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The Quarantine’s Three Lessons About the Church

Let’s use this time of deprivation and abstention to awaken a deeper love for the Church in its Eucharistic, symbiotic, and incarnational distinctiveness.

(Image: pixabay.com)

One silver lining for me during this weird coronavirus shutdown has been the opportunity to return to some writing projects that I had left on the back-burner. One of these is a book on the Nicene Creed, which I had commenced many months ago and on which I was making only very slow progress, given my various pastoral and administrative responsibilities. The last several weeks, I have been working in a rather concentrated way on the Creed book, and I find myself currently in the midst of the section on the Church: “I believe in one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church.” I will confess that the peculiar way that we have been forced to express the life of the Church during this quarantine period has influenced my ecclesiological reflection.

A first insight is this: we are an intensely, inescapably Eucharistic church. One of the most difficult moments that I’ve had as a bishop was participating in the decision to close our churches and to shut down the celebration of Mass with a community. Mind you, it was the right decision. I emphatically disagree with those who argue that the bishops caved in to the pressure of the secular state in making this determination. That’s nonsense. There are some very real tensions between Church and state and sometimes we have to make a stand—a good example being our vigorous opposition here in California to the legislature’s attempt to violate the seal of confession. But this is not one of those cases. Instead, we bishops agreed with the secular authorities that the churches should be closed, precisely for the well-being of our people. Having said that, the suspension of public Mass has been painful for everyone—and the principal reason for that pain is the forced fasting from the Eucharist.

Sensing this, innumerable priests and bishops all over the country—indeed, around the world—commenced to live-stream or film the liturgy, broadcasting it over Facebook, YouTube, or on television. The reaction to these representations of the Mass has been overwhelming. To give just one example, at Word on Fire, we started filming daily Mass on St. Patrick’s Day, and we’ve continued to the present, acquiring in the process well over five million views from over two hundred countries. Some priests have, furthermore, processed through the quiet streets with the Blessed Sacrament, while Catholics look on from their homes; others have placed the monstrance with the consecrated host in the windows of their residences and rectories so that people can venerate the Sacrament as they walk or drive by. And wasn’t the whole Catholic world fascinated by Pope Francis, standing in the rain and facing an empty St. Peter’s Square, as he blessed us, via television and social media, with the Eucharist?

To be sure, none of these mitigated encounters with the Eucharistic Lord is a substitute for the real thing—and that’s the point. The abstention from the Eucharist—which began, fittingly enough, during Lent—has awakened a profound hunger for what Vatican II called “the source and summit of the Christian life.” Perhaps too many Catholics had grown indifferent to the Blessed Sacrament, even, as a recent Pew Forum study indicated, ignorant of its deepest significance; and perhaps this forced starvation will have a salutary effect.

A second ecclesiological insight is this: priests are in an intensely symbiotic relationship with their people. Everyone knows that priests have been passing through a difficult period, practically without precedent in the history of the Church. The scandals of the past twenty-five years, culminating in the McCarrick outrage, have soured many against priests and have made priests extremely vulnerable to the charge of clericalism. Without denying for a moment that these reactions and impressions are, to a degree, legitimate, I want to insist once again that the vast, vast majority of priests are decent, prayerful men, who want nothing more than to bring Christ to their people. And this coronavirus quarantine has powerfully confirmed this for me. During the course of the shutdown, I have personally reached out by phone or by Skype or Zoom to all the priests of my region. Like everybody else, they’re a little antsy and bored, and their routines have been interrupted. But time and again, they tell me that their greatest frustration is not being able to have steady contact with their people. Priests indeed bring Christ to their parishioners through preaching, presence, and sacrament, but the people also give life to the priests, sustaining them with prayer and friendship. Keeping the people away from their priests is just bad for both people and priests, for they are, in the Mystical Body, ordered toward one another.

