April 25, 2020 Column Father De Celles

Livestreaming. I hope the livestreaming of Masses has been helpful to you. The statistics seem to be positive. According to the reports I receive, over the last 3 Sundays we had an average of 689 households viewing, which could translate to an average of 2,206 persons viewing (at an average household 3.2 persons). Since the average in-person attendance at Mass before the stay-at-home order was 2,362, that would mean that the livestreaming “attendance” is about 93% of regular attendance, which would be great.

For weekday Mass viewing, during Easter week average households viewing were 98, so maybe 314 people. (By the way, the viewing numbers on your screen when you are watching live are very inaccurate).

Of course, I always remember what Mark Twain said: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Even so, please keep watching. Although attending Mass in person is immeasurably better, I think viewing Mass is important during this period.

My Opinion: Churches and the “Stay at Home” Orders. The government has legitimate authority to act for the common good, and this authority is greatly expanded in true emergencies, such as hurricanes, floods, wars, and pandemics. But this authority is not unlimited.

One of the basics rights of man is the right to worship and live according to his religion, and of course, this is the first right guaranteed in the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution, which begins: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….” The courts have always made clear that what applies to congress applies to all forms and levels of government in the US. But the courts have also made clear that religious liberty is not absolute: it can be limited in some cases for the common good, as long as the limitation in question applies to a broad swath of society, and is not particularly discriminating against religion, i.e., the so-called “general applicability test”. So, for example, federal employment tax laws legitimately apply to religions because they apply to all employers.

            So, the question comes up, when the Governor of Virginia, Ralph Northam, issued his “stay at home” order on March 30 (Executive Order 55), did he unconstitutionally limit Virginians’ religious liberty by providing:

All public and private in-person gatherings of more than ten individuals are prohibited. This includes parties, celebrations, religious, or other social events…This restriction does not apply: a. To the operation of businesses not required to close to the public under Executive Order 53….”

            Now I’m not a lawyer, and this is just my opinion, but it seems to me the Governor did exceed his authority and the order is illegal and immoral. The reason is that the closure rule is not generally applicable: “This restriction does not apply: a. To …businesses not required to close to the public under Executive Order 53.” The problem is that the exempt businesses under EO 53 are “Essential retail businesses” including not only “Grocery stores, pharmacies,…Medical, laboratory, and vision supply retailers…,” but also to  “Automotive parts…Home improvement…Lawn and garden equipment retailers…Beer, wine, and liquor stores”…Pet and feed stores…”

            And on the same day he ordered all elective surgeries in the state to cease, but exempted all abortions.

            So, religious meetings of 11 people are prohibited, but liquor and pet stores are open? And religious meetings (read, “Mass”) are not “essential,” but all abortions are?

            I have previously stated my opinion that the stay at home order is generally legal and just. But that is not the case, in my opinion, as it applies to churches.

            Now, let me distinguish between the GOVERNMENT’s order, versus the CHURCH’s order, i.e., the decision of our Bishop to suppress public Mass. It is well established in Church law and theology that a Bishop can suppress public Mass for a just cause, and our Bishop’s conclusion that this will save a lot of lives is a just cause/reason. As I’ve written before, someone has to make the decision, hard as it may be, and that is the Bishop. So even if we disagree, we should respectfully obey him.

            So, when it comes to the operations of the Church, I am obeying the Bishop, not the Governor.

Speaking of the Governor and Unjust Laws. Did you see what Governor Northam did on Good Friday? According to the Family Foundation:

“April 10th, 2020, is a day that will forever live in infamy in our beloved Commonwealth. On Good Friday, of all days, Governor Northam signed into law HB 980 (D-Herring) and the identical Senate version SB 733 (D-McClellan), stripping away decades of hard-fought critical protections for unborn babies, and for women who are considering and who ultimately choose to have an abortion. Even as despicable as this was, it is sadly not surprising given that the Governor, a pediatric neurologist by trade, has endorsed – and even doubled down on – the practice of infanticide and made known his support for unrestricted abortions, while all the elected leadership of his party stood firmly behind him.

“If the bill’s substance wasn’t bad enough, it’s nothing short of unconscionable for the Governor to act with such sacrilege by choosing to sign these bills on the very day Christians worldwide remember the sacrificial death of our sinless Lord for the sins of all mankind. It’s hard to fathom how this could have been merely coincidental.

“Here are the main results of HB 980 and SB 733:

“- All basic health and safety regulations for abortion facilities are completely eliminated.

“- Nurse practitioners and nurse midwives – not just physicians – can now conduct invasive abortion procedures.

“- Virtually all requirements of informed consent prior to an abortion have been eliminated….

            “- The required 24-hour wait period between the ultrasound and the abortion has been eliminated.”

Thanks to the Knights of Columbus. In thanking folks at Easter, I always forget someone. This year I forgot to thank the Knights for their tremendous support during Lent and the Triduum. Not only for providing so many monitors to regulate the 10 person rules during adoration and confessions, but also for all their work in keeping in touch with and informing parishioner-members. Thanks, Knights (especially Grand Knight Barry Ryan)!

If you are a Catholic man, 18 years or older, are you a Knight?  If not, why not?

Update on Altar-Rail/Pulpit Project. With the church activities so limited, this would be an ideal time to begin our work on the Altar-Rail/Pulpit Project. Especially, since the Italian craftsmen have finished their work and everything is ready to be installed. Except for the fact that it is all stuck in a warehouse at an Italian port, which is waiting for re-opening after the devastation of the Coronavirus.

            Hopefully, it will be able to ship to us in time for our planned construction start date of June 15. Say a little prayer to St. Raymond, and St. Catherine of Siena, another Dominican saint and patroness of Italy.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles