Thursday, March 19, 2020

Coronavirus, Mass, and Catholic Life

by Steve Ray on March 19, 2020

Coronavirus, Mass, and Catholic Life  by Jimmy Akin

First, here is my 15-minute show with John Harper on Relevant Radio discussing how the shutdown is affecting families and what we can do. My segment begins at the 30:00 minute mark.

Now to Jimmy Akin’s excellent article:

The coronavirus/Covid-19 pandemic has produced many questions and controversies, including how it is impacting people’s ability to attend Mass and receive the sacraments.

How dangerous is the virus? What should be our response as Catholics?

Here are eight things to know and share.

1) How dangerous is the coronavirus?
Nobody knows for sure. The virus only emerged a few months ago, so doctors are only now getting experience with it.

Some have compared Covid-19 to the flu, which is a well-understood and predictable disease.

It appears that Covid-19 is much more infectious than the flu. A person with the flu will infect an average of 1.3 other people, but a person with Covid-19 will infect an average of between 2 and 3.11 additional people. Covid-19 thus has the chance to spread much more rapidly.

Covid-19 is also much deadlier than the flu. In the United States, the death rate for the flu is usually around 0.1%. The death rate for Covid-19 is not yet well understood, but it appears to be between 1.4% and 2.3%—making it between 14 and 23 times more deadly than the flu.

While it is true that—at present—more people are killed by the flu than by Covid-19, governments and health authorities are working to keep the latter from becoming as common as the flu.

There are around 27 million cases of flu each year in the U.S., resulting in around 36,000 deaths. If COVID became as common as the flu (and, remember, it’s actually more infectious than the flu), there would be around 500,000 deaths.

This is what authorities are trying to prevent. Current Center for Disease Control guidelines for how to protect yourself are online here. 

2) Is everyone equally at risk?
No. Covid-19 hits certain people much harder than others. People younger than 60 are much less likely to die because of the disease, though they can still catch and spread it.

They may even have it but not feel sick and yet spread it to others. In fact, a recent study suggests that more than 80% of current cases were spread by people who did not know they had the virus.

People older than 60 are much more likely to die, and the risk increases with each decade of age.

People with other underlying conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease also have increased risk of dying. Current Center for Disease Control guidelines for how to protect yourself are online here.

3) Why are bishops cancelling Masses and dispensing people from their Sunday obligations? Aren’t Christians called to be martyrs?
Christians are called to be martyrs when we are forced into the situation. If we are directly asked if we are followers of Christ, we cannot disown our faith. “If we deny him, he also will deny us” (2 Tim. 2:12).

However, this doesn’t mean we are called to rush into martyrdom. In fact, Jesus said that we can flee persecution for our faith: “When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next” (Matt. 10:23).

The requirement to witness to our faith thus does not mean Christians can’t take reasonable steps to protect themselves from physical danger.

If it is morally permissible to leave town to avoid one physical danger (being killed by people who hate our faith), so is staying home from Mass for a few weeks to avoid another physical danger (being killed by a plague).

4) Are bishops being too quick to cancel Mass?
The Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life” (Lumen Gentium 11), so no bishop will take the decision to suspend Masses lightly.

The decision involves a prudential judgment call, so there is no single answer that obviously applies in all situations. This means the faithful should pray for the bishops as they wrestle with this issue and show respect for the difficult decisions they are having to make.

They also should bear in mind that:

  • The conditions in some areas are much worse than others.
  • In some places, bishops may not have much of a choice, as public authorities have prohibited public gatherings over a certain size.
  • Epidemics grow exponentially, so the only way to stop them is to take early action—before the situation becomes severe. If you wait until an epidemic has gotten really bad in an area, it is too late.

5) When are people allowed to stay home from Mass?
People are allowed to stay home from Mass in three situations:

  • When one has a legitimate excuse (e.g., because a person is at elevated risk of acquiring Covid-19)
  • When one is dispensed by the competent authority (e.g., the pastor or bishop)
  • When it is impossible to go (e.g., because Masses have been cancelled)

6) On what basis can pastors and bishops dispense a person?
The Code of Canon Law provides that the pastor of a parish can give a dispensation in individual cases, as can the superiors of religious institutes (can. 1245).

