“Nonessential” Churches – What’s Next?


Is your parish considered “nonessential” in this time of lockdowns and quarantines? How about the liquor stores in your community? If you live in Colorado, your local liquor store or weed shop are considered essential; your parish church is deemed to be nonessential. Politicos seem to fear an angry mob of alcohol- and drug-deprived consumers far more than a peaceful group of Christians. Apparently, Colorado liquor and cannabis are acceptable methods of dealing with anxiety and lack of peace. Yet, no provision exists for gathering together in prayer for the peace that surpasses all understanding. Is this not ironic? Depends on who you ask, I guess.

Crackdowns on “Nonessential” Church Activities

More and more citizens throughout the country are showing their distaste for governmental restrictions imposed due to COVID-19. This includes the faithful who believe government classification of churches as “nonessential” impinges on their right to worship. Some interesting interpretations and applications of the laws regarding worship already have occurred. Consider the police “crackdown” on a church congregation in Mississippi. The police issued citations carrying fines of $500 each. The crime? The pastor conducted a parking lot, drive-in service, using radio frequencies to broadcast his preaching over the car radios. Now, in Kansas City, local officials want churches to register their members for tracking and surveillance purposes.  Who could make this stuff up?

Being “Nonessential” or Pushing a Political Agenda?

This nonessential/essential status for churches needs our attention–now. I am no public health expert. Yet, it seems that even the “experts” can’t agree on the nature, severity, avoidance, treatment or probable virus-related outcomes. In fact, some experts and others not part of mainstream media believe that the current quarantine of healthy people clearly is wrong. This presents quite a situation.

A friend of mine who formerly worked in state government told me flat out that people wanting to get back together to worship—to consider churches essential—is, in his words, “pure stupidity.” In subsequent correspondence he shared his opinion that this is all about “self-centered individuals” using liberty and religion as an excuse to put innocent people in danger. In his opinion, this is all about promoting their own “political agenda.” Those statements contain a lot of assumptions. But I would suspect that many non-believers subscribe to them—and some believers feel this way as well.

Pushing the Envelope As to “Essential”

Now to be fair, we’ve read about megachurch groups still meeting shoulder-to-shoulder, apparently without much regard for safety precautions. Reports like this, and this type of activity, just feed into my friend’s and others’ opinions on this matter. Yet, the bottom line is that faithful Christians of all stripes are becoming concerned about not being able to gather in Jesus’ name and worship together, at least in groups of more than 10 at a time. Many Catholics are struggling with restrictions placed on attending the source and summit of our faith. Most of us cannot receive the body, blood, soul and divinity of Our Lord and Savior

But People Will Be People

Will some people do dumb things, left to their own devices? Of course. We have free will, and some people have worse judgment than others. But is it fair to deny people the right to assemble for worship if they follow reasonable guidelines? And is limiting a gathering to 10 people a reasonable guideline? Depends on who you ask, I guess.

To be fair, I know, from talking with friends who have had it, that this virus can be horrific. To err on the cautious side makes sense if you fall into a high-risk category. As well, following safety precautions in groups is an act of charity. Our Lord doesn’t want a bunch of Typhoid Mary’s and Larry’s running amok, infecting others when they could employ common-sense precautions. He gave us an intellect, the ability to reason and make decisions for a purpose.

Bigger Picture Concerns

A question that comes up in some Christian conversations now is, “How long do we go on with church gatherings being considered ‘nonessential’ until they’re just considered altogether ‘unnecessary’?” Some politicians and their media supporters have an ax to grind with Christianity in general, and with Catholicism in particular. To borrow a phrase from Jack Nicholson’s character in A Few Good Men, perhaps some elected officials “can’t handle the Truth.” Perhaps some of them wish to be set free of the Truth and the light it shines on their actions. We should pray for them. We should pray, as well, for an end to these restrictions on worship.

