Given the Church’s unequivocal endorsement of prayer before the Eucharist, and given that Masses are underway again in most dioceses, churches should be reopened for the private prayer of the faithful.
Going to church in our times is a complicated affair. Early on in the pandemic, the Church took a strong prudential tack, following governmental regulations to close churches to Mass attendance for weeks. Slowly, however, life crept back into our parishes, though in a way unimaginable last year. Enmasked, with various printed indicators demarcating assigned seats, we sit scattered throughout our churches, separated by a “spacing” pew marked off with construction tape. Often, we receive Jesus in the Eucharist only after the final prayers of the Mass, sometimes at the back of the Church—or even outside. This is all strange and certainly there is a healthy conversation to be had about which of these measures are really necessary and which are not, especially as our knowledge of the plague gradually increases.
But that will not be the topic explored here. My aim is much simpler. Why, in the midst of this crisis, has general access to our houses of prayer been continually thwarted and stymied? Surely, “the source and summit of the Christian life” should be available when it is most needed? Why, in a time when the Church’s most precious possession is needed the most, must the faithful still be struggling to access a tabernacle? It is important to note that, while my argument is biased towards Catholic Eucharistic theology, any religious group with a similar theology or valuation of sacred spaces falls under its purview.
My aim here is too general to get into the fine distinctions of which path various parishes and dioceses have taken. No doubt it varies quite a bit, as I have experienced both anecdotally and from reporting. In the UK, at least, most parishes were inaccessible outside Masstime, which itself was terminated at the beginning of November with a second national lockdown.
Why, in the midst of this crisis, has general access to our houses of prayer been continually thwarted and stymied?