The bishop’s authority is greater. He can “dispense the faithful from universal and particular disciplinary laws issued for his territory” by the Vatican (can. 87 §1). This is the category of laws that the Sunday obligation belongs to.

7) What should we do if staying home from Mass?
One is not legally obligated to do anything on these days. However, the Church strongly recommends that the faithful undertake another form of spiritual activity:

If participation in the eucharistic celebration becomes impossible because of the absence of a sacred minister or for another grave cause, it is strongly recommended that the faithful take part in a liturgy of the word if such a liturgy is celebrated in a parish church or other sacred place according to the prescripts of the diocesan bishop or that they devote themselves to prayer for a suitable time alone, as a family, or, as the occasion permits, in groups of families (can. 1248 §2).

Watching a Mass on television or the Internet also is a possibility, and some parishes and dioceses stream Masses on their web sites.

Participating in the Liturgy of the Hours is another possibility (can. 1174 §2), as are reading the Bible or spiritual works.

8) What should I do if I’m not sure whether I’m getting sick?
Err on the side of caution. With many diseases, people are most infectious just before they start feeling sick and just after they start having symptoms. Therefore, if you think you might be getting sick, you may be at the point where you have the greatest chance of infecting another person.

Even if you do not feel sick, you may be able to spread the virus to others, so it is important to follow safety practices even if you currently feel fine.

This applies especially if you have contact with older people or those with health conditions that put them at greater risk of dying from Covid-19.

Remember: We are not just protecting ourselves; we are protecting those around us.

If we don’t have the virus, we can’t give it to others. Even if we’re young and healthy, we’re protecting the more vulnerable. That is a physical work of mercy, and it’s an act of love for others. As Jesus taught us, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31).

FOR A MASSIVE LIST OF RESOURCES PROVIDED BY TERESA TOMEO, CLICK HERE.

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Response to a Southern Baptist

by Steve Ray on March 19, 2020

I received an e-mail from a Southern Baptist and decided to take a few minutes to respond. Thought others might be edifited by it so I have posted it here without using his name. His email is contained in regular text and MY RESPONSE IS IN CAPITAL LETTERS.

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HELLO FRIEND:

I WILL ANSWER BRIEFLY SINCE I GET OVER 100 EMAILS A DAY AND SOME ARE NOT ALWAYS HONEST — TRYING TO SET ME UP FOR AN ARGUMENT — BUG HOPEFULLY NOT YOUR E-MAIL. SO, I WILL TRUST YOU THAT YOUR ADMITTED INTEREST IS GENUINE AND I WILL ANSWER VERY BRIEFLY.

Dear Mr. Ray, I listened to a CD of yours,

WHICH ONE? I HAVE ABOUT 30.

but could not determine all of what you believe or find your Doctrinal Statement on the web.  What we believe is pretty important (I know you agree).  Do you have a Doctrinal Statement besides the Nicene Creed?

APOSTOLIC, NICENE, AND ATHANASIAN CREEDS. I USED TO SAY I HAD “NO CREED BUT THE BIBLE ALONE,” BUT EVEN PROTESTANTS CANNOT ACTUALLY DO THAT. THEY HAVE TO HAVE AN “EXTRA-BIBLICAL STATEMENT” TO ADD TO THE “BIBLE ALONE” TO EXPLAIN WHAT THEY BELIEVE BECAUSE THE BIBLE DOESN’T SEEM TO BE ADEQUATE. BUT FOR ME NOW — FOR THE WHOLE SHABANG — MY STATEMENT OF FAITH IS CONTAINED IN “THE CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH.”

Having been to 12 years of Catholic School, a faithful altar boy, a good catholic, and an x-president of the local CYO, I am not altogether unfamiliar with Catholicism (at least the Catholicism of the 1950s, 60s and 70s).

