Clericalism and the Pandemic

As any diocesan director of worship knows, there has been much to navigate during this distorting period in human history. At the center of concerns lay the issue of how to deal with the celebration and administration of the sacraments.

Yet, in my experience, the greatest difficulties lay not in the necessity of adapting to new norms and restrictions, but rather in the unanticipated reactions from clergy to the suggested adaptations. Little did I realize what sort of maelstrom would erupt as we put into place ideas and recommendations precipitated by the need for social distancing and stay-at-home orders.

The three sacramental areas most in need of attention were, of course, the celebration of the Eucharist, and the sacraments of Penance and Anointing of the Sick. If the virus had not materialized during Lent, Penance might have been less a point of controversy. So with the approval of the bishop, I prepared a memo offering some guidance on how to approach these sacraments given the seriousness of this world-wide pandemic.

For the Eucharist, we moved toward encouraging live-streamed celebrations of the Mass. Given the increasing restrictions limiting the number of people who could gather in public areas, naturally, it made sense. We asked, also, to avoid distribution of communion either before or after Mass, given that this practice isolated the sacramental elements from the context of the sacramental celebration.

For Penance, we asked clergy to discontinue “drive-up” celebrations as not the most appropriate way to celebrate the sacrament. Additionally, we noted that spacing a penitent six feet from a confessor did not provide for the essential privacy for individual celebration of the sacrament. For Anointing of the Sick we struggled to envision a manner by which to celebrate the sacrament especially with the terminally ill who had succumbed to the virus. We decided that prayer over the sick and with family would be best, given the problematic situation involved with touching the forehead and palms with the Oil of the Sick.

Within minutes of receiving the memo my email inbox exploded with question after question after question. Some only asked for clarity and expansion on what the memo contained. Other correspondence, however, contained an anger, which source was difficult to discern.

One of the ordained wrote that my suggestions made him question why he ever became a priest in the first place, and that he should have stayed in immigration law. Another sent the memo to the blog of the infamous Fr. Z, who proceeded to “rant,” as he is wont. Fr. Z raved on that these guidelines left the faithful to eternal condemnation because they prohibited the faithful from receiving the necessary sacraments before death.

Many others cited saints and martyrs who defied authorities, swam in shark infested waters and other such feats, to bring communion to the faithful. How could we cave in to secular demands organized to deprive the diocese of its religious freedom? One priest attempted to reason that distributing Communion into the mouth was more sanitary and safer than distribution in the hand.

And then a secret trove of Canon Lawyers came out of the woodwork; all citing canon 1000, section 2, in regard to Anointing of the Sick. The canon states, for grave reason, to use an instrument for the actual anointing. The canon, however, says nothing explicitly about what to do in case of pandemic.

The reactions were both startling and puzzling, not just because they reflected an ignorance of the severity of the pandemic, but because of what they conveyed as an understanding of ordained ministry and of the work of the sacraments. The clergy who demanded to continue “saying” Mass, and “hearing” confessions, and “performing” anointings were doing so, it suggested, because “doing” these ritual actions defined who they are as priests, and only who they are as priests.

Given some of the current trends identifying clerical ministry as a sacramental dispensary, this revelation is nothing new. More critically, though, it inadvertently betrayed a troubling view of ordained ministry and sacramental ministry. A curious form of pandemic clericalism that compels the ordained to attend to the needs of the faithful, but on their own terms. These terms seem to favor ritual enactment over context.

The dominant issue is the prohibition on enacting the sacraments. This enactment, however, focuses less on the truth that sacramental events are communal in nature, than on the necessary role of clerics as ministers of the sacraments. Misunderstanding by the faithful on the role of the ordained only feeds into this weak perception of ministry in the Church. The backlash and objections of the clergy conveyed the conviction that the inability to provide the sacraments in the accustomed fashion left the faithful in some sort of spiritual peril before God. If a priest could not personally through this own agency guide a believer to forgiveness, to healing, to the Eucharistic table, then somehow he neglected his priestly office, and both the cleric and faithful stood accused of giving offense of God.

Such perspectives and reactions seemed to emphasize a rubricism and legalism, popular in some circles of the Church today. What was most troubling, though, was the primarily supernatural and almost magical approach toward engagement and efficacy of the sacraments. In a fascinating manner, the pandemic seems to have unearthed a Counter-Reformation image of sacramental understanding as medicinal where the clergy act as the earthly physicians of the “Heavenly Physician.” The faithful, because they are fundamentally sinners, need the sacraments to heal them and to maintain an appropriate relationship with God. They also give them a fighting chance for eternal life should they die. The proliferation of an 18th century prayer by Alphonsus Ligouri to alleviate anxiety over the inability to receive Eucharist in these days, which prayer is theologically problematic – it is not Jesus, whom we receive, but the risen Christ – testifies to this.

Nothing in any of these conversations reflected an understanding of sacrament as communal, as an encounter with God, with Christ, for building up of the Reign of God, for the transformation of our lives here and now. While the concern for the faithful and their reception of the sacraments is sincere, this concern emphasized the immortal salvation obtained through sacramental reception and the role of the ordained in providing the means for that salvation. It was cultic in scope, approaching the position that without the clergy there can be no sacramental experience, and thereby no possibility of salvation.

