Keep the Churches Closed!

This past weekend, congregants of River at Tampa Bay Church gathered with their pastor Rodney Howard-Browne for a worship service in defiance of the order by Hillsborough County Florida Health Officials. Pastor Howard-Brown has said that the doors of his Church would never close until the “end times.” On Monday, Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister arrested Howard-Brown and charged him with two counts: unlawful assembly and a violation of health emergency rules. Both are second-degree misdemeanors.

On Wednesday, April 1st, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said religious services conducted in churches, synagogues, and houses of worship are “essential business” and, therefore, exempt from this stay-at-home executive order that he had recently signed. I am not sure what this will do to the charges against Howard-Brown, but I am confident his lawyers will be seeking to have the charges dropped.

In Ann Arbor, Michigan, an open letter was released to the nation’s Roman Catholic Bishops, urging them to “restore the Sacraments to the people.” The letter reads in part; “Something is terribly wrong with a culture that allows abortion clinics and liquor stores to remain open but shuts down places of worship. While safety and cooperation with civil authorities is necessary, we must do everything we can to have access to what is essential for our spiritual lives. We should certainly not voluntarily deprive ourselves of the sacraments,”

The letter is authored by Dr. Janet E. Smith, recently retired, who held the Father Michael J. McGivney Chair of Life Ethics at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. She is the author of many books and articles on life issues. “The sacraments are the spiritual ‘Personal Protective Equipment’ of Catholics,” said Smith. “They enable us to work in the field hospital of the sick and dying. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Catholics are being deprived of what is central to our faith — the sacraments. The sacraments are gifts of inestimable value: They open up for us the gates of Heaven and bestow upon us graces that enable us to be loving disciples of Christ, our Savior.” Writes Dr. Smith.

In her letter to the Roman Catholic Bishops, Dr. Smith bemoans the fact that abortion clinics can remain open. Since she brought pro-life into this, I believe staying home is a pro-life issue as it has shown to actually be working to keep people alive.

I have a few issues with all of this. Biblically we are commanded to obey the laws of those appointed over us. St. Paul writes, “Obey the government, for God is the One who has put it there. There is no government anywhere that God has not placed in power. So those who refuse to obey the law of the land are refusing to obey God, and punishment will follow.” Romans 13:1-2 We claim to be a country founded on Judea/Christian ideas, and this one is somewhat pointed.

But I have a sacramental disagreement as well. Dr. Smith claims, and rightfully so that the Sacraments are “spiritual person protective equipment of Catholics.” My personal, theological understanding of Sacraments, especially Holy Communion, is that those elements become sanctified and different. I stop short at the idea that they become the actual body and blood of Christ. I believe they do become blessed and sanctified and do provide spiritual nourishment to those who partake.

But what about everything else around the wafer and wine?

I don’t mean to simplify things but, regardless of what you believe about the bread and wine, everything else around it, the altar, the cup, the plate, the priest/minister, other people, the air none of it is sanctified and remains just as it is. If it is infected, you will get sick!

I understand how vital the Sacramental life of the Church is to people, but there comes a time when we must think of others over ourselves. If depriving myself of the Sacraments will save a life, isn’t that more important than the risk I would take by attending Church with others?

In the Communion Ritual, the Words of Institution come from several places, but I will quote from the Gospel of Matthew, “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Matthew 26:26-28

Jesus is saying that the bread and wine, either symbolically or actually, represent his body and his blood. Jesus gave his life willingly for others out of love. He did this because, as we read in the Gospel of John, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16 In the Gospel of Mark Jesus says when asked which of the commandments was the greatest; “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31

The Sacraments of the Church are visible signs of the love that God showed us in the life of his son Jesus Christ. Jesus Sacrificed himself willingly on the cross to show us the way of new life, a new life of love. The most significant expression of that love is to love God and love our neighbor. We can show that love to our neighbors by making sure they are safe. And we can do that by staying home. I certainly think God will understand.

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