This article has been ruminating in my head for a few months now. Since the first week of March 2020, the Virus has made the whole world a bit unreasonable. Earlier this month, I sat next to an Epidemiologist during a dinner and we talked for about 45 minutes. He profusely complimented the Church and her wisdom of the ablutions before the faithful receive Holy Communion.
I’ve been working in hospitals and nursing homes as a Catholic Priest or a seminarian for over 28 years now. I was a VA chaplain for 8 years in two VA hospitals in Texas. I was also full time at the trauma hospital in San Antonio Texas as well as an emergency on call Catholic Chaplain in several hospitals in San Antonio, Texas for 5 years. All told, I’ve visited patients in 21 different hospitals (2 countries and 5 states). I’ve also visited patients in 24 different Nursing Homes (3 countries and 4 states).
At no time before March 1, 2020 had I ever seen PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) used against a virus. I do remember having to wear PPE at my time in the VA (2003-2011) against infectious diseases. I also had to do it, on occasion, at several other hospitals. One had to wear the PPE in certain rooms. BUT, when you exited the room everything was thrown away including the mask, gloves, and gown. At no time did we ever wear the same PPE around more than one patient in more than one room. That was the protocol and still should be.
The big problem was that the Veterans under precautions at Audie Murphy Hospital were allowed to leave their rooms, get on the elevator, and go outside for a smoke! That didn’t resonate with me then and that is why I’m suspect of all of the restrictions inflicted upon us now.
The Church has dealt with real plagues for almost 2 millennia now. Give or take a few years, plagues have come upon our populations in various places across the globe about every 50 years. Some were baby plagues and others wiped out significant percentages of our fellow man. Let us remember that the Spanish Flu killed 2% of the USA population from 1918-1920. Today, that would be about 6.6 million or 3.3 million USA deaths a year. The Plague of Justinian (541-549) killed 25% of the world’s population or would be today’s equivalent of 10.3 million USA deaths every year for 8 years. The Black Death (1346-1353) killed 33% of the world’s population or would be today’s equivalent of 15.6 million USA deaths every year for 7 years.
In her Traditional Latin Mass, there are three required ablutions. The first ablution is with water in the sacristy before a priest vests. He prays, “Give virtue to my hands, O Lord, that being cleansed of all stain I might serve you with purity of mind and body.” The second ablution with water takes place at the offertory. “I will wash my hands among the innocent and will compass Thine altar, O Lord.” The third ablution is at the end of Holy Mass and uses wine (an antiseptic) as well as water. “May Thy Body, O Lord, which I have received and Thy Blood which I have drunk cleave to my inmost parts.”
Before and during much of the Middle Ages, the faithful did not receive Holy Communion during Mass. Because of that historical fact, the wine ablutions would have insured a type of quasi sterile hands of the priest when the faithful received the Blessed Sacrament. Then too, communion on the tongue was always largely the universal norm. As a priest of over 25 years, I can tell you that a priest inadvertently touches a lot of hands during Holy Communion in the hand while the faithful stand before him and he almost never touches a tongue during Holy Communion on the tongue at the altar rail. The hands are a moving target and the tongue is a stationary one. Plus, how many things do people lick before receiving Holy Communion as opposed to how many things they have touched before receiving Holy Communion? Ah, the Church and her perennial wisdom!
In the Plague of 1576-1578 (it killed 5% of Milan in the first three months or would have killed the equivalent at least 500,000 current New York City residents), which ravaged much of Northern Italy, St. Charles Borromeo often said Holy Mass on the steps of the Milan Cathedral (Duomo di Milano) and the people assisted at their windows or in the square at some distance from the portable altar. He did not cower in his Bishop’s Palace. After Mass, he brought the sacraments into the people’s homes!
Since March, I have heard of many diligent priests giving the sacraments even to the Covid infected. This virus is not as bad as it has been presented. I would even argue that deaths from other categories are being coopted into the Covid death count thus propping up the numbers. The CDC admitted in late August 2020, that only about 6% (about 25,000 deaths in almost 11 months as of today 25 January 2021, which isn’t even a bad flu season) of the reported deaths were due to Covid alone. Most people do not know that in recent years, around 2.91 million USA residents die of all causes every single year. As long as that number stays constant relative to the yearly population increase (2019 population was 328 million and 2020 was 331 million), there is no reason for inordinate concern. The United Nations tracks the USA with a .08% average age of death increase for the past two years and predicts that will happen again in 2021 for the third year in a row. So, the average age of death in the USA for 2019 was 78.87. In 2020, it was 78.93. In 2021, they predict 78.99. Covid is not moving the death needle!
St. Charles is quoted as saying, “I will do my duty to the utmost.” He also said, “Do not prefer a late death to a holy one.” Holy Mother Church has been a consistent practitioner in step with the science of the day. Her Liturgy points us toward heaven and protects us against even earthly maladies.
Fr. Kloster (guest writer)
Diocese of Bridgeport
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