Like almost all Catholics, I find the closure of churches painful. This will be first time in the 73 years of my life that I have not been to church on Easter. But we are not the first Catholics to suffer thus. Over the centuries churches have been closed for epidemics. St. Charles Borromeo closed the churches of Milan for two years during the plague. Italian cities under quarantine would have altars at intersections so that people could see mass. At that time communion was a rare event for the laity.
Church buildings present unique hazards. They are enclosed spaces, which rarely are designed to have significant fresh air ventilation. Several hundred people in such a space, just breathing, can transmit respiratory infections. The hazard increases when they are speaking, and increases even more when they are singing, forcing air from deep in the lungs and spitting droplets when they enunciate consonants. This environment continues for an hour, an hour and a half. Supermarkets and big box stores do not have these specific hazards, nor do people linger in them for an hour.
The problem will continue for a long time. Some people have the virus, have no symptoms, but can transmit it to others. Some hazards can be lessened. Our church will offer communion only by intinction. But the problem of a large number of people in an enclosed space will remain. I am a male over 70 and therefore in a group most at hazard. Will I ever be able to go to church again? Perhaps I can find a cavernous cathedral with a sparsely attended early mass and do the Catholic thing of sitting in the rear. It will a less intimate than watching a live streamed mass, during which for the first time in years I can hear everything the priest is saying.
I do not know what the solution is for vulnerable populations. Should we simply accept the danger? I have revised my will and am contemplating how to phrase a Do Not Resuscitate order. Even if I survived a heart attack and coma, I would probably be bedridden for the rest of my life. I would prefer to have my purgatory place less of a burden on others.
After 9/11, the United States was suddenly aware of its vulnerability and mortality. The national mood was in a fluid state and could have crystalized into an awareness of our dependence on our Creator. The churches in general offered nothing; the president told us to go shopping. We have another crisis that makes us aware of our vulnerability and mortality. But now the churches are closed. But they have the internet and the possibility of reaching beyond their active members. I do not want the churches to say we are being afflicted for specific sins, whether abortion or racism. But we should be gently but firmly reminded that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and that our life is short, and ways of life can be gone with the wind, and we can be one with Nineveh and Tyre. Such sobriety makes us humble, and God does not despise the humble.
But is Pope Francis doing this? He has an idée fixe about the environment, and says Nature is mad at us and has sent the virus. This is not the response of a Christian, and is also nonsense, because the virus has nothing to do with climate change or environmental damage. Alas, our pope is shallow and erratic. I pray that God raise up prophets and preachers who will transmit to us the message He wants us to hear in this world-wide crisis. And I am sure it is not Go Shopping.