ROME — Cardinal Raymond Burke argues in an open letter Saturday that in defending against the coronavirus churches should be considered essential (like supermarkets and pharmacies) and not optional (like cinemas and athletic games).
“In considering what is needed to live, we must not forget that our first consideration is our relationship with God,” Cardinal Burke insists. “That is why it is essential for us, at all times and above all in times of crisis, to have access to our churches and chapels, to the Sacraments, and to public devotions and prayers.”
It is right to “learn about and employ all of the natural means to defend ourselves against the contagion” and it is important “to use every prudent means to avoid contracting or spreading the coronavirus,” notes Burke, a canon lawyer and the former chief of the Vatican’s supreme court.
At the same time, care of bodily health should not supersede care of spiritual health, which is not less, but more important, he argues.
Current measures to prevent the spread of the virus make allowance for what we need to live, he observes, such as access to food, water and medicine, and they should likewise make provision for spiritual needs.
“Just as we are able to purchase food and medicine, while taking care not to spread the coronavirus in the process, so also we must be able to pray in our churches and chapels, receive the Sacraments, and engage in acts of public prayer and devotion,” he contends. “Without the help of God, we are indeed lost.”
When Church leaders treat places of worship more like cinemas and stadiums than pharmacies and supermarkets, he says, it sends a message that the sacraments and public prayer are not essential to the lives of Christians.
“In our totally secularized culture, there is a tendency to view prayer, devotions and worship like any other activity, for example, going to the cinema or to a football game, which is not essential and therefore can be cancelled for the sake of taking every precaution to curb the spread of a deadly contagion,” he observes.
“But prayer, devotions and worship, above all, Confession and the Holy Mass, are essential for us to remain healthy and strong spiritually, and for us to seek God’s help in a time of great danger for all,” Burke asserts. “Therefore, we cannot simply accept the determinations of secular governments, which would treat the worship of God in the same manner as going to a restaurant or to an athletic contest.”
“Otherwise, the people who already suffer so much from the results of the pestilence are deprived of those objective encounters with God Who is in our midst to restore health and peace,” he declares.
The cardinal says that he has heard from many devout Catholics “who are deeply saddened and discouraged not to be able to pray and worship in their churches and chapels.”
We bishops and priests need to “insist that the regulations of the State, also for the good of the State, recognize the distinct importance of places of worship, especially in time of national and international crisis,” he writes.
The cardinal also notes that many of our churches and chapels “are very large” and “permit a group of the faithful to gather for prayer and worship without violating the requirements of ‘social distance.’”
Churches can be kept disinfected and distances respected, he notes, but they should not be closed.
“In the end, faith and reason, as they always do, work together to provide for the just and right solution to a difficult challenge,” Burke concludes. “We must use reason, inspired by faith, to find the correct manner in which to deal with a deadly pandemic. That manner must give priority to prayer, devotion and worship, to the invocation of God’s mercy upon His people who suffer so much and are in danger of death.”