fifty years ago, it would have been the most obvious thing in the world, while adhering to sanitary regulations. Yet today we are banned and beaten down, even by some of the leaders among our own clergy.

Why are we so attached to the practice of this religion—the religion that made France into a nation?

Because it is the religion of the Love of God made man. And Love is demanding. Love lifts us up and transforms us. It makes us better.

We have given up the comfort of a life without constraints, because God has offered us the absolute, the most perfect. We cannot traffic with the absolute, certainly not to please a government under whose watch our rights have shrunken to a shadow.

Even if one or another of our religious leaders asks us, on behalf of the government, to give up the treasure of the Mass, which is ours by right, we cannot for one instant believe that the majority of bishops and priests would agree. It is this silent majority—forcibly silenced—that we support by our actions today.

One does not choose the era of one’s lifetime. One can regret it, but it is what it is; it is pointless to weep for a past that is gone. So, dear friends, since God has put us here, let us make use of this absurd time for our own sanctification and that of our families.

Absurd, for it is absurd to want to impose this new religion of sanitary secularism on Catholics, where life is considered such an absolute that priests are forbidden entry to hospitals and cannot bring to the dying the spiritual aid for which they beg—while the lives of 200,000 unborn children, killed each year in the same places, are surrounded with no such care.

Absurd, for it is absurd to reduce man to his basic needs, as if men were no more than livestock, requiring only their ration of hay to survive.

Take off your masks, ladies and gentlemen in government—not the covering over your mouths but the covering over your eyes, the blindfold of the secularism you promote.

Cast off the hollow façade of neutrality that ill conceals your belligerence towards the Catholic religion, the religion that forged France. The cathedral before which we stand is only one example among so many others.

Admit it: you reject, you fight every manifestation of the Incarnate God who immolates Himself for all of us, for you too, every day on the altar, in becoming substantially and really present under the appearances of bread and wine.

Finally—and this is why we are here today—the State, by forbidding our assistance at Mass, has exceeded its competence by intervening directly in Catholic worship.

But it does not have the power to purely and simply suppress public worship, nor to restrict its exercise, for public worship is outside of its jurisdiction. It can only request that the ecclesiastical authority do so. This is true both according to theology and doctrine, and according to the law of our current Republic.

With the law of 1905 [separating Church and State] and the concept of neutrality, the State has divested itself (the wording of the law is precise) of any power to intervene in the organization of worship or to judge in this context of what is essential and what is not. It cannot therefore judge, or differentiate between, instances of individual worship (personal prayer) or social worship (the Mass), nor issue restrictions on access or organization of one or the other.

Therefore, we should not even have to claim the right to freedom of worship; we can simply point out that the State is not acting according to its own Constitution. From here on, and even if this argument is founded on an iniquitous law, what moral credibility can a State possess when it flouts its own laws? The conclusion is obvious.

In the meantime, let us do as we did during the 1832 cholera outbreak in Paris and make use of the efficacious means at our disposal: the Miraculous Medal and the Rosary. Let us have confidence that the Most Blessed Virgin will not abandon her children. She will throw the doors of our churches open wide; they were built, above all, that the faithful might assist at Holy Mass!

Our weapon is the Rosary, so let us entrust all these misfortunes to our heavenly Mother; it is the best recourse we have. And let us believe in the virtue of Hope. It is Hope that makes us confident of the final victory.

[Here, the assembly prayed the Rosary.]

Thank you, dear friends, for coming in such numbers.

This promise is only binding on those who choose to make it, but we promise to return here every Sunday, if we must, until the right to assist at Holy Mass, which is a basic necessity of life, is returned to us.

In this way, we will bear witness to our faith and to the hunger for God we experience, a hunger that you, our governors, claim not to feel, that you ignore.

Yes: we demand the return of public Mass to our churches!

No: your hand sanitizer will never replace our holy water.

Until next Sunday, and a safe return home.

[Photo credit: Lionel Bonaventure/AFP via Getty Images]

By

Jane Stannus is a journalist and translator. Her writing has also appeared in the Catholic Herald of London, The Spectator USA, and the National Catholic Reporter.

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