Let God Be God

St. Paul writes, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Phil 4:6) Anxiety, fear and agitation come from the enemy of our souls if we’re trying to live in, with and through Christ. Opportunities to lose one’s peace abound in these times–visit just about any website or watch/listen to any news broadcast. Right now, God is presenting us with a huge spiritual opportunity. It requires our surrendering to God, and His Divine Providence, together with living the Truth in our personal conduct. That means fixing us first–interiorly. We need to pray to God with thanksgiving and petition, asking for the grace to unite our will to His in all things, for His glory. Of course, that means being open to learning what He’s trying to teach us by allowing the current situation to perdure.

As I prayed in front of the tabernacle, Our Lord suggested I take a look at Psalm 40. In the very first verse, David tells us, “I waited patiently for the Lord…” Was I impatient or patient in all of this? Clearly, patience has been a problem for me over the last month or two. Later on, in the fourth verse, I read, “Happy are those who make the Lord their trust…”  More food for thought. There’s more where all that came from, but what He was saying is, “Let me be God.” Fair enough. When I conceded He’s God and I’m not, the peace St. Paul writes about washed over me and rinsed off that frustration I’d let build up in my concerns about local worship conditions. Spending more time in prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, can yield abundant graces. We need to trust in God—and let God be God.

Prayer and Petitions?

Meanwhile, we are separated and isolated. This is the work of the enemy of God–the Divider. As explained at i.d.9:16

The Greek words dia and bolos mean ‘across’ and ‘who throws’, respectively. Put together they identify someone ‘who throws across’ – one who creates chasms, ruptures connections, breaks down relationships and divides. This is what the devil is – The Divider.

Besides prayer, we need to put on the armor of God, and make our opinions known, by letter writing and participating in petitions to elected government officials. Can these make a difference? Who knows? Depends on who you ask, I guess. While we’re at it, how about charitably voicing our opinions to our dioceses? As I understand it, all our Colorado bishops have made their and their flocks’ opinions known about this–to no avail. Consequently, I’m not sure what more that might accomplish. In spite of the bishops pushing for change, as of late April, word was that the governor wants Colorado churches to continue under lockdown through the end of May, at a minimum.

This, as with so much related to the virus, continues to be in flux, though. The Archdiocese of Denver resumed Masses May 9th. The other dioceses open up Mass a week later. But even as Masses resume, we will not be assembling in the same way as we did pre-virus. For example, in a church built to accommodate over 1,000 worshipers, still only 10 people will be allowed to attend a Mass in most cases, initially. Meanwhile, let’s each get closer to God. Trust in God; do what we must do interiorly and what we can do exteriorly, while we let God be God.



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7 thoughts on ““Nonessential” Churches – What’s Next?”

  1. Hello. It is altogether proper that the public authorities have ordered churches closed but allow places like liquor stores to remain open. You can limit the number of people in a retail store; by definition you can’t do this in a church. The virus is so virulent and contagious that social distancing at a church simply won’t work There is just no way you can keep everyone far enough apart. And of course everyone is touching things, and churches aren’t going to properly wipe all surfaces in the church to make it safe after a Mass.

    I could go on, but the bottom line is that we Christians need to toughen up. Yes, so we have to sit at home for a few months and watch the Mass on TV/computer and not get the Eucharist. Suck it up. Get strong. Right now we come across as a bunch of whiners, like little kids who cry because there’s no ice cream in the fridge that night. We Catholics think we’re something because we go without chocolate or something during Lent. Fine. Now that we’re faced with something hard, how do we respond?

    Your friend’s opinion about Christians wanting to get together now to worship being “pure stupidity.” is one I largely share, though not the rest of what he said. But more to it, we are perceived this way by many, and after this is over, they will use it against us…with a vengeance. Oh yes.

    Myself, I absolutely hate the current situation. With. A. Passion. The facemasks. The social distancing. Stuck at home. Stores closed. Not being able to attend my regular Catholic events (besides the Mass).

    But I also know that we have to do the right thing for society, and take tough measures now so that we can get this thing past us. As it is I think that the states are re-opening far, far, too soon. By opening now we risk disaster. So lets get tough and do this thing.

    1. Tom, thank you for your thorough, thoughtful response to my article.

      You wrote: “You can limit the number of people in a retail store; by definition you can’t do this in a church. The virus is so virulent and contagious that social distancing at a church simply won’t work There is just no way you can keep everyone far enough apart. And of course everyone is touching things, and churches aren’t going to properly wipe all surfaces in the church to make it safe after a Mass.”

      Tom, you make many assumptions in your opening paragraph. You are assuming, incorrectly, that while retail stores will limit the number of people inside at any one time, churches can’t for some reason. At our parish, ushers count those coming in and show them assigned seating. The parish church actually is a more controlled environment than a retail store. Have you actually seen everyone in the grocery store staying 6 feet apart at all times? I haven’t yet.

      You further assume that you can’t keep everyone far enough apart in a church. This also is not true. In my parish church, within the nave—the main part of the church–we have seating capacity for over 800 people. We can easily keep many more than 10 people at a Mass safely apart, wearing masks, etc. In our parish hall, we can easily seat far more than 10, 20 or 40 people without violating the six-foot spacing rules. Parishioners come in one way and go out another and can’t linger in the gathering space after Mass.

      In our diocese and parish, the pews and doors—the surfaces you refer to—are being wiped down in between Masses with disinfectant wipes (and now just recently, another statement from, I think, the CDC, holds that we don’t get the virus by touching inert surfaces, for what that’s worth.)

      I stand by my statement that limiting people in church to 10 total while having no such limits on other organizations is not right. I’ll go further to say that it’s actually an illegal restriction on religious liberty.

      Our faith doesn’t call us to go along to get along, in order to avoid having people “use it against us…” Just take a look at one of the recent daily Mass readings that you watched on your TV or computer –

      “If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world—therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘Servants are not greater than their master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you…” (Jn 15:19-20) He’s talking directly to us. We are not engaged in a popularity contest if we are Christians, and much less so, it seems, if we are Catholic Christians.

      Seems to me that, borrowing your terms, sucking it up, getting tough and doing this thing really is all about living our Catholic faith unapologetically. Note that I have not said, either in the article, or in this note, living the faith carelessly or without due regard for others. In our diocese and parish, Mass attendees for the time being must wear masks. They need to maintain the required distancing. If someone’s sick, they’re not to come to Mass (and they shouldn’t go to the liquor store either). If someone’s concerned about the risk to themselves, they are dispensed from Mass and don’t have to attend Mass; and they can order contactless delivery of their beer.

      The gifts of the Holy Spirit include Wisdom and Fortitude–something we all need to pray for extra doses of in these times which many of us believe will not result in a more favorable climate for practicing our faith, no matter what we do, unless we just roll over and embrace secular values.

      By the way, I heard yesterday, unofficially, that in our state these draconian attendance restrictions are going to be lifted very soon, due at least partially to the unconstitutionality of the current guidelines.

  2. The questioning of medical expertise, and the imputation of nefarious motives to lockdown orders, contrast with what the Holy Father is saying:

    “As we are beginning to have protocols to get out of quarantine, let us pray that the Lord gives his people, all of us, the grace of prudence and obedience to the protocols so that the pandemic doesn’t return.”

    CS often seems more Republican than Catholic.

    1. @”CS often seems more Republican than Catholic.” Are you kidding? An article discussing whether or not mass should be considered non-“essential”, and all you can think of is politics? Where in the article was political affiliation even mentioned? The only one who seems to be preoccupied with partisan politics would seem to be you.

    1. ” For one [final] week he shall make
      a firm covenant with the many;
      Half the week
      he shall abolish sacrifice and offering;
      In their place shall be the desolating abomination
      until the ruin that is decreed
      is poured out upon the desolator.” Daniel 9:27

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