A third and final insight is that the Church is stubbornly incarnational. At the heart of the Catholic sensibility is the conviction that God became flesh in Jesus Christ. And Catholicism teaches that the presence of the risen Jesus is made known through words to be sure, but also through physical signs—water, oil, bread, wine, etc.—delivered by human hands and accompanied by bodily gestures. At the liturgy, we are meant to come together in close proximity so that we can pray in unison, sing in unison, process together, embrace one another, gesture in harmony with each other. In all of this, the incarnational quality of the Church becomes concretely expressed. And this is what has made the last six weeks so particularly difficult for Catholics. Our faith is not primarily an internal business, something negotiated between the individual and the invisible Lord. Rather, it shows up physically and publicly, through bodies. Once again, I would hope that our fasting from togetherness will heighten our appreciation for this incarnational density of our faith.

So Catholics, don’t get discouraged. Rather, use this time of deprivation and abstention to awaken a deeper love for the Church in its Eucharistic, symbiotic, and incarnational distinctiveness.


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About Bishop Robert Barron 184 Articles
Bishop Robert Barron is an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries. He is the creator of the award winning documentary series, "Catholicism" and "Catholicism:The New Evangelization." Learn more at www.WordonFire.org.

25 Comments

  1. On “the second ecclesiological insight,” my sense is that the “scandals of the past 25 years, culminating in the McCarrick outrage” have INSTEAD soured many Catholics against Bishops (not priests).

    Bishops are to blame for covering up sex abuse and transferring abusers around, including even now covering up for and transferring around their former leader “ex-Eminence” McCarrick, which the Bishop of Rome et al continue to do with McCarrick himself, to continue the coverup, until McCarrick dies, and all of his enablers among the Bishops, including the current Bishop of Rome, are preserved from having their own grave negligence and injustices exposed.

    This observation is not a rejection of authority of Bishops, including the current Bishop of Rome. It is simply putting the blame for creating and maintaining the cult of secrecy, sex abuse and financial fraud where it belongs: WITH BISHOPS (who, like their former leader McCarrick, keep trying to blame the scandals on the priests). I hope that pushing the blame onto priests is unintentional in the case of Bishop Barron.

  2. Hi Bishop Barron,
    I am from Singapore. I am glad you have voiced the thoughts of many priests. We are fortunate to have a far-sighted archbishop. You should listen to his explanation for closing our churches in Singapore. It is a good reflection.
    I have tried as much as possible to catch the Mass on Word of Fire and I like the homilies of Fr Grunow. I was curious and yesterday googled on Joe Gloor. In Singapore, in my youth, only gangsters are tattooed so that their gang members can identify them. Hence no ‘decent’ people would have tattoos on them and they can’t work in government offices.
    I try to follow your talks on YouTube. I am a 77-year old retiree and have to be careful about my expenditure. Thank you for making your videos available free.

