By Charlie Johnston
Yesterday, an idea popped into my head for a short story about the Wujan Virus. I will call it The Year of the Plague. The central thesis is that those who thought that this virus was the catalyst for global civilizational collapse were correct – and those who thought this virus was a mild iteration of a normal flu were also correct. I will write the story from the perspective of an essayist in 2050 looking back on the 30-year anniversary of the crisis. I’m having fun with it in my head, but it will take a little while to get it down on paper properly.
This whole mess offers me some insight. I have long wondered how we could have a complete global collapse while still maintaining access to raw materials and communications technology for those with the grit to go after them.
Whoa…about a half an hour ago, a source alerted me that it was about to be announced that all public Masses are being suspended in Colorado effective today. I did not want to believe it was true, but sure enough, just about five minutes ago the formal notice came online that all public Masses in Colorado have been suspended until further notice. My source said, before the announcement was made, that this is envisioned to last only until the end of the month. Now I just read that the Archdiocese of Chicago will do the same beginning tomorrow. We will see how many dominoes fall before all is told.
A dear friend, the gentleman who opened his home to me when I came to Denver, remarked that we are being called to spend the bulk of Lent in a genuinely spiritual desert. That is a very canny, insightful comment. I would that it were otherwise.
I can’t help but think of all the people, through the years, who have asked me what they can do if they should not be able to receive communion. I reiterate that you should do what I did for a big chunk of my pilgrimage: make a spiritual communion until such time as you are joyfully able to receive physically again. Do not let despair overwhelm you. We are in Christ’s winnowing fan now for a time – and how appropriate that it should come during the Lenten season. Do not get overly upset at the Bishops involved. They, too, have suddenly been hit from all sides – from panicked parishioners, government pressure, public health officials. “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to prove you…” -1 Peter 4:12. Over the course of this Lenten season, many Bishops will have to choose who they serve and how they will best serve Him. Accept the trial with them for the time being – and know that we WILL have a glorious Easter. When it comes, we will know much better which Bishops serve the Lord and which are merely temporal princes. Know that during this time, some will be figuring out how to curry temporal favor while others will regroup and figure out how to serve the Master and His people – and they WILL boldly proclaim the Kingdom with power, conviction and clarity that inspires millions to new hope and new resolve. “Wait on the Lord; be of good courage and He will strengthen thine heart. Wait, I say, on the Lord.”-closing lines of Psalm 27.
There are two clerics who have proposed measures to respond to this that resonate deeply with me. I am convinced that this crisis is designed, ultimately, to show Christ’s sovereign power on earth. I reprint below the approach favored by Fr. Bill Bowling, Pastor at Holy Trinity and Holy Name Parishes in Louisville, Kentucky and of Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas. I also append some material from Dan Lynch, where he corrected me with hard facts on the right to receive on the tongue. (I always appreciate that, when examining an issue, Dan always gives me hard data to back up his point. I admire both his fidelity and intellectual rigor.)
As you know, since early childhood, I have foreseen a great crisis coming on the world – what I call a great storm. I never sought to beguile people that the storm would dissipate or that we could go around it. As I have understood my calling, it has always been to assure you, as it comes upon us, that we can do this. So batten down the hatches and go into the breach with confidence. This is not the end, but the beginning of great renewal and demonstration that the Lord is nigh, even next to us. Rejoice and be glad and set yourself to the work of lifting your neighbors up and recalling many to the only secure port in every storm, the Lord of Hosts.
Now the reprints I promised:
First, from Fr. Bill Bowling of Louisville:
“What is the Christian response when illness becomes widespread in a community?
Pope St. Gregory the Great had a spiritual response as he sought to care for his flock in the diocese of Rome. As we prudently take ordinary precautions to avoid the spread of flu, infections, and the new covid-19 virus, what is the spiritual response today?
As a first step let everyone who claims the Christian faith make a deep examination of conscience and sincere act of repentance this Lent. Next, let every person who claims Jesus as Savior spend time with him in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. Let’s see what the Lord leads us to do for the wellbeing of our communities, and of the whole world.
