Over at the Pray, Tell Blog, I enjoyed this reflection on whether the sacraments will just return to “business as usual” after the pandemic. And my thought is that if we do that we will have done a serious disservice to the faithful.

Right now, I’d say the opportunity for spiritual reflection is at an all time high. It is here that we need to turn to those words in from the Penitential Rite that call us to personally examine “what I have done, and what I have failed to do.” Pray tell makes a similar point.

For myself, I’d begin with the idea of protecting the body of Christ from harm. While we are taking great pains (most of us, anyway) in practicing social distancing and staying out of crowds in general and wearing masks, we could easily risk viral infection in any number of ways. While the laity could distance themselves pretty easily, the clergy can not–they will have several more interactions because of the distribution of communion alone. It would be a colossal mistake for the distribution of the Eucharist to cause widespread infection in a parish or worse. In short, the downside is much worse than the upside.

Why is there such a rush? Ignatian discernment often reminds us that a rushed decision is a decision made in “desolation,” often when we don’t have all the facts, or have overlooked several factors. We need to weigh the options–seriously. And furthermore, we should examine (or maybe “examen?”) what has happened to the faithful throughout these few months of needing to be outside of the church walls.

So what has happened? Well, first and foremost, we uncovered the creativity of the church, (that’s clergy and laity) in so many ways. These are ways that have gifted the church during the virus and hopefully will continue after the virus subsides. The “not yet flattened curve” in far too many places leads me to believe that we are too quick in not examining the fruits of what has come to light throughout this time of panic.

That said, we also discovered the lack of creativity on the parts of other segments of the church. These are the ones who failed to do anything virtually and hid in their “rectorial caves” instead. Herein likely also lies the roots of the panic to return to what people perceive to be “church as normal.” Prudence also has a shadow side; inertia. And in being prudent, many pastors and parish staffs chose to punt–for some it may have been a lack of resources that kept them from trying to move into a virtual space. For others, it may have been a lacking of skill in executing this kind of ministry. I’m sympathetic to both of those situations, but shouldn’t we learn from that?

I hate to be the prophet here, but it’s not going to be normal for a very long time. We are likely two or three years from things ever resembling what our previous lives looked like. Ergo, it’s in that space that we need to continue to proceed out of an abundance of caution. Especially as the virus is likely to rebound when flu season arrives and perhaps earlier if we try to make an early comeback.

Additionally, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t begin to make plans to reopen churches. Not by a long shot, would I be suggesting that. But we need to take far smaller steps in doing so. Yesterday the Archdiocese of New York and the Diocese of Brooklyn held a presser to begin planning, and I do emphasize planning, to begin to reopen churches. Faith Forward is their program that will be rolled out in four phases, presumably pretty slowly. First just open for confessions and private prayer. Secondly, for small (less than 10 people) weddings and baptisms. Then for distribution of communion outside of Mass for limited audiences. Then for Sunday Mass with supervised protocols.

None of that is going back to “church as usual.” And I say good for Cardinal Dolan and Bishop DiMarzio for leading out of an abundance of caution here. No firm date has been mentioned as to when any of these stages will begin, but perhaps it could start in six weeks. That COULD be about right, if and only if, the curve flattens a lot more in this area. Again, no need to rush and a constant need to re-evaluate plans.

“What we have done” is laudable and given us a new place in which to create spaces of worship. What we have failed to do, is to take matters into further situations and begun to consider all the good that has happened and how it might just accentuate the church’s mission even further, should we reach a phase where it’s safe for limited numbers to return to Mass.

And if we go back too early… and people end up dead, we will invert just two words and add a question mark to this great prayer, the Confeitor and say “What HAVE WE done?”

“And what have we failed to do.”

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