Such interpretations and emphases around sacramental engagement fly in the face of reformed theology after the Second Vatican Council. The ordained sincerely aspire to exercise their role as ministers in this difficult period of social restrictions, but they seek to do so in an almost magical way. This approach projects a view of God who will not suffer the inconveniences of a pandemic to get what this God deserves by way of sacramental obligations.

Most striking in the demands of both the clergy and the faithful for “their sacraments,” is a critical “missing the mark” in appreciating the role of sacraments in the “daily and domestic” lives of believers. To treat these events in human life as principally metaphysical encounters, individually pursued, robs them of their connection to this good earth and the truth revealed that God chooses to act for us through the things of this good earth. It is always God who acts in and through sacramental encounter, the ordained serving as instruments to gather the Church together for the purpose of encountering God’s activity. In these days, this experience must take place beyond the usual sphere of ritual and rubric. Anything else serves only to limit our vital experience of God’s forgiveness, mercy, and love.


63 responses to “Clericalism and the Pandemic”

  1. Timothy Brunk Avatar
    Timothy Brunk

    Your post crystallizes and nails down some of my own up-to-this point inchoate thinking about what you identify as “a Counter-Reformation image of sacramental understanding as medicinal where the clergy act as the earthly physicians of the ‘Heavenly Physician.’” There is at work a “sacraments are (the) exclusive channels of grace” approach, with all that implies for the standing of clerics and laity. Certainly, I do not want to devalue the formal sacraments of the church. However, there is a great deal to be said about a world charged with sacramentality and grace even (and perhaps especially) in these strange and trying times.

    1. Dan Frachey Avatar
      Dan Frachey

      Jim, thank you for your response here. It helped me articulate and understand why I’ve been spending my Sunday mornings at a local forest & prairie preserve and feeling God’s immense blessings here.

    2. Honora Nolty, OP Avatar

      Tim Brunk, good to see you keeping up with your theology. Where are you?

  2. Don Donaldson Avatar
    Don Donaldson

    Thank you for your thoughts. There is another dimension that also has to be weighed … the almost complete collapse of “church corporate.” The secretary and bookkeeper no longer report to work. The church committees no longer meet. The church custodian has restricted hours and avoids many places that anyone may have touched. The bank is closed. The great “money-savers” of not using electronic banking and having the lowest bandwidth internet possible have played havoc with what should have been relatively easy. Not only has the pastor’s sacramental life been shaken, his managerial life is in tatters … and he finds himself alone, in a rural rectory, offering the Mass for the people in silence.

    We have all made whatever adaptations we can, but please, it is very difficult when we cannot meet for sacraments (which I understand) but the grocery store and mall have more people in them at any moment, far more then would ever be at Mass on Sunday. We close the church on Sunday but leave the Liquor Store and Cannabis Store open. You can’t even pull into the church’s parking lot, but the drive-in restaurant next door thrives.

    Personally, I congratulate my Bishop who has understandably complied with government authorities and been reasonable (and compassionate) in his requests. This illness may have a far more profound and long lasting recovery.

    I wonder how many parishes will survive … financially …. spiritually? I pray that her Priests survive … financially … spiritually.

    1. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
      Karl Liam Saur

      I realize what’s open shut and in between is all over the map, but where i am (Massachusetts), malls are shut, and grocery stores over a certain small shop size have limit to 40% capacity and queuing outside with distancing is the norm. There are not a lot of people inside the markets at a given time, narrow aisles where people cannot pass except closely are designated one-way, et cet.

      The problem areas tend to be foot trails in large suburban woodland parks that have been permitted to remain open because there’s no feasible way to close them as they aren’t gated or fenced in.

      1. Ross Warnell Avatar
        Ross Warnell

        Centuries of exalting the priesthood conferred by Holy Orders and diminishing the priesthood conferred by Baptism certainly haven’t helped.

    2. Mike Garcia Avatar
      Mike Garcia

      I can sympathize with you. Our parish is really doing it’s best to survive. But we are feeling the financial drain already after almost 5 weeks now.

  3. William Fredereick deHaas Avatar
    William Fredereick deHaas

    Wise reflections – a few thoughts:
    – the service station model of church is alive and well despite VII
    – atonement theology run wild
    – clericalism
    – evangelical individualism
    – if you have touched the Fr. Z nerve, then you know you are heading in the most appropriate direction

    Amazed at how many clergy appear lost when they can not do sacraments – not only community but service appears to be missing from their self-concept

    Only reinforces the *bad* theology that sees the church as the gateway to heaven because *reaching heaven* is what it is all about……forget any idea of building up the kingdom of God

    1. Adam Melton Avatar
      Adam Melton

      With any clarity on what sort of time-place heaven is, a Christian ought to say that reaching heaven *is* what it is all about.

      What is the kingdom of God but Christ himself? And what is heaven but the place where the ascended flesh of Christ & assumed flesh of Mary reside?