IF YOU WERE EDUCATED DURING THAT TIME FRAME, I HATE TO DISAPPOINT YOU BUT YOU ARE PROBABLY VERY UNFAMILIAR WITH CATHOLICISM. THAT WAS A VERY BAD PERIOD OF THE CHURCH — JUST LIKE IT WAS VERY BAD FOR US BAPTISTS RAISED DURING THAT TIME PERIOD.

I “got saved”, as Baptist like to say, at age 24 by reading the Bible (unheard of in my Catholic Church at that time).

MY GUESS, BASED ON GOOD EXPERIENCE, IS THAT YOU DIDN’T GET SAVED BY READING THE BIBLE ALONE BUT BY ACCEPTING A NEW AND NOVEL BAPTIST-ISH TRADITION AS COACHED BY SOME WELL-MEANING FUNDAMENTALIST — BASED ON THE BIBLE ALONE TRADITION WHICH IS VERY NEW ON THE RELIGIOUS SCENE AND NOT FOUND IN HISTORIC CHRISTIANITY.

So, from the Catholic perspective, since I have not attended Mass in 35 years, am I doomed to hell for un-confessed mortal sins?  Or, is it possible that I may be saved outside of the Catholic Church?  If so, how is that possible from a Catholic perspective?

THIS IS A VERY PREGNANT QUESTION. FIRST, ONLY GOD CAN READ THE HEART AND KNOW IF ONE IS “SAVED” OR NOT. SECOND, IT DEPENDS ON HOW KNOWLEDGEABLE OR IGNORANT ONE IS OF THE TRUTH DUE TO NO FAULT OF THEIR OWN. THIRD, IT DEPENDS ON IF ONE ACTUALLY HAS MORTAL SINS WHICH ARE ONLY MORTAL IF THE THREE QUALIFICATIONS FOR A MORTAL SIN HAVE BEEN MET.

FOURTH, THE CATHOLIC CHURCH TEACHES THAT ONE CAN BE OUTSIDE THE VISIBLE BOUNDS OF THE VISIBLE CATHOLIC CHURCH AND STILL BE SAVED, INCLUDING OTHER RELIGIONS OR NON-RELIGIONS (CCC 1260). IF YOU THINK THIS QUESTION YOU ASK IS  UNANSWERED BY THE CHURCH, IT SHOWS YOU DO NOT UNDERSTAND CATHOLICISM, SINCE THAT WAS CAREFULLY EXPOUNDED AT VATICAN II WHICH WAS AN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL OF THE CHURCH. AND FIFTH, I BELIEVE THAT MANY CATHOLICS WITHIN THE CHURCH WILL GO TO HELL FOR NOT OBEYING THE GOSPEL, NOT JUST THOSE OUTSIDE WHO HAVE REJECTED THE CHURCH EVEN THOUGH THEY KNEW WHAT THEY WERE DOING.

I am heavily involved with cold call (door to door) evangelism in my community – not from a Baptist viewpoint, but simply from a general concern for the lost.

I WAS VERY INVOLVED WITH DOOR TO DOOR EVANGELISM TOO, BUT I ALWAYS ADMITTED I HAD A BAPTIST-TYPE TRADITION.

I often talk with Catholics of all sorts.  I always tell them and others that I don’t care where they go to church, as long as they have a heavenly home when they die.  It would be nice to know what a leading Catholic author would say to me if he came to my Southern Baptist door evangelizing, and heard my story.  When you ask someone if they are going to heaven when they die – as I am sure you know – you get a whole lot of interesting information in the response.

I USED TO QUOTE 1 John 5:13 UNTIL I REALIZED IT HAD TAKEN COMPLETELY OUT OF CONTEXT BY MY BAPTIST TRADITION. I HAVE WRITTEN EXTENSIVELY ON THAT VERSE IN MY BOOK “CROSSING THE TIBER.” DO YOU HAVE THAT BOOK?

I DARE SAY YOU WILL ALSO GET A LOT OF INTERESTING ANSWERS IF YOU ASK BAPTISTS THAT QUESTION — OR METHODISTS, OR ASSEMBLIES OF GOD, OR PENTECOSTALS, OR LUTHERANS, OR JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES.

