….While many parishes have turned to the internet to allow Catholics observing stay-at-home orders to follow the Sunday Mass and Holy Week ceremonies, some voices have rightly expressed concern about the danger of accustoming Catholics to virtually “attending” streamed Masses. One such is Edouard Husson, a Frenchman whose appeal to the French bishops conference for the restoration of public Catholic life—among which he includes the thrice-daily sounding of the Angelus bell—was recently published in translation by First Things. He reminds us that under ordinary conditions, our Sunday obligation requires physical presence in church, for the Catholic religion is an incarnate religion, involving both soul and body.

Indeed, while the Mass doesn’t need the faithful to be efficacious, the faithful need the Mass. There are special graces reserved at each Mass for those physically present. And by attending Mass on days of obligation, we fulfill our duty of religion by uniting ourselves with the priest as he offers the sacrifice, both internally (in our hearts and minds) and externally (by physical assistance at the sacrifice before the holy altar). Saint Thomas Aquinas says that although the internal part is most important, the physical aspect is necessary, too. As Psalm 83 says: “My heart and my flesh have rejoiced in the living God.” Once the lockdown is over, livestreamed Sunday Mass will not suffice.

The great mysteries of our redemption will pass before our eyes this Holy Week like stained glass panels in a medieval cathedral, glowing high above our reach, but still diffusing light upon those below. In cobalt and ruby hues, perhaps, the indissoluble bond between Holy Thursday’s institution of the Mass and Good Friday’s Passion and Crucifixion will take shape before our gaze.

For Christ lifted up on the cross and Christ lifted up in the Host at the elevation were both foretold in the same words: “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things unto myself.” It is by the cross and the Host, lifted high above the world, raining down the fruits of the Passion, that we are raised up, transformed, and saved.

Once we become aware of this sublime reality, all that’s left is to ask the same question as the construction worker asked the priest: “Where do we have to go?”

And the answer, when our churches reopen, will be the same: “To the altar.”


The above comes from an April 9 story in Crisis magazine.