From the Pastor: The Safest Mass!
As the Covid-19 scare continues everyone is trying to figure out which “system” works best for opening up closed businesses. The Church is no different than businesses in this regard. How can we celebrate Mass with the least possibility of spreading around a very virulent virus? I have been trying to piece together what would be the ideal form of Mass for battling this virus. Any bishops who wish to use my findings are most welcome to do so.
First of all, some people worry that the virus can be aerosolized, or sprayed through breath, so the obvious solution is a Mass without a choir. That is not ideal for big celebrations, solemnities, and other great festivals, but it is not unworkable. The virus in its airborne form travels fewer than 6 feet unless the person infected sings, shouts, talks loudly, or otherwise projects his voice in a lung-emptying manner. There should be no singing (nor any verbal responses) from the pews, either, since if a choir can infect others, so much more can several hundred “active participants” spread the virus. With singing and speaking being eliminated the virus will not travel anywhere near six feet from the infected breather. Bishops are suggesting using only every other pew, to give the virus time to fall before hitting a person. But it will not travel 6 feet if it encounters a “roadblock”, such as the crook of your arm, or another solid obstacle. The virus will seemingly stop at the barrier and stick to it. Barriers are good but we don’t need plexiglass in the pews. We can simply use every pew, not every other one, so that the clothing on the backside of the people in front of others becomes barriers! The person behind you will, if infected, cover your back with the breathed-out virus, keeping it from going any further. You don’t touch your back so you won’t infect yourself and you become a virus filter for everyone else. Friction, which you will have every time you sit or adjust yourself in your pew, car, or Lazyboy, evidently kills the coronavirus, as does laundering clothing, so the filter is self-cleaning! Also, unless the infected person breathes through his ears, he will not infect the people on either side of him, so there is no reason to sit six feet apart from him. In fact, the closer we pack the people in, the better the chance that the human filter in front will do all the dirty work, as fidgeting, moving around, and turning every which way would be eliminated in a tightly packed congregation.
The priest should face away from the people so that he can neither give nor receive the virus. The altar boy should also not hold the missal for the priest, as each would then be breathing directly into the face of the other. Rather, the missal should remain always on the altar and the priest should say the prayers and read the readings facing away from everybody. The few times the priest should turn to address the people, he should be far from them, perhaps with the sanctuary marked off with a barrier of some sort, like an altar rail, and should keep his head humbly facing slightly down in order to force the virus particles to the floor more quickly. A homily could easily be dispensed with under such circumstances, like the Tridentine (but not Novus Ordo) liturgical rules allow, eliminating the only major time an infected priest would spew his viruses toward the people or vice versa. Obviously, a safe Mass would also have no sign of peace (even turning to wave makes people breathe towards each other) and no hand-holding at -- or even congregational recitation of -- the Our Father. At Communion time the people could approach the barrier (altar rail) and, since they don’t breath sideways, kneel (so that they are not standing face to face with the priest) side by side to receive Holy Communion on the tongue without saying a word, not even “amen.” The priest could give the Benediction to each person using a whispered prayer, virtually eliminating any chance of viruses escaping his mouth. It is much better that only one person, the priest, distribute Holy Communion rather than increase the odds of having an infected distributor by employing extraordinary ministers. Also, since the hands are the main carriers of the virus to the eyes, nose, and mouth of the uninfected person, distributing Holy Communion on the tongue eliminates all possibility of the priest touching a virus-laden hand and passing it on to every other person from that point forward. It goes without saying that the priest should be the only one consuming the Precious Blood and should purify the sacred vessels himself. Formal prayers after Mass, which break the utter silence of the congregation up until then, would be recited by the people on their knees with bowed heads and in subdued voices. Time spent afterward in silent thanksgiving not only would spread no virus but would give people the chance to depart whenever they finish rather than uniformly in an unsafe group jostling each other, fighting for the exits as the Mass ends.
It should be clear by now that the safest form of Mass is a crowded Traditional Latin Low Mass. Worldwide, only it should be celebrated until such time as we can, perhaps in stage 2, transition into an occasional High Mass or, in stage three, Solemn High Mass. By then, we should all be inoculated against all other unsafe forms of Mass and liturgical abuses will depart with the coronavirus!
With prayers for your holiness,
Rev. Fr. Edwin Palka