“We glory in tribulations” (Rom. 5:3)
Millions of Catholics in the so-called free Western world will, in the coming weeks or even months, and especially during Holy Week and Easter, the culmination of the entire liturgical year, be deprived of any public acts of worship due to both civic and ecclesiastical reaction to the outbreak of Coronavirus (COVID-19). The most painful and distressing of these is the deprivation of Holy Mass and sacramental Holy Communion.
The current atmosphere of an almost planetary panic is continuously fueled by the universally proclaimed “dogma” of the new coronavirus pandemic. The drastic and disproportionate security measures with the denial of fundamental human rights of freedom of movement, freedom of assembly, and freedom of opinion appear almost globally orchestrated along a precise plan. Thus, the entire human race becomes a kind of prisoner of a world “sanitary dictatorship,” which for its part also reveals itself as a political dictatorship.
An important side-effect of this new “sanitary dictatorship” that is spreading throughout the world is the growing and uncompromising ban on all forms of public worship. Beginning on March 16, 2020, the German government issued a ban on all forms of public religious gatherings for all religions. Such a drastic measure of strict prohibition of all forms of public worship was unimaginable even during the Third Reich.
Before these measures were taken in Germany, a governmentally ordered prohibition of any public worship was implemented in Italy and Rome, the heart of Catholicism and of Christianity. The current situation of the prohibition of public worship in Rome brings the Church back to the time of an analogous prohibition issued by the pagan Roman emperors in the first centuries.
Clerics who dare to celebrate Holy Mass in the presence of the faithful in such circumstances could be punished or put in prison. The world “sanitary dictatorship” has created a situation which breathes the air of the catacombs, of a persecuted Church, of an underground Church, especially in Rome. Pope Francis, who on March 15, with lonely and halting steps, walked through the deserted streets of Rome on his pilgrimage from the image of the “Salus populi Romani” in the church of Santa Maria Maggiore to the Miraculous Cross in the church of San Marcello, conveyed an apocalyptic image. It was reminiscent of the following description of the third part of the secret of Fatima (revealed on 13 July 1917): “The Holy Father passed through a big city half in ruins and half trembling with halting step, afflicted with pain and sorrow.”
How should Catholics react and behave in such a situation? We have to accept this situation from the hands of Divine Providence as a trial, which will bring us a greater spiritual benefit than if we had not experienced such a situation. One can understand this situation as a divine intervention in the current unprecedented crisis of the Church. God uses now the merciless world “sanitary dictatorship” to purify the Church, to awaken the responsible in the Church, and in first place the pope and the episcopate, from the illusion of a nice modern world, from the temptation to flirt with the world, from the immersion in temporal and earthly things. The powers of this world have now forcibly separated the faithful from their shepherds. The clergy is ordered by governments to celebrate liturgy without the people.
This current purifying divine intervention has the power to show all of us what is truly essential in the Church: the Eucharistic sacrifice of Christ with His Body and Blood and the eternal salvation of immortal souls. May those in the Church who are unexpectedly and suddenly deprived of what is central start to see and appreciate its value more deeply.
In spite of the painful situation of being deprived of Holy Mass and Holy Communion, Catholics should not yield to frustration or melancholy. They should accept this trial as an occasion of abundant graces, which Divine Providence has prepared for them. Many Catholics have now in some way the chance to experience the situation of the catacombs, of the underground Church. One can hope that such a situation will produce the new spiritual fruits of confessors of faith and of holiness.
This situation forces Catholic families to experience literally the meaning of a domestic church. In the absence of the possibility to assist at Holy Mass even on Sundays, Catholic parents should gather their families in their homes. They could assist in their homes at a Holy Mass broadcast on television or the internet, or if this is not possible, they should dedicate a holy hour of prayers to sanctify the Day of the Lord and to unite themselves spiritually with the Holy Masses celebrated by priests behind closed doors even in their towns or in their vicinity. Such a Sunday holy hour of a domestic church could be done for instance in a following way:
Prayer of the rosary, reading of the Sunday Gospel, Act of Contrition, act of Spiritual Communion, Litany, prayer for all who suffer and die, for all who are persecuted, prayer for the pope and the priests, prayer for the end of the current physical and spiritual epidemic. The Catholic family should also pray the Stations of the Cross on Fridays of Lent. Furthermore, on Sundays, parents could gather their children in the afternoon or in the evening to read to them from the Lives of the Saints, especially those stories drawn from times of persecution of the Church. I had the privilege to have lived such an experience in my childhood, and that gave me the foundation of the Catholic faith for my entire life.