    May God bless you always with wisdom and courage,

    Agnes Gabriel

  3. I had some difficulty in agreeing with the article written by Bishop Barron in some parts. Something that most would not consider very important is the lack of reference to the Mass as the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. I think that is important. In any case, there are to me some conflicting thoughts. One, a willful decision vs. being forced. On the one hand, “Mind you, it was the right decision. I emphatically disagree with those who argue that the bishops caved in to the pressure of the secular state in making this determination.” and “Instead, we bishops agreed with the secular authorities that the churches should be closed, precisely for the well-being of our people.” and the statement, “…and the principal reason for that pain is the forced fasting from the Eucharist.” You made a decision, to close the churches for the “well-being” of the Mystical Body of Christ. Perhaps on the broader scale with respect to the laity who perhaps were willing to “take the risk” for their spiritual well-being, they were forced, you were not forced, you made the free-will decision to close off everything in a way it has never been done in the history of the Church. There exists an almost world-wide spiritual “starvation” for the sake of physical well-being. This highlights an emphasis. Also, given the recent censorship of doctors in your neck of the vines or concrete jungle, could you please tell me exactly the risks of this virus? What is the mortality rate or the recovery rate, for example? Doctors who have been censored say there is a 0.03 chance of dying from COVID 19 in California. What is the complete picture of the data? Please include all the asymptomatics also. What model did you use for predictive purposes, and is this model an accurate predictor of what is happening? Are we going to set a precedence in closing churches for the flu which is so dangerous to the lives of the elderly as the elderly are most affected by COVID 19?
    Later the “greatest frustration”, hmmm, is said to be loss of contact between people and priest. Later, “Keeping the people away from their priests is just bad for both people and priests, for they are, in the Mystical Body, ordered toward one another.” I think that needs to be qualified. I am not ordered to my priest nor is the priest ordered to me. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is not ordered to me but toward the proper worship and adoration of God. Through the priest, to whom we are “in debt”, we have this wonderful gift by which we can offer the only proper and fitting worship to God though the re-presentation of The Holy Sacrifice. The Mass is not ordered to me in worship but as representative of the people the priest offers it to the Father and in which I can participate, if not forced otherwise. Nor does it seem that the sacraments are primarily “ordered” to me but truthfully seem to “reorder” me to God. We are seeing that all this can be bypassed for months with a mere desire. Desires over the sacraments, emotional appeal over the outward signs of which you speak so highly.
    The last contentious issue which causes many a blood to boil from the bishops. “Our faith is not primarily an internal business, something negotiated between the individual and the invisible Lord. Rather, it shows up physically and publicly, through bodies.” No, I do not think we can even give the ‘faith’ the title of an “internal” business, but seems more like an external business not even ordered to the invisible Lord. Why is money collected for CHD and CRS and noses have been turned up from proof that has been presented of its immoral usage? This is not about the mission of the Church but of an “humanitarian” external business. How can money from the people go to purchase expensive property in London? What message is being sent when those who are chosen for offices in the Church are those also who are publicly opposed to some teaching of The Mystical Body of Christ with Christ as Head? Really, these individuals are not ordered to God, yet they could be classified under your consideration as priests ordered to the people and the people ordered to the priest because they support the same heretical views. Sorry, I just do not share the views which are presented. Despite what others might say, I am positive because the Church is glorious because in the Mystical Body of Christ She is vivified by the Holy Spirit of truth and those truly members of Her are also vivified by the same Holy Spirit. Those who do not share Her teaching do not share in the Mystical Body of Christ with the unchanging and absolute Truth as Head of the Church.

      • Tucker Carlson has this report:

        https://www.foxnews.com/opinion/tucker-carlson-big-tech-is-using-coronavirus-to-increase-its-power-and-the-us-is-becoming-more-like-china
        .
        Two ER (?) doctors, Dan Erickson and Artin Massih, from Bakerfield, CA, gave a 70 minute interview to a local ABC station about their interpretation of events. This was posted on Youtube and racked up over 5 million views before it was taken down by Youtube. The doctors’ local public health department and two national physician groups condemned their optimism and interpretation of available data.
        .
        A lot of what they say, however, squares with what I have read and seen in other media.
        .
        If you search Youtube, you might be able to find people reposted it. It was a very good interview.
        .

        • Thank you Kathryn for that info. One of my children sent me that too.
          I think while the general theory that there’s much more infection out there than we know about is probably correct, the way they came up with their numbers doesn’t appear to be.

          There’s so much we still don’t know & so many folks on every side trying to use this to further a political narrative that it’s become pretty murky.

          I live in an area that has been badly hit by the virus. We have high rates of poverty & chronic illness. It’s not just the very elderly who are dying here.
          My son’s coworker caught it from his mother and died at 39 leaving behind a wife & children. My son in law’s high school classmate died from Covid at 41 & left behind 6 children. A local 30 yr old mom was on a ventilator but survived.

          I don’t think the same quarantine orders are necessarily appropriate for every diocese, but I’m grateful for the precautions our bishop has taken so far. It may be time though to begin the next phase.

