Across the country, bishops are gradually beginning to allow public Masses again. This process will be slow-going, and the dioceses that are reopening have extended the dispensation of the faithful from their obligation to attend Sunday Mass. How public liturgies look will vary significantly from diocese to diocese, but one thing that will be consistent across the country is that Mass is not going to look the same as it did two months ago. From restricting congregation sizes (some places are only allowing up to ten congregants, and some will allow 15-25% of a church’s capacity), to mandating that congregants wear masks, to the absence of choirs (if not all congregational singing) — things will be different than what we are used to. Even with a multiplicity of diocesan approaches, the universal adjustment that all Catholics must make is to consider the immediate and profoundly practical ways that we will need to concretely love our neighbor as we discern whether to venture out to church.
Someone recently told me that the ache they feel for the Eucharist is like the ache they feel wanting to give their grandparents a hug. Personally, it has been really tough distancing myself from my extended family over the course of this pandemic. Perhaps the most difficult part has been keeping my kids away from their grandparents. It broke my heart when my youngest, Francis, who is almost three, said one morning, “I miss my best friend, Grandpa.” But as hard as staying away is, we are showing their grandparents real love by keeping our distance. We must replace our usual gestures of affection with physical separation. As much as a hug would express our love for them, our social distance expresses an even deeper love. If we were to put our desire for physical closeness ahead of our concern for their health, we would be acting in a way that may appear or feel like love but would ultimately be selfish.
The same applies to going to Mass. A deep desire and love for the Lord is not compatible with putting other people’s lives at risk. A Eucharist received without concretely loving one’s neighbor enough to keep them safe from the Coronavirus would be “intrinsically fragmented” (Deus Caritas Est 14).