Catholics who are now deprived of assisting at Holy Mass and receiving sacramentally Holy Communion, perhaps only for a short time of some weeks or months, may think about these times of persecution, where faithful for years couldn’t assist at Holy Mass and receive other sacraments, as was the case, for instance, during the communist persecution in many places of the Soviet Empire.
Let the following words of God strengthen all Catholics who are currently suffering from being deprived of the Holy Mass and Holy Communion:
“Do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” (1 Peter 4: 12–13)
“The Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (2 Cor. 1:3–4)
“That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perishes, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6–7).
In the time of a cruel persecution of the Church, St. Cyprian of Carthage (+258) gave the following edifying teaching on the value of patience:
“It is patience which firmly fortifies the foundations of our faith. It is this which lifts up on high the increase of our hope. It is this which directs our doing, that we may hold fast the way of Christ while we walk by His patience. How great is the Lord Jesus, and how great is His patience, that He who is adored in heaven is not yet avenged on earth! Let us, beloved brethren, consider His patience in our persecutions and sufferings; let us give an obedience full of expectation to His advent” (De patientia, 20; 24)
We want to pray with all our trust to the Mother of the Church, invoking the intercessory power of Her Immaculate Heart, that the current situation of being deprived of Holy Mass may bring abundant spiritual fruits for the true renewal of the Church after decades of the night of the persecution of true Catholics, clergy, and faithful that has happened inside the Church. Let us hear the following inspiring words of St. Cyprian:
“If the cause of disaster is recognized, there is at once found a remedy for the wound. The Lord has desired His family to be proved; and because a long peace had corrupted the discipline that had been divinely delivered to us, the heavenly rebuke has aroused our faith, which was giving way, and I had almost said slumbering; and although we deserved more for our sins, yet the most merciful Lord has so moderated all things, that all which has happened has rather seemed a trial than a persecution.” (De lapsis, 5)
God grant that this short trial of the deprivation of public worship and Holy Mass instill in the heart of the pope and the bishops a new apostolic zeal for the perennial spiritual treasures, which were divinely entrusted to them — i.e., the zeal for the glory and honor of God, for the uniqueness of Jesus Christ and His redeeming sacrifice, for the centrality of the Eucharist and its sacred and sublime manner of celebration, for the greatest glory of the Eucharistic Body of Christ, the zeal for the salvation of the immortal souls, for a chaste and apostolic-minded clergy. May we listen to the following encouraging words of St. Cyprian:
“Praises must be given to God, and His benefits and gifts must be celebrated with giving of thanks, although even in the time of persecution our voice has not ceased to give thanks. For not even an enemy has so much power as to prevent us, who love the Lord with our whole heart, and life, and strength, from declaring His blessings and praises always and everywhere with glory. The day earnestly desired, by the prayers of all has come; and after the dreadful and loathsome darkness of a long night, the world has shone forth irradiated by the light of the Lord.” (De lapsis, 1)
March 19, 2020
+ Athanasius Schneider, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Saint Mary in Astana
A sample of prayers for the Sunday domestic holy hour
The Perfect Act of Contrition:
“Oh my God! I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee and I detest all my sins because I dread the loss of Heaven and the pains of Hell; But most of all because I have offended Thee, My God, Who art all-good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, To confess my sins, to do penance, And to amend my life. Amen.”
Prayer for making a Spiritual Communion:
“At Thy feet, O my Jesus, I prostrate myself, and I offer Thee the repentance of my contrite heart, which is humbled in its nothingness and in Thy holy presence. I adore Thee in the Sacrament of Thy love, the ineffable Eucharist. I desire to receive Thee into the poor dwelling that my heart offers Thee. While waiting for the happiness of sacramental Communion, I wish to possess Thee in spirit. Come to me, O my Jesus, since I, for my part, am coming to Thee! May thy love embrace my whole being in life and in death. I believe in Thee, I hope in Thee, I love Thee. Amen”
Prayers of the Angel of Fatima:
“My God, I believe, I adore, I trust, and I love Thee! I ask pardon for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not trust and do not love Thee. Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, I adore Thee profoundly. I offer Thee the Most Precious Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ, present in all the tabernacles of the world, in reparation for the outrages, sacrileges, and indifference by which He is offended. And through the infinite merit of His Most Sacred Heart, and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I beg of Thee the conversion of poor sinners. Amen.”
The Universal Prayer (attributed to Pope Clement XI)
Lord, I believe in you: increase my faith. I trust in you: strengthen my trust. I love you: let me love you more and more. I am sorry for my sins: deepen my sorrow. I worship you as my first beginning, I long for you as my last end, I praise you as my constant helper, and call on you as my loving protector.