      1. Paul Logan Avatar
        Paul Logan

        The Kingdom of God is the time, not a place, when all persons recognize God as the Lord of the Universe, and who live together as brothers and sisters in peace. “on Earth as it is in Heaven”!

  4. Matthew Hazell Avatar

    [Canon 1000 §2] states, for grave reason, to use an instrument for the actual anointing. The canon, however, says nothing explicitly about what to do in case of pandemic.

    This is ridiculous. A child could point out that, in any plain reading of that canon, the risk of infection entailed by the virus causing a pandemic is a grave reason. And you’re the one criticising rubricism and legalism?

    With respect, this whole article is a theological mess, mistakenly over-emphasising the communal nature of sacraments whilst simultaneously drawing lazy caricatures of ‘the other side’.

    1. Andy Hodges Avatar
      Andy Hodges

      Because you want a private experience of the Sacraments? If there is a theological mess to tend to it is that belief.

      1. Jonathon Baggett Avatar
        Jonathon Baggett

        Confession and anointing of the sick/viaticum are almost always received as indivudals so I’m not sure what you’re arguing against. Yes, I should usually want those available indivually. Do you usually invite your friends into the confessional?

  5. Philip Endean Avatar
    Philip Endean

    Many thanks for this, which I find very helpful. But I wonder if you could clarify the sentence about the prayer of Alphonsus Ligouri, and the distinction between Jesus and the risen Christ — I just don’t follow what’s being said.

    1. Fritz Bauerschmidt Avatar

      That statement puzzled me too. Clearly the whole point of Easter is that the risen Christ is Jesus. I’m willing to give it as charitable a reading as I can, but it seems to me far more theologically problematic than anything in St. Alphonsus’s prayer. Actually, I see nothing theologically exceptionable in St. Alphonsus’s Act of Spiritual Communion whatsoever.

      I’m also curious why having a “supernatural” understanding of the sacraments is a problem. Aren’t sacraments supernatural?

      1. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
        Karl Liam Saur

        I didn’t get that distinction either. I was hoping there was not an implication that the risen Christ Jesus is not Jesus, or an inference that Jesus’ incarnation in human nature was temporary (an erroneous inference I have witnessed people embracing).

      2. William Fredereick deHaas Avatar
        William Fredereick deHaas

        Suggest that we avoid either or concepts. Grace builds on nature and sacraments are both/and. Suggest that when one chooses to over focus on the supernatural; it can make *sacraments* become *magic*. Really would like to avoid the usual debates e.g. horizontal vs. vertical, etc.

    2. Maria Alderson Avatar
      Maria Alderson

      Good Father, please explain why the St Alphonsus’s prayer is theologically problematic.

    3. Dcn Mark Asselin Avatar
      Dcn Mark Asselin

      Guilty! of using the prayer of St. Alphonsus Liguori in a posted reflection on the Mass readings after the Pope’s beautiful Urbi et Orbi message and service. I think I see the Christological point you’re making, but perhaps not all that important to the faithful? I think one can still embrace spiritual Communion with Jesus / Christ without denying the communal orientation of our lives as Catholics. I would like to humbly suggest that the resurgence of clericalism (which I sometimes see attacked by clerics who embody the problem) is a reaction to the clerical sex abuse scandal. It’s tough to be a priest in these times, post (or mid) scandal and in a pandemic with the churches closed, but clericalism isn’t the answer to remaining relevant.

    4. Paul Inwood Avatar
      Paul Inwood

      One existing problem with St Alphonsus’s prayer is when it is routinely imposed on non-catholics or others who cannot receive. Telling these people to say that they love Jesus and desire with their whole heart to receive him, when they manifestly don’t, is not good pastoral practice.

      1. Jack Wayne Avatar
        Jack Wayne

        This is unheard of in the American Midwest. No particular prayer is imposed on non-Christians or those unable to receive. Are there really places requiring people to say it?

      2. Alan Griffiths Avatar
        Alan Griffiths

        Good on you, Paul.

        My sense is that much of that sort of baroque/rococo pious effusion is intended to ‘arouse’ ‘religious sentiments’ in those who use these prayers.

        They always had the reverse effect on me.

      3. Charlotte Allen Avatar
        Charlotte Allen

        “Routinely imposed on non-catholics or others who cannot receive”? I’ve never heard of that. St. Alphonsus’s prayer is strictly voluntary, at least here in D.C. where I live. And I’ve never heard of a priest anywhere “telling” non-believers to say it.

      4. Paul Inwood Avatar
        Paul Inwood

        It’s actually a bishop who is doing this….

      5. Jack Wayne Avatar
        Jack Wayne

        Then it’s not the prayer that is the problem.

  6. Fr Andrew Doohan Avatar
    Fr Andrew Doohan

    Thanks Jim for your wise words, and your ability to bring together some thinking around the situation we find ourselves in. While the situation here in Australia is both different and the same as in the US, the theological questions are the same. I am constantly trying to grapple with the theological and pastoral import of what we are facing and what it means for the liturgical and sacramental life of the Church. I don’t have any firm answers. Indeed, I’m not sure I have any firm questions!

