The year was 258 A.D. and St. Lawrence was condemned to a slow, agonizing death by the prefect of Rome. He was roasted alive: tied above a grill and slowly spun over a fire. But his devotion to his faith made him hardly able to feel the flames, and he reportedly joked, “Turn me over, I’m done on this side!”
Thus, St. Lawrence joined the multitude of other Christian martyrs in the early church. Among them was Perpetua, who was devoured by wild beasts in an arena, and St. Stephen, who was stoned to death for his faith.
It is difficult to learn about these early Christians without imagining their disturbance if they could see the church today — closed, restricted, or empty in many states, while grocery stores, liquor stores, and restaurants do their best to remain open.
While Catholics in Hillsdale are fortunate to have relatively normal Masses and church offerings, the same can not be said of churches worldwide. California’s ban on indoor church was only lifted this past February, and services still remain severely limited. In the early weeks of the spread in Italy last spring, churches were open to tourists, but not to worshippers. Even in places where Mass has been allowed, many dioceses chose to shut down or limit access, and many parishioners chose not to attend because of COVID-19 anxiety.
As we head back to our home parishes during spring break, Catholic Hillsdale students should be prepared. When I was home during Christmas break, I was shocked at how empty the pews at my church were, with barely 45 people attending the Christmas Mass that is normally packed. The priest excused the poor attendance by saying it was OK to refrain from Mass as a result of COVID-19 anxiety. But does that same anxiety prevent people from doing other essential activities?
Going to church and receiving the sacraments is the most essential duty of a confirmed Catholic. Canon law states that Sunday must be observed in the universal Church as the primordial day of holy obligation (Can. 1246 §1). Additionally, members of the Church have the right to receive the word of God and the sacraments (Can. 213), which can’t be received via Zoom or a Facebook livestream. While exceptions exist for those especially at risk or unable to attend Mass (Can. 1248 §1), healthy Catholics have no reason to skip; nor do bishops have reason to deny access to the sacraments.
It is easy to get caught up in fear about COVID-19, but we are a year into the pandemic, long past the initial “two weeks to slow the spread” campaign. Grocery stores are highly trafficked, restaurants are as full as capacity rules allow, and there are waiting lists at salons and barbers — so why are church pews across the nation so empty? During the stress and grief that results from a pandemic, the Church should be a place for believers to turn to for relief and hope. It should not be perceived as a threat. When you go home for spring break this year, don’t be afraid to encourage others to fill the pews of your church. It’s our right and duty as Catholics.
Maggie Hroncich is a sophomore studying politics. She is an assistant editor for the Collegian.