Guide me by your wisdom, correct me with your justice, comfort me with your mercy, protect me with your power. I offer you, Lord, my thoughts: to be fixed on you; my words: to have you for their theme; my actions: to reflect my love for you; my sufferings: to be endured for your greater glory. I want to do what you ask of me: In the way you ask, for as long as you ask, because you ask it. Lord, enlighten my understanding, strengthen my will, purify my heart, and make me holy. Help me to repent of my past sins and to resist temptation in the future. Help me to rise above my human weaknesses and to grow stronger as a Christian.
Let me love you, my Lord and my God, and see myself as I really am: a pilgrim in this world, a Christian called to respect and love all whose lives I touch, those under my authority, my friends and my enemies. Help me to conquer anger with gentleness, greed by generosity, apathy by fervor. Help me to forget myself and reach out toward others. Make me prudent in planning, courageous in taking risks. Make me patient in suffering, unassuming in prosperity.
Keep me, Lord, attentive at prayer, temperate in food and drink, diligent in my work, firm in my good intentions. Let my conscience be clear, my conduct without fault, my speech blameless, my life well-ordered. Put me on guard against my human weaknesses. Let me cherish your love for me,
Keep your law, and come at last to your salvation. Teach me to realize that this world is passing, that my true future is the happiness of heaven, that life on earth is short, and the life to come eternal. Help me to prepare for death with a proper fear of judgment, but a greater trust in your goodness. Lead me safely through death to the endless joy of heaven. Grant this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Hymn and prayer to Our Lady, the star of heaven
Stella caeli exstirpávit,
quae lactávit Dóminum
Mortis pestem quam plántavit
Primus parens hóminum.
Ipsa Stella nunc dignétur
Quorum bella plebem caedunt
Dirae mortis úlcere.
O piíssima stella maris,
A peste succúrre nobis.
Audi nos, Dómina,
nam Fílius tuus nihil negans te honórat.
Salva nos Jesu, pro quibus Virgo Mater te orat!
℣ In omni tribulatióne et angústia nostra.
℞ Succúrre nobis, piíssima Virgo Maria.
Oremus: Deus misericordiae, Deus pietatis, Deus indulgentiae, qui misertus es super afflictione Populi tui, et dixisti Angelo percutienti Populum tuum: contine manum tuam ob amorem illius Stellae gloriosae, cujus ubera pretiosa contra venenum nostrorum delictorum quam dulciter suxisti: praesta auxilium gratiae tuae, ab omni peste, et improvisa morte secure liberemur, et a totius perditionis incursu misericorditer liberemur.
Per te Jesu Christi Rex Gloria, Salvator Mundi: Qui vivis, et regnas in secula seculorum. Amen
The Star of heaven, who breastfed the Lord, extirpated the plague planted by the first parent of men.
This star may now deign to restrain the stars who with their wars kill the people with the mortal cruel ulcer.
O most pious star of the sea, deliver us from the plague. Hear us, o Lady, for your Son, who denies nothing to you, honors you. O Jesus, save us, for whom your Virgin Mother prays!
Let us pray. God of mercy, God of love, God of forgiveness, you have compassion over the affliction of your people and you said to the Angel who was striking your people: Stay your hand out of love of that glorious Star, at whose precious breasts you sweetly sucked to remedy the poison of our trespasses. Grant the help of your grace and we shall be surely and mercifully delivered from any plague, of unprepared death and of any perditious attack. Through you, Jesus Christ, the King of Glory, the Savior of the world, who lives and reigns forever. Amen.
Bishop Athanasius (Anton) Schneider is the author of two books: Dominus Est – It is the Lord!, and Propter Sanctam Ecclesiam Suam (not yet available in English.)
He was born of German parents on 7 April 1961 in Tokmok, Kirghiz SSR in the Soviet Union, where his family received the pastoral care of Fr. Oleksa Zaryckyj, later to become a beatified martyr for the faith. Bishop Schneider himself received his first holy communion in secret, since the practice of the faith was outlawed under the communist regime. In 1973, he left with his family for Germany.
He later joined the Canons Regular of the Holy Cross of Coimbra, a Catholic religious order, where he was given the religious name Athanasius. He was ordained a priest on 25 March 1990. In 1997, he received a doctorate in patrology at the Augustinianum in Rome; and in 1999, he became a professor of Patristics at Mary, Mother of the Church Seminary in Karaganda.
In June 2006, he was consecrated Bishop at the Altar of the Chair of Saint Peter in the Vatican. He was then assigned to the position of auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Astana. He is the General Secretary of the Bishops’ Conference of Kazakhstan and Titular Bishop of Celerina, Switzerland.