    Your reflections above, however, is another something for me to add to the mix of reflection, pray and thought.

    With thanks from ‘Down Under’,

    1. Fr. Jim Sabak, OFM Avatar
      Fr. Jim Sabak, OFM

      Thanks Andrew!! Appreciate your thoughts! Best to you!

  7. Pete Williamson Avatar
    Pete Williamson

    I will not deny that I disagree with the entirety of this article. However, I do think there is something of ethical consideration for Praytell and Fr. Sabiak which I hope will result in a correction.

    Fr. Sabiak wrote “One of the ordained wrote that my suggestions made him question why he ever became a priest in the first place, and that he should have stayed in immigration law. ” As silly as Fr. Sabiak finds this priest’s personal crisis. Is it ethical or even allowed by Raleigh diocesan policy to reveal the content of a private internal email with a pretty clear marker of identity? Given that there may be multiple priest in the diocese who practiced law but how many practiced immigration law? It seems Fr. Sabiak could unwittingly reveal the identity of this priest to people in his diocese. That seems largely unjust to what the priest thought to be an personal and private email. Unless Fr. Sabiak got this priest’s permission. Then carry on…

    1. Mark Duch Avatar
      Mark Duch

      I agree. I have had a Bishop do this to me. I came to him with a concern and he made my concern and his answer public in such a way that risked revealing my identity. I know it is my duty to forgive, but truly, how is this pastoral?

    2. Paul Inwood Avatar
      Paul Inwood

      I suggest you don’t criticise a priest for a perceived failing when you are unable to spell his last name correctly.

      1. Pete Williamson Avatar
        Pete Williamson

        Sorry to Fr. Sabak! I used to know someone that had the last name Sabiak (or perhaps I am not remembering correctly it has been over a decade. My sincere apologies.

        Paul, it is a criticism but more fundamentally I am concerned for keeping a proper amount of anonymity when it comes to professional dealings. It can be easy to slip into “shop talk” about work without malice but still fail to protect the integrity of professional and personal relationships.


    3. Richard Malcolm Avatar
      Richard Malcolm

      “Is it ethical or even allowed by Raleigh diocesan policy to reveal the content of a private internal email with a pretty clear marker of identity?”

      If Fr Sabak is willing to violate the seal of confessional – which his relation of the anecdote of the elderly penitent quite arguably does – revealing private correspondence from fellow clergy is probably a light morning’s work, unfortunately.

      This is quite serious. Setting aside the substance of the rest of his essay, Fr Sabak’s apparent recklessness with regards to the seal of the confessional and confidentiality requires urgent review by his ordinary. When sufficient information is publicly provided for others to identify these men even without explicit use of their names, that’s a grave transgression.

    4. Jonathon Baggett Avatar
      Jonathon Baggett

      “The faithful, because they are fundamentally sinners, need the sacraments to heal them and to maintain an appropriate relationship with God. They also give them a fighting chance for eternal life should they die.” According to the author this is a problematic mindset, but the readings of the saints, catechism, and Church documents support this position. The author downplays that the sacraments do something and are given for more reason than gathering people in prayer. The author maybe presumes equivalent graces to the sacraments will be given by God, since it is dangerous to meet as a group. However that is a presumption, and it is not required according to justice. All people given dispensation from mass are certainly not sinning by not attending Sunday mass, but it almost seems as if the author is saying we ought not want to receive communion and confession enough to brave disease. The restriction on drive through confessions is overreaching. It is safe and the only threat is that other might hear our confessions. If that is a risk I’m willing to take as the penitent that’s my business. People can be instructed to have their windows up and music on. Restricting priests from anointing with instruments as approved by cannon law seems to be overreaching as well.

  8. John Baldovin, S.J. Avatar
    John Baldovin, S.J.

    Jim – Thanks for this. I think you articulate the problems with the current Catholic reaction to the pandemic very well. The reaction by priests and lay people alike demonstrates, in my opinion, how superficially we as a church have digested the Second Vatican Council. It should give us pause for thought.
    It’s not only clericalism that is at issue here – but a healthy dose of narcissism on the part of the ordained. We are going to need a lot of theological reflection on this.
    Well done. Thanks again.

    1. Mary Healey Avatar
      Mary Healey

      Thank you for those insights as difficult as they may be for some clerics. I would add that this same aversion to deep reflection on what it means to follow Christ as a lay catholic is just as difficult.
      I have always felt that more emphasis has been placed on “doing certain rituals “ that make us “feel” good; or “saved”.
      When you look at a suffering neighbor , here or in the devastated countries around the world, I shudder at our blindness to”life”: All Life!
      Perhaps this pandemic gives us all the chance to re-evaluate our beliefs .
      Do we really put our trust in God? Or is it in $ or education? Or Looking Good?
      Whenever I hear a group “applauding a sermon” it sends chills through me for our blindness, deafness and debilitating need to “feel good”. I am including myself in this i ignorance and cowardice as I pray, feebly, for the Holy Spirit to fill my heart.

    2. John Karolus Avatar
      John Karolus

      Fr. Sabak
      A resounding AMEN to your sharing. Your words reflect the non-punitive, Unconditionally Loving God revealed by your Franciscan Fathers Francis, Bonaventure and John Duns Scotus. Thank you.

  9. Phyllis Zagano Avatar
    Phyllis Zagano



    Maybe the priests/other clerical could use the tools (zoom, webinars. etc) to help their congregation expand their intimate relationship with Jesus Christ: i.e. -what is contemplative prayer, what are different forms of prayer, etc. With many leaving the Catholic Church because their spiritual life has not grown, this could help bring them back. These short lessons do not replace the Eucharist or Reconciliation, etc, but is could bring priests in touch with their people, give them more ways to deepen their faith until we get to a normal
    It should also be a wakeup call that priest are human first, then a servant of Christ…learn to identify what you are feeling, you can empathize what happens daily to many folks in a congregation and how faith, prayer, being still to listen what Jesus is saying to us, where he is leading us on the journey of life and can bring us closer to Jesus and others. Just a thought.

  11. Dan Hager Avatar
    Dan Hager

    I am reading in Deuteronomy at the moment. It seems to me that the experience of the He few people in the Exodus events, from Moses’ career commencing at the burning bush, through the plagues and miracles of deliverance, to the transmission of the law and the formation of the people of God in the wilderness, are punctuated by what is clearly liturgy. There is a leader, usually Moses, and even in counterfeit worship there is a leader, such as Aaron or Miriam. But the people must accept and affirm the laws prescribed, eat of the covenant sacrifices immolated, and be sprinkled with the blood thereof. The leader is nothing without the people of God, and indeed, they are the only reason why such leadership exists. God himself does the leading, by a pillar of flame during the night, and of smoke during the day.
    It seems to me that these covenants, laws, miracles, and punishments, are clearly types of the covenant in Christ’s blood. Yet how is it that we in the Church have such an exaggerated idea of ordained leadership? It is clear in the Deuteronomic text that the people themselves are capable of following the law, accepting the burden of holiness, and choosing to be God’s people, with leaders, to be sure, but also with responsibilities and freedom for all. If that is the type, the foreshadowing, then shouldn’t the perfection of the covenant in Jesus Christ be more evident?
    How can we recover a sense of the holiness of daily life led by God, not as individuals, but as a whole people won by himself?

  12. Paul Canavese Avatar

    I’ve been a little surprised that amidst stay-at-home orders so much emphasis has been placed on streaming (and pre-recorded!) Mass and so little has been put on encouraging families to worship at home.

    It’s not that streaming Mass is a bad thing, but it’s such a diminished experience when we cannot physically gather. Our sacramental theology is about presence… REAL presence. It is about Christ present not only in the Eucharist broken and shared and in the minister, but also in the spoken Word and assembled People of God. While it may not be possible for most of us to be physically present to Christ in all of these forms right now, families can still experience some of them if they celebrate a Liturgy of the Word (or Divine Office) in their homes.

    Canon law spells this out: “If because of lack of a sacred minister or for other grave cause participation in the celebration of the Eucharist is impossible, it is specially recommended that the faithful take part in the Liturgy of the Word if it is celebrated in the parish church or in another sacred place according to the prescriptions of the diocesan bishop, or engage in prayer for an appropriate amount of time personally or in a family or, as occasion offers, in groups of families.” – CIC, can. 1248 § 2 (as quoted in CCC #2183)

    We could debate whether a person can fully, actively participate in the Eucharist through a computer/television screen and over an internet/television connection, but the above clearly presumes in-person presence. And let’s just say that “participation” of and with children through screens is an even steeper challenge.

    Consider the many parishes where a priest is unavailable to preside at Mass. Do we have the parishioners stream a Mass from across town? No, we have they pray together as a physical community (usually with a Liturgy of the Word service). So shouldn’t that be the preferred form of worship for families in our current situation?

    See for a tool that coaches parents to…

    1. Dan Pierson Avatar

      Well said, Paul. As we move forward, it is ever so evident that we need a comprehensive sacramental and liturgical catechesis that includes an understanding of family as domestic church.

  13. Alan Weber Avatar
    Alan Weber


    If you haven’t read Ernest Becker’s “Denial of Death,” it’s worth the time and effort to do so. The raving and raging responses to reasonable adaptations to what you aptly describe as “this distorting period in human history,” are the predictable results of having one’s lies of self-protection exposed as lies. Everyone tells themselves lies in order to cope with the unpredictability of human existence, but the only ones deceived are those who refuse to acknowledge their lies. There are only two options available to those whose lie about conventional religiosity is exposed as a lie: rage or metanoia; metanoia remains the unpopular choice.