ALL IT PROVES IS THAT TOO MANY PEOPLE IN ALL THEIR VARIOUS TRADITIONS ARE POORLY CATECHIZED AND SADLY IGNORANT OF SCRIPTURE AND THE HISTORIC TEACHING OF THE CHURCH.

BY THE WAY, BAPTISTS DON’T “KNOW” IF THEY ARE GOING TO HEAVEN FOR SURE. THAT IS WHY SCRIPTURE CALLS IT “HOPE” AND WE KNOW THAT ONLY THOSE WHO PERSEVERE TO THE END WILL BE SAVED (Matt 10:22). EVEN BAPTISTS BELIEVE THAT IF ONE FAILS TO DISPLAY THE APPROPRIATE WORKS TOWARD THE END IT PROBABLY MEANS THAT “IT NEVER TOOK.” SO, EVEN A BAPTIST IS NOT SURE UNTIL THE END AND THE NECESSARY WORKS CONTINUE TO BE DONE.

My beliefs, if you knocked on my door – I just happen to attend a Southern Baptist church right now (it is kind of like a mission field for me) – about salvation are simple.  One is justified by faith in Jesus Christ as Savior – born again if you will.

I WOULD  BE CURIOUS TO KNOW HOW YOU WOULD EXPLAIN HOW ONE BECOMES “BORN AGAIN.” WHEN SOMEONE ASKS ME THAT I RESPOND BY SAYING, “YES, I AM BORN AGAIN, BUT I AM BORN AGAIN THE BIBLE WAY.” THIS OF COURSE IS BY “WATER AND SPIRIT” — WATER BAPTISM (Jn 3:3-5)

THE GOSPEL IS SIMPLE, THE THEN AGAIN IT IS NOT SIMPLE. FUNDAMENTALISTS TEND TO TALK ABOUT SALVATION WITH CONVENIENT “SOUND BITES” AND IN A TRUNCATED MANNER WHICH YOU WILL FIND NO WHERE IN THE EARLY YEARS OF THE CHURCH.

WHEN I USED TO TELL PEOPLE THEY WERE SAVED BY ONE THING: “BELIEVING IN CHRIST” — NOT BY ANYTHING WE CAN DO — WELL, I FORGOT THAT ‘BELIEVE” IS A VERB AND IS SOMETHING I MUST DO. SO WE DO HAVE TO DO SOMETHING. WE DO HAVE TO “BELIEVE” AND “CONFESS WITH OUR MOUTH” (Rom 10:9-10) WHICH ONLY PROVES WE HAVE TO DO SOMETHING, SOME WORKS — WE HAVE TO “BELIEVE,” REPENT, CONFESS, EXERCISE FAITH, PRAY THE “SINNER’S PRAYER,” SURRENDER OUR LIVES — ALL THINGS WE MUST DO — WORK. (CF. John 6:28-29).

However, if there are no works following shortly thereafter, that one was not really saved (or justified).  There must be works!  However, those works are not a part of “justification”,  but a part of the “sanctification” process.  Works are a “sure-enough” sign of justification.

WE AGREE IN PART THAT WORKS MUST ACCOMPANY INITIAL JUSTIFICATION. HOWEVER, THE REST OF WHAT YOU SAY IS INTERESTING BECAUSE SCRIPTURE SEEMS TO DISAGREE, WHICH IS WHY MARTIN LUTHER GOT HIS KNICKERS IN A KNOT). TOO MANY PARROT MAM-MADE BAPTIST TRADITION AND TRITE SOUND BITES — CERTAINLY NOT SCRIPTURE IN ITS HISTORICAL AND CONTEXTUAL CONTEXT. I USED TO DO THAT TOO. BUT THE REALITY IS — JAMES IS PRETTY CLEAR EVEN IN THE NIV:

James 2:21: WAS NOT OUR ANCESTOR ABRAHAM CONSIDERED RIGHTEOUS [JUSTIFIED] FOR WHAT HE DID [WORKS] WHEN HE OFFERED HIS SON ISAAC ON THE ALTAR?

