What does it mean to be a “good Catholic,” not only in ordinary times but especially in the extraordinary times in which we now live? The primary duty of the faithful is “to preserve and foster communion with the Church,” (Canon 209 §1). But how does one do that when the ordinary means of grace are not readily available? A meditative review of the Precepts of the Church (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2041-2043) can help us find an answer.
You shall attend Mass on Sundays
and holy days of obligation
By decree of the Apostolic Administrator, all public Masses and other gatherings are suspended until it is once again safe to do so. It is important to remember that while the faithful are dispensed from the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days, the obligation “to keep holy the sabbath” remains. Sundays should be special. There are many creative ways of doing this. Many households have set up little chapels in the home where they gather for common prayer. Sometimes these will be around the TV or computer monitor so they can participate in a livestreamed Mass. No matter what we do, it is essential that Sundays are set aside to commemorate the Resurrection of the Lord and to rest from those activities that would impede the sanctification of the Lord’s Day.
You shall confess your sins
at least once a year
Throughout the Archdiocese, priests still hear confessions by appointment in a way that preserves social distancing. During this time, it is advisable to request confession only when one is aware of serious sin. Unfortunately, it is not possible to go to confession via the telephone or other electronic means as it is impossible to guarantee the Seal of the Confessional. Still, the faithful should not be shy about requesting this sacrament when they really need it.
The same holds true for requests for Anointing of the Sick and Viaticum in danger of death. The priests of the Archdiocese and especially the chaplains at Providence are going out of their way to make sure that people who are in danger of death are being taken care of. When physical contact is not safe or not possible, the granting of the Apostolic Pardon is used.
You shall humbly receive your Creator
in Holy Communion during the Easter season
As mentioned before, the faithful are dispensed at present from the “Easter Duty” as it is known. Let us pray that it will once again be safe to gather by Pentecost. Now is an excellent time to be in spiritual solidarity with all those parishes throughout Alaska who have never had frequent access to the Eucharist.
You shall observe the days of fasting
and abstinence established by the Church
Fasting and abstinence from meat are only required Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Fridays of Lent are the only days of abstinence. Nevertheless, every Friday of the year is to be observed as a day of prayer, penance and reparation. While the Church no longer mandates what form that will take, Catholics should perform some act of prayer and penance every Friday. A good idea might be to pray, to fast, to abstain from meat, to volunteer, or to do some other reasonable act of penance or charity in behalf of those medical professionals who are sacrificing so much for others at this time. Get creative.
You shall help to provide
for the material needs of the Church,
each according to his abilities
Fulfilling this obligation is fulfilled by a reasonable, deliberate and sacrificial commitment of one’s time, talent, and treasure. This will involve an honest appraisal of one’s available time and financial means. Given the present circumstances, there are many opportunities for gifts of time and talent, such as the delivery of meals to the doorstep of elderly or infirm neighbors and parishioners, as well as prayer chains and phone trees to promote fellowship and communion.
Most parishes have the opportunity for online giving, which is the safest and most secure means of financial support. If that is not available, one should mail their envelope to the parish. Never send cash. Many parishes have secure drop boxes where parishioners can leave their donations. The churches may be closed for now, but the payroll and the bills are still due.
These extraordinary times can be an extraordinary means of grace. The Precepts of the Church give us a helpful framework for creative ways to preserve and foster communion within the Body of Christ so that we may emerge from the solitude of this pandemic closer to Christ and one another.
Fr. Leo Walsh is a pastor, pilot, theologian and canon lawyer. He is currently Pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Muldoon and Adjutant Judicial Vicar of the Archdiocese of Anchorage.