  14. Chris McDonnell Avatar
    Chris McDonnell

    With our churches closed and the Eucharist broken by a few though unshared by many, there has been an ‘emptiness’ this Easter. The various occasions where video transmissions have been broadcast by parish priests have been much appreciated as occasions of prayer, yet a true sharing of the Eucharist has been thwarted through our inability to be physically present. You cannot truly share a meal that you watch taking place somewhere else. Maybe these hard days of contagion will teach us the real meaning of Eucharist. The ‘darkness’ that Francis spoke of recently might be the pre-curser to a new light and a fresh understanding of our Christian journey. In the meantime, we watch and wait for the Christ to reveal himself during these difficult and troubled times as he did over a supper table in Emmaus or over a breakfast fire by the water of Tiberias. The gathered community, physically present, is an essential element of Eucharist. It is not something we look on as spectators but an action in which we are active participants

  15. Peter Kwasniewski Avatar
    Peter Kwasniewski

    While accusing the clergy of clericalism, the author expresses a kind of super-clericalism, in which his theological acumen makes him superior to the innate instincts of basically all the priests he hears from. I would suggest that the priests are not clericalists but fathers and shepherds who actually care about their people and wish to give them the benefits that Christ instituted for His Church, in less than ideal circumstances. If we are only to allow ideal circumstances, might as well forget about missionary work — or field hospitals and peripheries, for that matter.

    1. Jack Wayne Avatar
      Jack Wayne

      I rarely agree with you about anything, but I agree with you in regards to some wanting this to be some kind of culture war issue. It isn’t, though I have no idea what Peter’s position is on the matter.

      However, I find your calls for others to be more both/and and to not act superior odd in light of your own comments over the years.

  16. Dan Hager Avatar
    Dan Hager

    I think we should be aware that Bishops and pastors, as well as priests with smaller roles, are doing the best they can. The range of options we have seen in trying to make the Sacraments present for the people of God make this poignantly clear. There is a lot of discernment, and a lot of frustration and anger going on, as well as risks and innovations never before seen in the liturgy. Pope Francis’ April 8 interview for the Tablet is pertinent to this issue. I’ll quote the relevant bit:
    “About a week ago an Italian bishop, somewhat flustered, called me. He had been going round the hospitals wanting to give absolution to those inside the wards from the hallway of the hospital. But he had spoken to canon lawyers who had told him he couldn’t, that absolution could only be given in direct contact. “What do you think, Father?” he had asked me. I told him: “Bishop, fulfil your priestly duty.” And the bishop said Grazie, ho capito (“Thank you, I understand”). I found out later that he was giving absolution all around the place.”
    Now, am I going to fault clerics who listen to doctors and lawyers at this time? No. I don’t think that is the Pope’s point either. But we can’t feel happy with any of the decisions right now. This is a time of mourning. Even the heroes have tears on their faces.

  17. Richard Lopes SJ Avatar
    Richard Lopes SJ

    “In these days, this experience must take place beyond the usual sphere of ritual and rubric.”
    That is what many Priests in India are doing presently, living the Sacraments: Making whole, bringing about life. I know a Parish in Gujarat (among many) where the Parish Priest is coordinating the relief work. India is grappling with the problem of hunger and displacement more than the problem of COVID 19. Here we have millions of migrant workers, daily wagers and poor who have lost their livelihood because of the Lockdown. This PP is mobilizing His Parish Pastoral Council to identify those most in need in their zones, while simultaneously identifying those who could help the poor. The well to do feel quite confident that all the help would reach the poor and needy. The PP and the PPC are living the Sacrament of the Early Christian Community: Bringing what they have to the Church and sharing it with those who are suffering and needy. The Church is still relevant, the Priest is relevant, the Christian community is relevant, more than ever in these difficult times. We are living the Sacrament of Bread and Compassion. This experience takes us beyond the mere rituals and rubrics. After all Eucharist is not a mere ‘look and adore’ rather ‘break and share’. Many priests are showing the way – of course, with their Faithful. It is the Church as envisaged by the Vatican II – in solidarity with those in grief and anguish and suffering – making their joys and hopes, their griefs and sorrows her own. Both the ordained and the baptized are living their Priesthood reflecting the image of Christ our High Priest – breaking themselves in order to build the broken.

  18. Fr. Jack Feehily Avatar
    Fr. Jack Feehily

    Isn’t it interesting that the ordinary ministers of only one of the sacraments–matrimony–are baptized but not ordained. One other sacrament–baptism–may be conferred by “anyone” in danger of death. But the ordinary ministers of six of the seven sacraments are baptized individuals who were subsequently ordained as deacons, priests, or bishops. The rites by which priests and bishops are ordained make it clear that these individuals are called from among the baptized to teach, sanctify, and serve. The sacraments are certainly premier means of sanctification but are not the only means. And while the teaching of the ordained is supposed to center around The Word of God, that Word is accessible elsewhere including from among those not ordained. But the paramount mission of the priest is to be icons of the One who came not to be served but to serve. Clericalism is a complex phenomenon, but includes the notion that ordained individuals are “in charge”. They get to make laws and rules which are expected to be followed by those who played no part in their formulation. Many of them “lord it over their subjects” like worldly leaders while claiming that as their right. I pastor a flock of Christ’s faithful because I said yes to a call to do so. That yes did not make me better than any of the people I serve. I am called to be a real presence of the risen Lord to a particular community of his people. That’s the mission of priests, not to play the starring role whenever the sacraments are being celebrated. Christ does not in fact need me in order for him to be really present in the world. But he does ask me to take on the part of a faithful follower. They will know we are Christians by our love not by the manner in which we participate in his priesthood.
    Yes, I have been live streaming services which I celebrated in the presence of a small community (ten or less) of readers (1 or 2), musicians (2), a deacon, a spouse or two, and me. But I have also been encouraging people to find ways to be the church at home and…

  19. Dudley McLean Avatar

    In the Gospel for the Second Sunday of Easter Thomas was absent when our risen Lord appeared to the scared disciples and women in the room. During that appearance our Lord commissioned them for ministry (As the Father has sent me, so send I you), breathed on them the Holy Spirit and gave the power to forgive and retain sins.

