For those unaware, the Australian Government has issued a ban on any nonessential indoor gatherings of more than 100 people.
In response to this, the Archdiocese of Melbourne has suspended all public Masses indefinitely. Many of my closest friends live in Melbourne, and after hearing about what it’s been like there over the past 24 hours I was inspired to write to my own Archbishop, Anthony Fisher, today.
For a few weeks now, we’ve all been told repeatedly not to come to Mass if we’re feeling ill. The holy water fonts have been removed and now my parish is implementing even more measures to avoid any physical contact with each other during Mass.
I mention all this as a preliminary to give context to the below letter – that I’m not encouraging anything dangerous or risky, but in a spirit of common sense, that people are taking the proper precautions of keeping their hands clean and sanitised and staying a safe distance away from each other, etc.
Archbishop Fisher sent out a video message yesterday reiterating that Sydney churches will remain open for the time being, but warning there is a chance they could close in future. He also gave a few other words of encouragement to the faithful.
This letter was sent as a response to his message.
Letter to the Archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher
I’m emailing to thank you for guiding us the faithful in Sydney during these troubled times.
I was speaking to one of my best friends in Melbourne and we both agreed it felt as if the apocalypse is already upon us. In all honesty, your Grace, she is actually disgusted at the lack of leadership and the apparent cowardice of the bishops and the priests there. One can go shopping, to the pub, eat out, do almost any activity, seemingly, with the same number of people that would attend a weekday Mass, but only the latter is banned.
As we were talking, it occurred to me that she was right to be angry. I understand this is a very unique time in history, but if not more than 100 people can gather in one place, then why are so many in the Church around Australia willing to bow down and just suspend all Masses? Why isn’t the response, rather, to put on more Masses to attend to all the faithful? Surely this is the basic job description of our priests! To attend to the sacramental needs of the faithful. We couldn’t help thinking of the Reformation, when the faithful were told they either needed to stop attending Mass or be killed, and many chose death. How have we let it come to this, suspending all Masses entirely in some Archdioceses? And for what? A terrible virus, yes, but one which isn’t significantly more deadly to the elderly than a bad flu or pneumonia.
Furthermore, why is the Church not putting up a fight against allowing the Mass to fall under the category of a “nonessential” gathering? I’ve seen a lot of people post about this on social media, that this is sending out a worrying message. Surely if anything is an essential gathering, it’s the Catholic Mass! And how many of the “faithful” will no longer continue to attend Mass once this is all over after seeing it reduced to something one can virtually “attend” online..? How can this fail to limit the sacredness of the Holy Liturgy in the eyes of many who are less well-formed in their faith?
I’m not looking for an answer to any of these questions, your Grace, just to bring you the concerns of myself and many of my fellow laymen, and to encourage you.
It saddens and disturbs me deeply to hear of so many priests in Melbourne seemingly so willing to just leave their flocks shepherdless, to fend for themselves. The vast majority of priests aren’t even willing to say private Masses which their parishioners may attend, I hear.
You are our holy shepherd here in this city. I know we already have it so much better than so many other dioceses and archdioceses in the country and even the world, for which I am deeply, deeply grateful. But as a simple laywoman, Archbishop, I exhort you not to give into the pressure to suspend Masses here. Rather, I urge you to encourage the priests under your jurisdiction to increase the number of Masses they say, to allow for less than 100 people at each. The sad truth is that many parishes in Sydney wouldn’t even reach 100, or much more than 100, at Sunday Masses anyway. But the response from the Church at this time should be to attend more readily to the sacramental needs of the faithful, not to take them away and offer only poor substitutes.
I will keep you, all our bishops and priests and the Church in Australia in my prayers, but I hope that you hear the voice of one of your little sheep here in Sydney, and that it has made some impact on you.
Yours in Christ,