Peace and much love,
Fr. Bill Bowling
Plague in Rome
February 24: Plague in Rome ends after Pope St. Gregory the Great leads a procession with a painting of Our Lady by Saint Luke (591)
The Abbot Orsini wrote: “On this day, in the year 591, St. Gergory the Great, having had the picture of Our Lady, which was painted by St. Luke, carried in procession, the plague ceased at Rome.”
The miseries that afflicted Rome in the year 591 were substantial. The Gothic War between the Byzantine Empire and the Goths had substantially depopulated Italy, so much so that a Germanic tribe of Lombards had entered the peninsula and established their own kingdom. They were pagans and Arians who did not respect Catholics, burning the famous Benedictine monastery of Monte Cassino and pillaging the land at will.
The instability and warfare caused famine in large regions, though Rome was still able to obtain grain by sea. Then came earthquakes and flooding to further the suffering, and from this plague Rome was not immune. The banks of the Tiber overflowed, and when the waters did not recede, all of the low-lying lands became swamps that brought death and plague. The disease struck with such rapidity that the victim would often die shortly after realizing he had contracted the disease, although there were some who sickened but recovered. Our custom of saying, “God Bless you,” to someone who sneezes came about at this time, for sneezing was one of the signs that someone had contracted the disease.
Even the Roman Pontiff died of the plague on February 7th, 590. His successor was Pope Saint Gregory the Great, who was both a humble and pious man. It would be an understatement to say he did not want the honor of being the next pope, but he did do everything in his power to try to save his people. He understood that the plague was a chastisement from God, and encouraged the faithful to repent of their sins and pray for deliverance while he and the religious cared for the people of Rome.
Finally, Saint Gregory called for a procession to take place at dawn on April 25th. On that day the faithful first assembled in their groups throughout Rome and then walked through the streets of the city praying and singing as they approached the church of Saint Mary Major. The plague was so potent at that time that eighty people collapsed and died as they walked toward the meeting place.
Pope Saint Gregory met them upon their arrival, joining them in prayer as he took his place with them holding aloft the miraculous image of Our Lady painted by Saint Luke the Evangelist. As the procession neared the Vatican the participants all saw Saint Michael the archangel standing upon the cupola of Hadrian’s mausoleum as he sheathed his flaming sword. It was a sign that the chastisement had come to an end, and at once the heaviness in the air abated and the air itself seemed to freshen and clear. Indeed, at that moment the plague ended as the faithful rejoiced and lifted up their voices to thank the Mother of God.
“Regina Coeli laetare, Alleluia! (Queen of heaven, rejoice, Alleluia!)
Quia quem meruisti portare, Alleluia! (Son whom you merited to bear, Alleluia!)
Resurrexit sicut dixit, Alleluia! (He has risen as He said, Alleluia!)”
Now we go to Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas in a letter to the Priests of his Diocese:
“Dear Brothers and Sons in the Diocese of Tyler,
As we continue to deal with the many issues which impact our families, parishes and missions in the Diocese of Tyler and as we continue this journey of the Year of the Eucharist I am directing every priest to conduct a Eucharistic Procession in the communities that they serve sometime before the Solemnity of St. Joseph Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary on March 19, 2020. The intentions of this Eucharistic Procession including asking Our Lord’s protection from the Coronavirus and healing for those who have already been infected; mercy and eternal rest for those who have died. Also petitioning Our Lord for strength for our families and the fortitude to be guided by the truths of the Deposit of Faith and the ethical and moral truths they represent. May the model of faith that St. Joseph provides as Patron of the Church inspire these efforts.
I ask that priests plan a simple procession using the following basic guidelines.
- After a Sunday or weekday Holy Mass invite a small group to participate in a simple procession with the Blessed Sacrament lead by the priests, assisted by deacons if available, and servers.
- The path of the procession should be on the property of the Church with no civil permits being necessary.
- Proper reverence for the Blessed Sacrament is paramount but the procession does not need to be elaborate, the priest in alb and cope with two servers is all that would be required. If a Deacon is involved, an alb and stole. If a parish is able to have a more elaborate procession that is acceptable but not necessary.
- Safety for all involved is essential thus the numbers should be limited to a representative group of the parish. Other faithful who want to participate should be encouraged to remain in the Church and pray as the procession leaves the Church, remaining there to welcome the return of Our Lord after the procession.
The primary purpose of this procession is prayer and raising our awareness that the Lord is truly with us. Let us turn to Him as Lord of Lords and as always ask His Blessed Mother to join us in prayer interceding on our behalf at the throne of Our Heavenly Father.
God bless you and God bless the Diocese of Tyler.
In Christ’s Name,
Bishop Joseph E. Strickland”
And finally, some email correspondence between Dan Lynch and me the other day:
I read your post this morning in which you wrote, “restricting communion to the hand, allowing it only under the species of the bread, and removing holy water. I, personally, do not agree with these steps, but they are not unreasonable – and may even comfort the more timid among the flock.”
The step of restricting Holy Communion to the hand may not be unreasonable, however it is illicit and there is no legitimate authority for imposing that restriction. Below is a letter that I wrote to my pastor. Perhaps you could post my emails to him and to you on your blog for your readers so that they may inform their pastors. Keep up your great work for the glory of God and hope for his people.
Sincerely in Christ,
The Faithful “Always” Have The Right To Receive Holy Communion On The Tongue
I heard you inform the congregation at yesterday’s Vigil Mass that if they wanted to exercise their option to receive Holy Communion on the tongue, they could not receive it from a Eucharistic minister, but only from a priest or deacon.
A letter from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, dated July 24, 2009, the year of the “Swine Flu” pandemic states that the faithful “always” have the right to receive Holy Communion on the tongue.
As such, no Eucharistic minister, priest or deacon can refuse that right.
Please read below the Church law that I could find on this subject and please instruct your priests, deacons and Eucharistic ministers that the faithful always have the right to receive Holy Communion on the tongue. Thank you for consideration.
Sincerely in Christ,
This Dicastery observes that its instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum (25 March 2004) clearly stipulates that “each of the faithful always has the right to receive Holy Communion on the tongue” (n.92), nor is it licit to deny Holy Communion to any of Christ’s faithful who are not impeded by law from receiving the Holy Eucharist (cf. n. 91).
There are also four pertinent texts, all explaining that Catholic faithful should not be obliged to receive Communion on the hand rather than the tongue.
Letter of April 3, 1985, from the Congregation for Divine Worship to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (Prot. 720/85):
The Holy See, since 1969, while maintaining the traditional manner of distributing communion, has granted to those Episcopal Conferences that have requested it, the faculty of distributing communion by placing the host in the hands of the faithful[.] … The faithful are not to be obliged to adopt the practice of communion in the hand. Each one is free to communicate in one way or the other.
Response by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Notitiae (April 1999):
Query: Whether in dioceses where it is allowed to distribute Communion in the hands of the faithful, a priest or extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion may restrict communicants to receive Communion only in their hands, not on the tongue.
Response: Certainly it is clear from the very documents of the Holy See that in dioceses where the Eucharistic bread is put in the hands of the faithful, the right to receive the Eucharistic bread on the tongue still remains intact to the faithful. Therefore, those who restrict communicants to receive Holy Communion only on in the hands are acting against the norms, as are those who refuse to Christ’s faithful [the right] to receive Communion in the hand in dioceses that enjoy this indult.
General Instruction of the Roman Missal. Issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, November 12, 2002; U.S. edition 2011, n. 161:
If Communion is given only under the species of bread, the Priest raises the host slightly and shows it to each, saying, The Body of Christ. The communicant replies, Amen, and receives the Sacrament either on the tongue or, where this is allowed, in the hand, the choice lying with the communicant.
Redemptionis Sacramentum — Instruction on Certain Matters to Be Observed or to Be Avoided Regarding the Most Holy Eucharist, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, March 25, 2004, art. 92:
Although each of the faithful always has the right to receive Holy Communion on the tongue, at his choice, if any communicant should wish to receive the Sacrament in the hand, in areas where the Bishops’ Conference with the recognition of the Apostolic See has given permission, the sacred host is to be administered to him or her.
For more information please visit this website:
Dan Lynch Apostolates promoting devotion to
Our Lady of Guadalupe, Jesus King of All Nations,
Our Lady of America and Saint John Paul II “
These men are all heroes of the faith as we enter into this unprecedented period, but make no mistake: they are not the only heroes. They are the first fruits of what will become a bountiful harvest of heroes in God’s service.