Troubled by the Virgin’s message to the seers at Fatima, Monsignor Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli — who would later become Pope Pius XII — warned the Italian architect Enrico Pietro Galeazzi that a day was soon coming when “Christians will search in vain for the red lamp where God awaits them.” “Like Mary Magdalene, weeping before the empty tomb, they will ask, ‘Where have they taken Him?’”
Many Catholics this weekend found themselves offering versions of Magdalene’s lament.
Scores of dioceses around the country have suspended public Masses in response to the viral outbreak. Some have stopped offering confessions for all but those penitents in need of extreme unction. In those areas of the country with particularly high incidences of COVID-19, the sacramental life of the Church has ground to a virtual halt.
This is first time that I can recall my diocesan bishop dispensing Catholics of their Sunday Mass obligation. It may well have happened before in my lifetime — my memory is fairly reliable, as these things go, but is not infallible. This Sunday has nevertheless been a strange disruption to one as myself who takes solace in the Church’s constancy.
Catholics in my diocese are still obliged to observe the Lord’s day — my writing this post probably violates the obligation to “rest” of my “labors,” come to think of it — which could include an activity such as streaming Mass from one’s computer, as I did this morning. The Tridentine Mass I watched was celebrated before an empty chapel, with one priest and one deacon. There were no hymns, no congregants, and no popular responsorials. I am a minimalist as far as popular participation in the liturgy is concerned, but it was altogether jarring to see the Lord’s sacrifice carried forth in such desolation.
I was also reminded of one appeal of hearing the Mass in the Church’s mother tongue — an appeal that obtains in general, but all the more so in a situation like this — namely, the small-c catholicity of the Latinate liturgy. In South Korea, Italy, Germany, or Sarasota, Fla., all Catholics watching the Tridentine Mass this morning heard to the same words, the same prayers, the same chants, recited in one language, common to all sons and daughters of the Church.
I’m eager to return to the marbled church where I worship, but until it reopens, I and hundreds of thousands of other Catholics around the country and the world will have to take solace in such things until we can glimpse the red lamp once again.