          • I am in the opposite situation–relatively small, mostly well-off community. Yes, we had one or two deaths–people with pre-existing conditions. The paper choose to highlight a co-ed who was sick for a week and had to spend Easter in the (most likely fully furnished) basement of her parents’ house. Uh, yeah…let me tell you about my Christmas of 2014!!
            .
            The hospitals sit half empty, medical staff laid off. One hospital down near the hot zone even completely closed because non-essential medical services are forbidden, and even in the hot zone, there are not enough patients to fill the beds. It is not known if that closed hospital will re-open. Another rural hospital is begging to be allowed to do non-essential things like hip replacements. If not soon, they will declare bankruptcy, and that area will have no hospital. Cardiac patients, stroke victims, etc, will be forced to drive an hour a way in an emergency.
            .
            As far as I know, none of the Roman Rite dioceses in our State allow drive-in Mass or drive-thru confession. Our Byzantine Rite Bishop has forbidden those things.

    • Excellent, Don! Very important points made. And with a “vivifying” ending! Yes, the true Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, is glorious!

    • Don in Wisconsin, Read Bishop Barron’s article AGAIN and THINK! You, Sir, are missing the entire point! If some people elect to “take the chance” what does that make everyone else? If one of those that elected to “take the chance” and GETS the virus what position does that put the Church in? Open your eyes, Man! We are ONE, HOLY, CATHOLIC and APOSTOLIC! Decisions have to be made for the good of the Church as well as for the good of the people!

      • Covid19 was not the first nasty bug. It won’t be the last.
        .
        Maybe we should all just stay home and do virtual Mass/spiritual Communion as a new permanent discipline. And confess our sins directly to God via Perfect Contrition.
        .
        Sts Peter and Paul are undoubtedly doing some real epic face-palms right now.
        .

        .

      • “If one of those that elected to “take the chance” and GETS the virus what position does that put the Church in?” Only one!!!??? Is this what it has come down to? Close the Churches worldwide because “one” got the virus in going to Church. I did read Bishop Barron’s article and the only thing you seem to think about as the overwhelming force of the argument is that the bishops collectively made a decision based on the “good” of the people. That is it!! Therefore, because they made a decision based upon the “good” of the people they are justified in doing whatever they want. Sorry. People have a right to the sacraments and shutting down a church in the remotest part of the world for fear of dying is an exaggeration. Why did the decision have to be a sweeping conclusion for all the churches to shut down? Cannot New York and areas be considered different than the eskimo Catholics in Alaska? Not sure what they are doing in Alaska. Is the lockdown really effective? All eyes are on Sweden. I remember being quarantined for the red or German measles or chicken pox when I was young. I, the sick one was confined and quarantined to the house. They didn’t tell my neighbors who were healthy to stay in their homes. Again what is the purpose of the lockdown. They keep on talking about “flattening the curve.” What does that mean? Does that really mean that it will reduce the number who will be affected? I don’t think so. I think it is so that the hospitals do not receive the influx of sick such that they are over capacity. The same number of people will get it even when they come out of lockdown and go about once again. Now we have to wait for the proverbial “second-wave”. Are we going to do this all over again. Do you remember when some of the vaccines came out for previous viruses, that they caused damage too. Should we not have vaccines because they are dangerous? You wish to impose lockdown on the entire world because what is a very low percentage dying from this virus. That is not fair. We should treat different areas in different ways instead of perhaps the city folk being jealous that they are in lockdown but low populated cities might not be. No, this would be profiling, a “dirty” word. Why can’t we. treat this more rationally?!

        • You’re drifting off point again. Here’s a look from a different angle: presume for the moment that the mortality rate is very low compared to the global 6.7% generally agreed upon. Even if it’s less than 1%, I don’t want to be one of the dead ones regardless of the statistics. Science, trying as hard as it can, has no answer. Not yet, and probably not for a long time. Meanwhile, I prefer to be among the suffering living than the soon forgotten dead.

  4. GOD BLESS AMERICA

    God bless America, land that I love
    Stand beside her and guide her
    Through the night with the light from above
    ▪▪▪▪▪▪▪▪▪▪▪▪▪▪▪▪▪▪▪▪▪▪▪▪▪▪▪▪▪▪▪▪▪▪▪▪▪▪▪▪▪▪▪▪▪▪▪▪▪▪▪▪▪
    Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One,
    have mercy on us and on the whole world.
    Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One,
    have mercy on us and on the whole world.
    Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One,
    have mercy on us and on the whole world.

