When Churches Close, Hold Mass Outdoors, As During the Spanish Flu Pandemic

During the past several years, I recall reading pronouncements by Catholic mystics who said it was important to celebrate Holy Mass and receive Holy Communion as often as possible, because there would come a time when churches will be closed and we will be unable to celebrate Mass or receive Holy Communion. At the time I was skeptical, thinking something like could only occur in some sort of anti-religious police state, which was practically unthinkable in America.

But now – in March 2020 – they have closed the churches, canceling the Holy Mass and Holy Communion. Little did I realize that it would be prompted by concerns over a virus.

This is most unfortunate, because as St. Padre Pio said, “It is easier for the earth to exist without the sun than without the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.”

As far as reception of the Holy Eucharist, even a secular newspaper, The Washington Times, ran an article that stated, “It would be, as a matter of faith, impossible for the virus to spread through the bread and wine.”

If they do not allow indoor Mass, bishops must permit outdoor celebration of the Mass.

During the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, when local authorities closed church buildings and other venues, Catholic churches still celebrated mass outdoors. This is documented in a paper on the pandemic in Maine. Following are excerpts:

Saturday, October 5th

By Order of the Board of Health
Thomas Tetreau, MD, Health Officer

All the churches will be closed tomorrow, the masses at the Catholic churches will be held in the open air.  This is the first time this has happened in Maine.

On Saturday morning the Lewiston Board of Health, followed by a conference with Mayor Lemaire in his office, decided it would make no effort to prohibit outdoor masses tomorrow by parishioners of the Catholic churches.

Monday, October 14

Local Lewiston and Auburn physicians are working practically day and night, while the number of people needing their attention steadily grows larger.  Not only are the doctors overworked, but it is impossible to find help for affected homes where it is needed.  Whole families are ill with the disease, with no one to care for them. 

All of the Catholic churches of Lewiston held indoor services yesterday, disregarding the closing order of the board of health.

Out of door services were held by the Catholic church in Auburn, in compliance with a request of the Auburn Board of Health. 

Monday, October 21

In accordance with an order issued by the Board of Health and approved by Associate Supreme Court Justice Scott Wilson, all of the churches in Lewiston remained closed Sunday on account of the epidemic of influenza.  Out of door masses were held by the Catholic churches.  A week ago all Catholic churches in Lewiston held indoor services, disregarding the health board’s order.

As one priest recently declared, “Will I close this church, will I lock these doors? So long as it is in my power, we will not. They’ll have to step over my cold dead coronavirus corpse and pry the keys of the church out of my cold dead fingers before I will willingly lock these doors…And if in fact we should be forced to shut out of obedience, we’ll find a way and a place.”

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