    A week Thomas turned up and his response when he encountered the risen Lord was “My Lord and my God!”

    It’s interesting that the “rite of ordination” performed by our Lord the week before was not repeated (at least the text is silent about it). The assumption is that because Thomas was a member of the twelve (minus Judas who Betrayed him) even in absence he received the commissioning of our Lord because of his membership.

    Our Lord also said something that I believe speaks to our time, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe”(John 20:29). Here is the crunch of the Church’s sacramental life and it’s relevance as we shift to the digital age.

    Pandemics signalled the fall and rise of empires and the upheavals of the social and religious worldviews. I am from a family with ancestors who are Shephardic Jews and the Passover with it’s principle of anamaises to the Exodus have been celebrated through persecution, oppression, Pandemics. When the temple was destroyed in 70CE and the Passover lambs were no longer sacrificed they adapted the new 7 days celebration that remains relevant to this day.
    The Eucharist was born out of the Passover and it’s anamaises is our Lord’s Passion, and at the Paschal Vigil the Exodus story (Chapter 14) is read to connect the events. What I find as a member of the laity mind-bubbling is how quickly the Eucharist/Mass becomes restricted access to the faithful by those who are unable to adjust to the new digital world, (see John 20:29b). We now understand why Galileo was prosecuted by those who tried to limit God’s grace and presence in an ever changing world.

  20. Sandor Toth Avatar
    Sandor Toth

    How these Christians love one another. Happy Easter.

    (edit: before the pretentious claim the opposing side lacks love, should take a hard introspective look at themselves. love should go both ways the way, not exclusive to one side. looking at this feel embarrassed hope nobody investigating Christianity reads anything from both “sides” on this page)

    1. Jeana Visel Avatar
      Jeana Visel


  21. Anthony Hawkins Avatar
    Anthony Hawkins

    I see no problem with the ‘Dallas’ provisions, which do not deprive anyone of the benefit of the sacraments.
    I follow Fr Z’s blog partly in the hope that the irritant will help my spiritual growth. His approach to the operation of the sacraments and sacramentals leaves me very uneasy. But I do think accuracy and precision are needed to usefully disagree with him.

  22. Charlotte Allen Avatar
    Charlotte Allen

    “The proliferation of an 18th century prayer by Alphonsus Ligouri to alleviate anxiety over the inability to receive Eucharist in these days, which prayer is theologically problematic – it is not Jesus, whom we receive, but the risen Christ – testifies to this.”

    I’m confused. Are not Jesus and the risen Christ the same person? Isn’t that the whole point of Christianity? Mark’s Gospel (16:5-6) says: “As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. But he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised. He is not here.”

    Am I missing something? Elsewhere (in Mark 14:22-24, for example), it’s specifically “Jesus” who institutes the Eucharist: “This is my body,” etc. St. Alphonsus’s prayer doesn’t look “theologically problematic” to me.

  23. John Grinnell Avatar
    John Grinnell

    Somebody needs to retake Christology 101!

  24. Marc McCarthy Avatar
    Marc McCarthy

    “The proliferation of an 18th century prayer by Alphonsus Ligouri to alleviate anxiety…”

    First time poster here! Question: Is the purpose of the prayer primarily the alleviation of anxiety? I thought it was primarily to express to Jesus a desire to receive Him in whatever way possible. It’s somewhat like a wife on a business trip calling a husband by phone, telling him, “I can’t be with you physically right now, but I wish to be with you in spirit”. The goal isn’t the alleviation of anxiety, but simply, to communicate something good and loving to the beloved.

    Also, can you find the idea that the risen Christ is not actually Jesus in the Catechism, or any other authoritative source? Saying that the risen Christ is not Jesus seems obviously false…but maybe there’s something I’m missing. I am puzzled.

    Anyway, thanks for reading this and may God bless you and enrich your heart with great charity in these very strange times.

    1. Anthony Ruff, OSB Avatar
      Anthony Ruff, OSB

      I think there’s a misunderstanding here, and also some unnecessary accusations of false doctrine which are way to suspicious.

      Everyone knows that it is Jesus who died and rose and is now the Risen Christ. It’s obvious (at least to me) that no one is denying this. There is continuity. But there is also a change – when he walked this earth, before the Resurrection, Jesus was not yet the Risen Christ. And since the Resurrection, he is no longer the earthly Jesus.

      Perhaps it would be clearer to say that the Risen Christ is not *merely* the earthly Jesus, but is always and only Jesus who is risen and glorified and sits at the Father’s right hand.

