All public Masses are suspended until further notice.
This authoritative mandate from our bishop has come to many of us as a surprise. In our diocese, this is the second Sunday that the faithful have been deprived the privilege of attending Mass and receiving Christ in the Holy Eucharist. Frequent reception of the sacraments, to which we have grown accustomed, has suddenly been taken away. Many faithful Catholics feel, perhaps, like they have been abandoned by the Church. Due to the mandatory quarantines beginning to take effect due to the virus, people are filled with feelings of uncertainty. With the sudden scarcity of the Sacraments and the cessation of all pubic Masses, this is undoubtably a troubling time. It is assured that the rest of Lent will be a time of hardship and suffering, but there is hope. This virus and the spiritual deprivation we are now facing is certainly a trial, but it is not arbitrary. It is happening for a reason.
Catholics have had various natural reactions in response to the curtailing of all public Masses, including frustration, sadness, and feelings of abandonment. This is understandable. The widespread termination of public Mass is beyond what any of us have ever experienced, and it is unprecedented in history. It may seem like we are being abandoned. We might think that our bishops are succumbing to the pressures and fears of the world, leaving us alone and vulnerable.
But what is really going on here? Everything in this life happens for a purpose, according to God’s divine plan. This “China Virus” appears to be more than just a worldwide pandemic. As a priest said recently, “What is happening to the Church and the world under this spreading of the China Virus is looking a lot like a heaven-imposed interdict… a Divine Interdict” (“The Divine Interdict”). The idea of a Divine Interdict is an worthwhile perspective and may help to clarify things. Viewing the crisis in this light may help to show us how we should respond. First, we might ask, What is an interdict?
The Modern Catholic Dictionary defines an interdict in this way:
“INTERDICT. A censure forbidding the faithful, while still remaining in communion with the Church, the use of certain sacred privileges, such as Christian burial, some of the sacraments, and attendance at liturgical services. It does not exclude from Church membership, nor does it necessarily imply a personal fault of any individual affected by the interdict. When imposed for a fixed period, it is a vindictive penalty because of some grave act done against the common good of the Church by one or more parishes…” (Hardon, 1980).
This definition fits what is happening right now: the cancelation of all public Masses and the revocation of the lay privilege to receive Holy Communion. What is the purpose of this interdict? It may be a test of faith— a test of obedience. The same priest continues, “Instead of the interdict being inflicted by the Holy See or some ordinary, it is being sent from the Holiest See… from Heaven itself” (“The Divine Interdict”). Perhaps, this interdict is from God himself, sent to us for our sanctification.
How, then, should we respond? What should our attitude be towards this epidemic? Rather than fighting back, we should humbly accept this sacrifice, offering it up for the innumerable offences against Christ’s most Sacred Heart. Rather than expressing indignation or blaming God for revoking these privileges, we must bear this trial well. Our Lord is calling us to respond to this purgation with patience and submission. As this holy priest puts it:
“We are being tested. Will we obey. Many are failing, thinking they can save the Church or they will do what the weak kneed-leaders will not do. Many are not respecting authority … But surely there is much more to this than just a test of faith. Think of all the sacrileges that have ceased or have been greatly curtailed… Maybe heaven is saying enough. …Interdicts are given to help clarify things, push people to convert, and put an end to various evils.”“The Divine Interdict”
Perhaps this virus is actually a great mercy. There are many good things coming from it, if we are disposed to see it. He adds, “Think how many abortions are not being performed right now… Families are forced to spend time together… the entertainment and sports industry are being sidelined… In a word, many good things are flowing out of this” (“The Divine Interdict”). God is undoubtably working here, and our part may be to accept this sacrifice for His greater glory. If we receive this cross obediently and faithfully, an abundance of grace will surely be granted us. By uniting spiritually to the private Masses that are being offered by our priests, we can offer up our own suffering for the Church and our nation, both of which are in dire need of our prayers. Interdicts are difficult things to bear, but they are effective. Thus, it is even more appropriate that this is happening during Lent, and it is good, he says, to keep in mind that “the Lent we get is better for us than the Lent we choose” (“The Divine Interdict”).
We should use this time to pray and to offer our sufferings in reparation for the many offenses committed against His Majesty and for the conversion of souls. By embracing this trial with a spirit of humility and obedience, we can cooperate with God and allow much good to come from this affliction. If we do our part well, God will surely do His. When we are finally granted the privilege once again to receive Christ in Holy Communion, what a beautiful day it will be. Perhaps we are being shown how precious a gift the Holy Mass and the frequent reception of the sacraments really are. Often, you do not fully realize what a treasure you have until it is taken away. Let us accept this God-given interdict and suffer it well, awaiting with expectation the day that we may receive Christ in the Most Holy Eucharist once again.
Below is an excellent sermon, from which I have taken numerous excerpts for this article. The priest wishes to remain anonymous. I highly recommend it.
“The Divine Interdict”, March 20, 2020.
– Saint Joseph, spouse of the Blessed Mother and patron of the universal Church, pray for us.
“The Divine Interdict”, Homily. Regena Prophetarum, March 20, 2020. http://reginaprophetarum.org/audio/20200319-the-Divine-Interdict.mp3.mp3
Hardon, John. Modern Catholic Dictionary. 1980. Reprint, Eternal Life Publications, 1999.