James 2:24-26 YOU SEE THAT A PERSON IS JUSTIFIED BY WHAT HE DOES [GREEK: WORKS] AND NOT BY FAITH ALONE.
IN THE SAME WAY, WAS NOT EVEN RAHAB THE PROSTITUTE CONSIDERED RIGHTEOUS [JUSTIFIED] FOR WHAT SHE DID [WORKS] WHEN SHE GAVE LODGING TO THE SPIES AND SENT THEM OFF IN A DIFFERENT DIRECTION?

I USED TO TRY TO TWIST JAMES AROUND LIKE A RUBBER NOSE TO KEEP IF FROM SAYING WHAT IT SAID. BUT THE FACT IS IT SAYS WHAT IT SAYS.

NOW WE AS CATHOLICS, AND YOU AS PROTESTANTS, DON’T BELIEVE WE GAIN INITIAL JUSTIFICATION THROUGH ANYTHING WE DO. NO ONE WILL STAND BEFORE GOD AND SAY, “YOU OWE ME.” HOWEVER, THAT DOES NOT DISMISS THAT FACT THAT ONCE INITIAL JUSTIFICATION HAS TAKEN APPLIED FREELY AND GRATUITOUSLY BY GOD, WE ARE THEN REQUIRED TO COOPERATE WITH THE GRACE OF GOD IN OUR JUSTIFICATION AND SANCTIFICATION. IN THE END REVELATION DOES NOT SAY WE ARE COVERED WITH THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF CHRIST, BUT WITH THE RIGHTEOUS OF THE SAINTS! REV. 19:8.

FROM MY BOOK “CROSSING THE TIBER”:

How does one receive salvation, justification, new birth and eternal life?

By believing in Christ (Jn 3:16; Acts 16:31)?
By repentance (Acts 2:38; 2 Pet 3:9)? [SOMETHING WE DO]
By baptism (Jn 3:5; 1 Pet 3:21; Titus 3:5)? [SOMETHING WE DO]
By the work of the Spirit (Jn 3:5; 2 Cor 3:6)?
By declaring with our mouths (Luke 12:8; Rom 10:9)? [A WORK]
By coming to a knowledge of the Truth (1 Tim 2:4; Heb 10:26)? [OUR ACHIEVEMENT]
By works (Rom 2:6, 7; James 2:24)?
By grace (Acts 15:11; Eph 2:8)?
By perseverance (Matt 10:22; Mk 13:13; Col 1:22-23)?
By his blood (Rom 5:9; Heb 9:22)?
By His righteousness (Rom 5:17; 2 Pet 1:1)?
By His cross (Eph 2:16; Col 2:14)?

I know the Catholic party line about faith and works from listening to your CD.  My question above is outside of the typical party line and can most likely only be appreciated by someone with your background.  Your response might help me deal with some of the less faithful Catholics (in greater proportion than any other group) that I come across from time to time.

I WOULD LOVE TO ASSIST YOU IF TIME ALLOWS. I HOPE MY RESPONSE IS HELPFUL TO ASSIST YOU IN UNDERSTANDING CATHOLICS. I MIGHT SUGGEST YOU GET MY BOOK “CROSSING THE TIBER” AND READ THE “CATECHISM” WHICH IS A MARVELOUS GIFT TO THE CHURCH. IT IS USED BY MANY PROTESTANT PASTORS IN PREPARING THEIR SERMONS :-)

DON’T EXPECT ALL CATHOLICS TO ALWAYS UNDERSTAND AND BE ABLE TO EXPLAIN THEIR FAITH, ANY MORE THAN I EXPECT TO FIND BAPTISTS WHO CAN EVEN COME CLOSE TO EXPLAINING THEIR BELIEFS. IT IS NOT THE COMPETENCE OR INCOMPETENCE OF THE PERSON THAT MATTERS BUT THE ACTUAL TRUTH ITSELF. I RESPECT YOU FOR SEEKING FOR IT.

GOD BLESS AND STAY LOVING AND SERVING OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST.

STEVE RAY

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