      It would also be good not to be so suspicious of a fellow Christian.


      1. Marc McCarthy Avatar
        Marc McCarthy

        Thank you for your gracious response! It is not that I was suspicious, it is that I didn’t understand, so I suggested I may have been missing something.

        And so, I’m thankful for your response. It helps clarify that question.

        If you will tolerate an additional item that’s still unclear to me…I’m puzzled that at why St. Alphonsus’ prayer would be considered “theologically problematic”. I simply don’t see any real problem, so again, I get the feeling that I’m missing something, and would love to better understand.

        God bless you!

      2. Anthony Ruff, OSB Avatar
        Anthony Ruff, OSB

        Dear Marc,

        Thanks for your kind note and good question. I’ll take a shot at answering it.

        I wouldn’t say that the Act of Spiritual Communion is wrong or heretical or un-Catholic. But in the light of Vatican II, I would say that it could be enlarged and expanded, with a fuller vision of what Communion and the Real Presence are about, such as the Church had in the first 700-1000 years. As I read Vatican II, some of that got lost or narrowed or out of focus, hence the need for a reform of our understanding of liturgy and sacraments.

        The main point is that Real Presence – which we all believe in – is not a thing unto itself, as a sort of ‘holy relic’ to adore as much as possible just because we believe it is the Real Presence. We do, but it’s always a Presence FOR something, it always points to and leads to something bigger. (And here I’ll note by the by that Thomas Aquinas still taught this in the 13th century.) That bigger thing is that, in Christ, we are united to each other, we become the Body of Christ, we are united to all of Creation which God wishes to reconcile to himself. Real Presence is FOR our participation in God’s work of reconciliation, so it calls us to conversion, charity, social justice, transformation of society, etc.

        Everything in the prayer of St. Alphonse is true. It’s what’s not there. It seems to focus on the presence in the Blessed Sacrament without much reference to what it’s for, and it’s great material about the individual soul doesn’t tie this into the wider church community and all of creation.

        That’s a very brief answer and I’m probably not putting this well, but that’s my first attempt at a response. I hope you find something helpful in there.


      3. Marc McCarthy Avatar
        Marc McCarthy

        P.S. I’m not asking these questions to be accusatory or annoying. I ask because I pray this spiritual communion with my wife and little kids every day, as an expression of love for Jesus during our lockdown. If the prayer is theologically problematic, knowing why it is so would be helpful to me and my family. Thanks again for your time and thoughts!

      4. Anthony Hawkins Avatar
        Anthony Hawkins

        Thank you Fr Ruff for this explanation.
        I reacted very badly to this criticism of of the Spiritual Communion prayer, and I will try to explore my reaction, certainly incompletely and inadequately.
        When I left school in 1954, I was still going to Communion generally no more than once a year as my Easter Duty. Just like most people, despite the efforts of Pius X and his successors to encourage frequent reception.
        Gradually, particularly after VII, I came to a better understanding of the communal nature of Eucharistic celebrations. In particular one of the early Fathers (Irenaeus?) exhorted attendance at church ‘so as not to deprive others of my support’. As part of that, despite late rising not infrequently meaning I fail the fasting requirement, I normally join the communion procession even if I have to seek a blessing rather than receiving physically. I seems to me part of the expression of solidarity/communion. In these strange times I feel that joining a live streamed Mass and, although my voice is unheard, joining verbally as closely I can, is the only available expression of the communal.

      5. Marc McCarthy Avatar
        Marc McCarthy

        Fr. Anthony,

        Thank you for your follow-up response, and your friendliness. I think I see what you are getting at. The main issue is that the prayer’s “great material about the individual soul doesn’t tie this into the wider church community and all of creation.”

        I’m not sure this is a problem with the prayer itself, or with the person praying. For me at least, the prayer very naturally leads me to want to participate in God’s work of reconciliation. Expressing desire for God also tends to increase my desire to do what God wants, to love what he loves, to temper my desire to write angry online comments (haha), and so on.

        Anyway, on a practical level, the spiritual communion in question is a short prayer that leaves time for other prayers. With that in mind, would you recommend a prayer that would be a fitting supplement? I would certainly consider adding your recommendation to our morning prayers with my family.

        Please be assured of my prayers for you and your ministries.

  25. Peter Haydon Avatar
    Peter Haydon

    The phrase “it is not Jesus, whom we receive, but the risen Christ” seems to be badly phrased at best. However in Pope Benedict’s book Jesus of Nazareth, Holy Week: From the entrance into Jerusalem to the resurrection” he writes that:
    “Jesus had not returned to a normal human life in this world like Lazarus and the others Jesus raised from the dead. He has entered upon a different life – he has entered the vast breadth of God himself, and it is from there that he reveals himself to his followers.”
    I think that this is consistent with what Fr Anthony offers as explanation.

  26. Marlene Jacobs Avatar
    Marlene Jacobs

    Thank you Eliacin for affirming my thoughts exactly. It is a great time for catechesis about sacramental theology. And a time for clergy to reflect on what exactly it is you think you are doing!

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