With this post I just want to share my own answers to some questions that were given as suggestions, primarily for bishops to handle, in this strange time of enforced social distancing due to the COVID-19 virus.

The questions were given by Dr. Janet Smith, here. By giving my own answers to these questions, I do not pretend to be a bishop!

So here they are, Q & A.

  1. Does there need to be a congregation for a Mass to be said?
    No. The Mass is validly celebrated when a priest consecrates and consumes the Eucharist by the rites of the Church, even if no one else is present. This said, because of many considerations, some of which we will explain below, it is the Church’s strong preference that there be at least one other baptized Catholic present with the priest at the celebration of the Mass. 
  2. What efficacy does a Mass have if there is no congregation there to receive the Eucharist?”
    When the Mass is offered, even if no laity or no ministers are present with the priest, the following always take place:
    1. FIRST: God, in particular and general ways, extends his graces through the Church and to the whole world, by means of Divine Providence* known only in heaven.
      *(“Means of Divine Providence”: Sorry, this is as specific as I can get. While vague with non-details of the “particular and general ways,” I am as much convinced of this reality as I am convinced of anything!)
    2. SECOND: The “intention” for which the priest offers the Mass (per the request of someone else, or as intended by the priest’s own choice) is the subject of exceptional graces from the Most Holy Trinity. We don’t always see the “effect” we want when we give a Mass offering and get a priest to offer that intention. But God hears the intention, and he does something great, with it and for it, even if unknown to us.
    3. THIRD: The priest who celebrates the Mass avails himself of graces for growth in the “pastoral charity” necessary for his vocation. This then, in turn, benefits all those for whom the priest prays and those to whom he ministers.
  3. “Is there any benefit to watching Mass on TV? Does it need to be ‘live’?
    Yes to the benefit, no to the “need” to be live.
    1. Firstly, there are benefits of watching a Mass “live” or “real” time. They are at least two-fold. Firstly, there is a connection in the human spirit and psyche which can “bolster the communion of hearts,” we might say, when joining prayers in “live time.” That bolstering might be even stronger if the initiator of the prayer knows who is joining and where, but either way there is this spirit of communion: “real-time” is an exercise in solidarity. Secondly, when we are talking specifically about a live-streamed Mass, watching the consecration “real-time” can elicit appreciation for the fact that “I know a miracle is happening in the universe RIGHT NOW,” when the words of consecration are being spoken. Our baptismal graces of faith, hope and love connect us, mystically, to that miracle. And, it is a unique exercise of the theological virtue of faith when we try to “attend to that miracle” remotely, knowing it is happening on the altar which we are viewing in “live time.”  
    2. But now, even given all of the above, when watching the Mass on TV or internet, the life of the Church and the working of grace do not dictate a “need” to watch Mass live. Even for lack of those elements listed above, the benefits of watching a “taped” Mass are still multiple. First, when we follow/recite the words of each part of the Mass (especially out loud!) we are receiving, from a unique channel (no pun intended), the Church’s own guidance for our prayer. This would also happen if we were to sit and meditate on ANY of the prayers of the Mass out of a missalette. For example, the penitential rite can be equally efficacious when I pray it alone, whether I’m responding to a “live” recording or not. The same goes, e.g. for the prayer “Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof…” possibly as a means of forming the disposition for a spiritual communion, as explained below.** We should obviously add, as well, that watching/listening to a recorded reading of the liturgical scriptures can have great effects in our minds and souls, which our own private reading of the Bible might not have (to HEAR the Word)! There is greater fullness to hearing the spoken word. The same exact benefits can apply when listening attentively and prayerfully to a homily which is not “live.”
  4. What is a spiritual communion? Does it really “work”?”
    Receiving holy communion brings with it certain fruits, or effects (See the CCC 1391-1397). If we do not receive communion sacrilegiously in mortal sin, these effects will happen in us, to one degree or another. Can the same effects come by other means of grace distinct from those of receiving communion? Yes. Hence, when we ASK God to give us the same effects of receiving holy communion, even though we are not at that moment (that hour, that day) receiving communion, it is sometimes called “a spiritual communion.” In particular the first “fruit” of holy communion, the “augmenting” of our union with Christ (CCC 1391) is usually the petition made most prominent in “spiritual communion” prayers that have come to us in various prayer traditions.**
    Yes it works. The more you pray any particular spiritual communion prayer, the more you will love it.
  5. What if I have a mortal sin on my soul but can’t find a means to get to confession? What should I do?
    First, turn to our merciful Father, and acknowledge your sin, and ask for forgiveness. Then pray the Act of Contrition, and make a promise to God that you will confess your mortal sin(s) to a priest when you get the first opportunity. This action goes with the next consideration…
  6. “Is it possible to go to confession over Zoom or Skype or some such service?”
    No. For the sacrament of Reconciliation to be valid, you must be in the same location as the priest, (at least close enough that you could shout your confession and be heard by him!) But, let us note this: calling or emailing your parish or priest to make an appointment, or just to express your intent to go to confession, is what we might call proof of offering a “perfect act of contrition.” It is the teaching of theologians that praying for forgiveness with “perfect contrition” indeed brings the full grace of removal of all mortal sins (just like the Absolution of the priest). Note that an intrinsic quality of “perfect contrition,” is that a person has the willingness and honest intent to confess all mortal sins in sacramental confession when he or she has the ability to make a confession
  7. Why did the Vatican put out a statement making various activities a means to gain a “plenary indulgence” during this time of isolation? What is a plenary indulgence, and what do I need to do to get one (or many)?
    We cannot review the whole Church teaching on indulgences here. But let’s summarize very generally.  Indulgences are wonderful graces, for which the power to dispense resides in the Church. A Plenary Indulgence can be described this way: a good act of faith+hope+charity proposed by the Church, which when coupled with the sacraments, grants to you, by the ministry of the Church, ALL the grace to prepare your soul PERFECTLY for heaven. Read up on the plenary indulgences the Church as just granted.

** One of the most common spiritual communion prayers recited goes thus:
My Jesus, I believe that you are present in the most holy Eucharist. I love you above all things, and I desire to receive you into my soul. Since I cannot at this moment receive you sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace you as if you were already there and unite myself wholly to you. Never permit me to be separated from you. Amen.

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