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A burning question. Sanity wholely for the Masses.

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Christ is risen! Truly He is risen!
Khrystos voskres! Vo’instinu voskres!
Christus resurrexit! Vere surrexit!
Xristos anesti! Alethios anesti!

Until we can complete a short treatise in questions & answers about the nearly universal cancellation of the sacred Liturgy (foremost holy Mass) by the world’s bishops during the panic over the coronavirus pandemic, Directors of the NCCL apostolate present the following points of argument for consideration.

Except in cases of excommunication, interdict or similar censure, does a bishop possess the authority to forbid – as many throughout the world of late have – lay faithful from actual participation (viz., to be really present) in a liturgical act of latria, regardless whether the Liturgy prayed is scheduled or not by the bishop, or whether it is declared sine populo, “without the people”, or “private”, “not public” or “publicly cancelled”?

Directors of the NCCL apostolate believe that they cannot do so, without themselves sinning and leading others to sin.

Note, we do not say a bishop may rightly force (coerce) faithful to participate when it risks life or limb, or when there is other sufficient reason for the lay faithful not to participate.

Rather, what we mean is that a bishop’s authority over celebration of the sacred Liturgy, though supreme by ecclesial law in his own orbit – and this applies even to the Bishop of Rome, whose jurisdiction over all the earth is supreme and full/plentiful – is nonetheless subordinated to and thus limited by the law of the Gospel.

That law is condensed, for instance, in Our Lord Christ’s words to the Samaritan Woman at St. Jacob’s well:

But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true adorers shall adore the Father in spirit and in truth. For the Father also seeketh such to adore him. God is a spirit; and they that adore him, must adore him in spirit and in truth.” Jn. iv:23-24

Sed venit hora, et nunc est, quando veri adoratores adorabunt Patrem in spiritu et veritate. Nam et Pater tales quaerit, qui adorent eum. Spiritus est Deus : et eos qui adorant eum, in spiritu et veritate oportet adorare.

Certainly, not all prayer in spirit and in truth is liturgical prayer. But all liturgical prayer is prayed in spirit and in truth, since it is holy Church at prayer: her members united by the work of the Holy Ghost in the Body of Christ, who offers Himself to The Father as the perfect Sacrifice of praise, for the remission of sins. So long as faithful must adore God in spirit and in truth liturgically, how can a bishop forbid it, except by punishment?

So long as the celebrant and participating faithful (e.g., a lone server or a church-full of faithful) have not incurred a censure prohibiting them from celebration of the sacred Liturgy [regardless whether celebrated “privately” or “publicly” – cf. endnote 1, below] the bishop may not indiscriminately forbid faithful from actually participating in the celebration of the sacred Mysteries; that is, in public adoration of The Holy Trinity – even when that public adoration might be unannounced or unscheduled.

Watching any part of the Liturgy, e.g., the Mass, online in “live-stream” is to be as a spectator, not a participant in the sacred Liturgy – among whom were the Priest-John, The Pure-Mary, and the Penitent-Magdalen. To watch but not to be present is to be instead as one of the “spectators” at Golgotha, but not to be as one of the members of the Church on earth who participated at the original Sacrifice, by the work of the Holy Ghost, in the prayer of Christ offering Himself on the Cross to The Father. [Confer endnote 2, below.]

And the people stood beholding, and the rulers with them derided him, saying: He saved others; let him save himself, if he be Christ, the elect of God.” Lk. xxiii, 35

Et stabat populus spectans, et deridebant eum principes cum eis, dicentes : Alios salvos fecit, se salvum faciat, si hic est Christus Dei electus.

Now there stood by the cross of Jesus, his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalen. When Jesus therefore had seen his mother and the disciple standing whom he loved, he saith to his mother: Woman, behold thy son. After that, he saith to the disciple: Behold thy mother. And from that hour, the disciple took her to his own. Afterwards, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, said: I thirst.” Jn. xix, 25-28

Stabant autem juxta crucem Jesu mater ejus, et soror matris ejus, Maria Cleophae, et Maria Magdalene. Cum vidisset ergo Jesus matrem, et discipulum stantem, quem diligebat, dicit matri suae : Mulier, ecce filius tuus. Deinde dicit discipulo : Ecce mater tua. Et ex illa hora accepit eam discipulus in sua. Postea sciens Jesus quia omnia consummata sunt, ut consummaretur Scriptura, dixit : Sitio.

Notice, we do not speak in this post only of the part of the sacred Liturgy called “holy Mass” Nor, do we speak of reception of the holy Eucharist, or any presumed right to receive Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament – or of any “right” whatsoever to pray. It is rather a demand – a commandment of God Himself – to which we refer and from which no earthly or heavenly power, besides God Himself, can dispense.

We also do not say that the bishops lack the authority to dispense the faithful from penalty when they do not fulfill the Lord’s commandment to keep the Sabbath holy by praying the sacred Liturgy. Indeed, the local Ordinary (usually the bishop) has that authority.

We are saying rather, that he has not the authority to forbid participation in the Liturgical rites except for due cause – which does not include a pandemic or any other calamity during which actual participation is not objectively impossible.

Under the current circumstances, the local Ordinary certainly has the authority, even an obligation, to warn the faithful of the risk to life and limb when participating actually in the Liturgical prayers, e.g., at holy Mass. He certainly has the responsibility to counsel them to stay away for any reasonable cause or for legitimate fear of infection – even if the fear is irrational, but widespread. Still more: the bishop certainly could do well emphatically to teach the faithful not to participate actually (in-person) in any case of perceived risk or of fear.

But to forbid lay or clerical faithful altogether from adoring The Holy Trinity with the rest of the Church on earth in spirit and in truth in the Liturgy?


We ought to obey God, rather than men.” Acts v, 29



1. In the Catholic Church there is no such thing as a “private” Liturgy, including the Mass. That is because every time when a priest worthily offers the Eucharistic Sacrifice or some other part of the daily Liturgy, the Church is present in the persons of the priest-celebrant, the saints in heaven, and of course because Jesus Christ is present as both Priest and Victim. Also, the Liturgy is by its very essence and thus by definition the public Service of the Church to God. Note, the argument of this blog-post is not to say the lay faithful on earth must be present; but, rather, that their presence may not be forbidden except as punishment. Moreover, no bishop has declared the current pandemic a punishment that prohibits the faithful from actual participation.

2. This is not to say that all they who were standing far off were not present and participating in the Sacrifice of praise at Golgotha, or that they were mere spectators because at a distance, like those watching television or like those who, at Calvary, were jeering at Christ. Nor is it a comparison of those who watch live-streaming Masses to those who jeered at Christ. The point is, even if far off, they were standing there, near or at the Cross: they were present and praying with Christ. Cf. Mt. xv, 55-56, were it reads:

And there were there many women afar off, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto him: Among whom was Mary Magdalen, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.

Erant autem ibi mulieres multae a longe, quae secutae erant Jesum a Galilaea, ministrantes ei: inter quas erat Maria Magdalene, et Maria Jacobi, et Joseph mater, et mater filiorum Zebedaei.

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