Earlier this month, my husband and I left Mass troubled at our pastor’s announcement that only 50 people at a time would be allowed in our worship space for the next 30 days.
The COVID-prompted directive came from Fargo’s mayor and confounded us; namely, because the limit didn’t allow for building reach and community size. The oversight seemed unjust, and without consideration for variances between smaller congregations and larger ones like ours, with thousands of registered members.
It also seemed an overreach of civil authority.
One shouldn’t assume disregard for our fellow human beings here. A desire to worship God with one’s church family doesn’t erase a sincere caring for the community at large. Our worry was justified for several solid reasons.
Included is the fact that last spring, we faced the unfathomable, being denied celebrating the crux of our faith, the Resurrection of Christ, in person. Though some normalcy in worship has returned since, the thought has lurked all these months: Will we be denied Christmas Mass, too?
After the announcement, a group of us probed our concerns publicly. Thankfully, we received news, just days later, that the city directive had been rescinded, and we’d be allowed to continue worshipping in person with the social-distancing practices we’d already been following.
For this revision, we commend Mayor Tim Mahoney, along with Bishop John Folda, who expressed support in an email to a Fargo parishioner after he’d reached out on behalf of others.
But in this discussion, some have questioned why all the faithful wouldn’t just graciously accept every restriction set by civil authority “for the public good.”
It’s worth explaining why some might pause. Often, it comes down to this: physical health isn’t the only consideration. As we’re learning, focusing on physical health to the detriment of emotional and mental health can be tragic. And in the faith community, spiritual health also figures in.
For Catholics, the Eucharist is crucial because the sacraments provide a conduit of grace. Through our participation in them, we share in Christ’s very life. The sacraments are to our souls what healthy meals are to our bodies – and it’s impossible to receive them through a computer screen, just as we cannot eat food through the television.
Without this spiritual food, our souls are in jeopardy, just as our bodies are when we’re denied proper nutrition. Simply put, we need balance in assessing both physical and spiritual needs. And the whole community benefits from a spiritually fit faith community.
This is one of many reasons why some resist being confined to worshipping from home. It’s not about stubbornness, or being unreasonable or uncaring, but about considering the whole and understanding that though we’ll all die physically, our eternal souls will never die and also require care.
Happily, reason prevailed in this instance. And since “Eucharist” means “Thanksgiving,” it seems fitting to conclude, at the end of this holy-day weekend, with this: For all decisions right and just, especially in these trying times, thanks be to God.
[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, I reprint them here, with permission, a week after their run date. The preceding ran in The Forum newspaper on Nov. 30, 2020.]