  5. I’m sorry Bishop Barron, but the bishops should have been out in front of this pandemic. They should have stood with government leaders, doctors, and scientists and proclaimed that the Church is essential in fighting this disease through her prayer and worship. There was no reason to close churches and deprive Catholics of the Mass. There were ways we could have continued celebrating with small numbers and social distancing. Instead we ran and hid from the virus. We sent a message that we do not believe in the spiritual power of the Mass and prayer in bringing healing and spiritual strength to those in crisis. And because of this cowardice, priests cannot serve the sick in hospitals, and in some diocese, not even serve the sick in their homes; this run and hide action sent a message to societal leaders that if the bishops did not believe the Church and sacraments were essential why should they. The damage done to the faithful, especially the young, in seeing the Church retreat and bishops arbitrarily decide when we will worship and who receives sacraments is incalculable. I never thought I would see the day when our bishops would make the Church subservient to the state in the USA and allow the state to dictate how and when we can worship – but here we are. Lord have mercy on us.

    • Thank you, Father John, and I totally agree. There is nothing in Canon Law that supports locking the faithful out of their churches, except under grave circumstance – which we are not under. NO ONE has died because they visited a nearly empty chapel or main church to visit Our Lord. In my Archdiocese the churches are unlocked, and perhaps six or seven faithful come and go at any one time during the day to worship in the Presence of Our Lord. I am very grateful to our Archbishop for keeping our doors unlocked!

      If your churches have been locked by your bishop – OBJECT! Call Bishop Barron or your own bishop, and let him know that he cannot licitly lock the churches!

    • Fr. John,
      I’d certainly agree that there’s been some overreach during this epidemic but I think the bishops had a valid reason to temporarily close churches & suspend public worship within them. How long that should go on & how it should be applied in differing dioceses is another consideration.
      We originally were given projections of one to two million deaths. I think the bishops were doing the best they could at the time trying to protect our lives.
      At this point the powers that be are relooking at the situation & unless another wave of infection returns, which has been predicted by some infectious disease experts, we can hope to return to some sort of normalcy. At least for those not in the most vulnerable groups.
      Back during the Spanish Flu churches were closed too. It’s not the first time this has happened. And at least in our area we have never stopped being able to receive Confession. That is offered 5 days a week in our church parking lot. We also have a couple priests trained to give anointing.
      You be safe & God bless!

    • So true I’ve lost all respect for them teamed up with Masonic government they left the starving and abandoned us despicable

  6. A fourth lesson that should have been mentioned – time alone, away from the faith community, spent in prayer and reading God’s Word, is critically important for spiritual formation. Our time alone with Christ and the Holy Spirit is discipleship.

  7. Kathryn ,
    We haven’t been able to have drive in Masses either which is hard for me to understand, but thankfully our priest is still hearing Confessions outside in the parking lot. Drive thru or walk through. Father’s set up an outside collection basket also.

    I wish our hospitals were short of patients. It’s still a bit scary here but I believe we’ve seen the worst of it. Unless, God forbid, the virus spread rebounds when the weather gets drier in the fall.

    An item in the news today said that 83% of GA virus hospitalizations in a CDC study were among black folks. In the UK, Black or Asian people were 3.5 times more likely to die. British in the lowest income areas of England & Wales were twice as likely to die from Covid as those from upper income communities.
    It seems like it’s taking a toll on younger people in areas with higher poverty. We’ve seen that here.

    You have a blessed day & be safe!

  8. “One silver lining for me during this weird coronavirus shutdown has been the opportunity to return to some writing projects that I had left on the back-burner.”

    Yeah, good for you, padre. Hope that book makes up for the faithful who died without confession, viaticum, and christian burial in the meantime. Yeah, that did happen, but hey, It’s all good folks, we can read this book to make up for it.

    It would have been nice if, instead of writing your little book, you would have kept the churches open. A little civil disobedience goes a long way. Remember, people will always remember what you did, but they will also remember what you failed to do. With shepherds like these, who needs wolves anymore?

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