The Mass is Essential

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In late September, the Diocese of Moncton, New Brunswick, made headlines with its announcement that it was following the provincial government’s new plague-prevention policy by requiring proof of double jabs. This announcement was rescinded within a week, likely due to public backlash, as the bishops of New Brunswick provided a joint public statement that such proof would not be required and the provincial government adjusted its policy.

On October 22, the Diocese of Grand Falls, Newfoundland, also made headlines with its own announcement to follow the provincial plague-prevention policy and require proof of vaccination to attend Mass; this policy has not been rescinded. According to the provincial policy, Mass was included with yoga studios, restaurants, and gyms as a nonessential service; evidently, the bishop of Grand Falls agreed with that assessment.

On December 16, the provincial government of Quebec announced a new plague-prevention policy that will require proof of vaccination for places of worship and spas as of December 20, again suggesting that Mass is nonessential. At the time of writing, the bishops of Quebec have not come out with a statement of whether they will go along with the provincial mandate, but given the state of the Church in Quebec and the precedent set by other Canadian bishops, one can certainly imagine what their response will be.

The prima facie problem we face here is the setting up of a class system based on one’s vaccination status, which would limit the Mass to those of the privileged class. But this is really secondary to the more important problem, and likely the root problem: namely, the notion that the Mass, the right worship of God and the spiritual care of His children, is not essential. Now, it is easy enough for anyone with any sense of the faith to show that the right worship of God is “truly right and just always and everywhere” and by all; after all, is this not the goal of evangelization: that all men everywhere should live in right relationship with God, which necessarily means a relationship of worship toward the God who created all things for our benefit and restored us to Himself through His Son?

Yet, many bishops of the Church, the very guardians of tradition tasked with the preservation and propagation of the faith, by closing the churches and cutting the faithful off from the Sacraments for months on end, have admitted that they do not deem the right worship of God essential to the common good. But remember, Aquinas pointed out that “the good of the part is for the good of the whole” and “the common good of the whole universe. . .is God” (Summa Theologiae I-II.q109.a3). If this is the case, then the spiritual good of the person is for the good of the whole person, just as the physical good is; and the good of the person is for the good of society, which is in turn for the common good of the whole universe, namely, God and His glory. Thus, the spiritual care of the people of God is essential to the common good, certainly in a manner greater than their physical care.

Nevertheless, the good of souls and the worship of God has been neglected for so long in favor of cultural relevance that it is no longer considered by those in authority as essential. Over the last sixty years or so, the bishops have been seeking ways in which to make the Church relevant to modern man; recognizing the downward trend in religious affiliation already begun in the 1950s, many of those with the power to do so began trying new things with the liturgy, catechesis, and evangelization. We saw significant changes to the form of the Mass for more “active participation,” as well as the installation of modern “art” and felt banners, the inclusion of puppets and clowns at Mass to the accompaniment of Simon and Garfunkel, and the building of churches “in the round.” 

We saw a new expression of the Church’s faith in catechism classes that focussed primarily on personal experience rather than on the divine initiative and the invisible realities of sin and redemption. (I shudder as I recall here the title of my grade 6 catechism book: God Believes in Me.) We saw the embrace of other religions as paths to salvation, focussing on dialogue and reconciliation, of course while maintaining Christ as the “privileged path” and neglecting the most important reconciliation, that of man with God.

Instead of making Christ and the faith more relevant to modern man, we saw Christ transformed into “one of us,” into a modern man, experiencing what we experience and understanding where we are coming from, so as to excuse our sins as non-sins on account of our context. Instead of making Christ relevant, He was made just another wise guy; instead of making the faith relevant, it was made laughable. Is it really any wonder that the bishops en masse have caved to the government’s demands? One can only serve the Kool-Aid so long before he drinks it himself.

What ought we do then? We ought to make Christ and the faith relevant to modern man! I do not mean that we should adapt Christ to modernity, but that we should adapt modernity to Christ. I mean that we need to remind modern man that he is bound by sin and is in need of a Savior. Modernity, by most accounts, began with the Renaissance, which was marked by a shifted focus from the spiritual to the physical, from God to man; then came Protestantism, which was marked by the separation of the spiritual from the physical and faith from reason. Modernity culminated in the Enlightenment, which was marked by the final sloughing off of the spiritual and of faith, together with any recognition of personal sin.

Today we see a focus on “systemic issues” or “social sins,” with no acknowledgement of one’s own personal sins. To make Christ relevant to modern man, we need to remind him that he is bound by sin, that he is broken and there is nothing he can do to fix it. The systemic injustices will not and cannot be healed until the individual members of society are healed; unless the proper good of each is attended to, the common good will remain unaccomplished. 

Aquinas continues his discussion of the common good by pointing out that man’s will, “unless it is cured by God’s grace, follows its private good, on account of the corruption of nature” (Summa Theologiae I-II.q109.a3). Note the distinction between the proper good and the private good; the proper good of each is ordered outwardly to the common good, but the private good is ordered inwardly to one’s self. Unless we acknowledge our own corruption and the disordered pursuit of our private good, and with it the need for healing that only God can provide, Christ will remain irrelevant.

Christ must be presented to modern man as our Savior, as the God who took up our human nature so as to heal it and bring peace through the Cross, and He therefore deserves our service and worship before all else. Man, especially every Catholic, must be challenged to live a life of heroic virtue in imitation of Christ and in accordance with the principles He laid down for His disciples. This challenge begins with each of us. Let us consider how we view Christ: is He relevant to you? How is the way you live in the world any different from that of your neighbor? If Christ is relevant, then your life should be radically different.

Finally, during this preparatory phase for the Synod on synodality, it may be a great help to our bishops in recognizing how to truly make Christ relevant to the world if we all make our views known to them. If you are at all concerned with the fate of your neighbor, of our society, or of the Church in the world, then participate in the discussion; do not sit idly by while the enemy attacks the Church from within. You are the Church militant; live like it.

[Photo Credit: Unsplash]

Aaron Debusschere

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Aaron Debusschere is a husband and father currently living in Quebec, Canada. He holds degrees in philosophy, education, and theology, and is currently a student of ecclesiology. He blogs with his wife at www.theromanticcatholic.wordpress.com.

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