COVID and Vatican II

To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time

Gather ye Rose-buds while ye may,
    Old Time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles to day,
    To morrow will be dying.

The glorious Lamp of Heaven, the Sun,
    The higher he’s a getting;
The sooner will his Race be run,
    And neerer he’s to Setting.

That Age is best, which is the first,
    When Youth and Blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
    Times, still succeed the former.

Then be not coy, but use your time;
    And while ye may, go marry:
For having lost but once your prime,
    You may forever tarry.

Written in 1648 by Robert Herrick

Not much has changed in the last few centuries.  Time is still fleeting.  We still live in an eternal now, but we can’t identify the significance of now until it is in the past.  When things change, as they always do, they may change abruptly or gradually.  An event—a marriage, graduation, a birth, a death—can be an inflection point; or change might be more gradual, and only by looking back do we see that there was a before time and an after time. 

COVID-19 was a change of the gradual kind.  In February, I was vaguely aware that there was some sort of epidemic in China.  Well, what of it?  There had been outbreaks of so-called bird flu in 1997 and 2004, the swine flu in 2009-1010, a SARS epidemic in 2003, and a MERS epidemic in 2012.  But, they had all been brought under control, quickly.  I got more worried in March when Europe became the epicenter of COVID-19.  I began to take it seriously and curtail activities, and we have been in lockdown mode, ever since. 

Now, I get most things via delivery.  We go outdoors for exercise—such as walks, bike rides, or to the beach, but we haven’t been inside a restaurant, bar, or even gotten a haircut, ever since.  Like a lot of people, our social interactions are limited to social media, phone calls, or talking to the neighbors while standing a good distance apart.

Unfortunately, thanks to mismanagement, the U.S. is now the pit of viral transmission, with cases and numbers of deaths growing by leaps and bounds.  I joked with a nurse, at my last appointment, that since she was a Canadian at least she had a way out.  The rest of us are just stuck.  We are not welcome in Canada or Europe.  Keep your germy-selves at home, they tell us.

What does any of that have to do with Vatican II?  You may ask. 

Well, here’s the thing.  The other day, Sea Salt, an outdoor restaurant in Minnehaha Park, posted changes to their ordering and seating arrangements that loosened restrictions.  Since opening this year, they had only offered takeout.  Now, you can stand in line while wearing a mask, be assigned an outdoor table—all properly socially distanced from other tables and sanitized between users—and then you can take off your mask once you are seated.  Most comments were favorable, from people who were looking forward to coming, but there was one fellow who chimed in that he wouldn’t come if he had to wear a mask.  No reasons were given, just that.  

Of course, numerous comments followed citing reasons for wearing masks: health, caring about others, etc.  I just thought, “Good, one less person in front of me in line.”  Judging by past visits, the line can get very long.  A secondary thought bubbled up from my subconscious—“invincibly ignorant” and that’s what I posted.

Invincible ignorance, as I understand it, is a Catholic concept regarding a lack of moral responsibility due to a deeply ingrained inability to perceive the truth.  In other words—he just doesn’t get it and he never will—so let him be. 

Why some people are so adamantly opposed to a simple health measure is inexplicable except on an emotional level.  Perhaps they watched a lot of westerns as children, and the bad guys wore masks, or they’re insecure and imagine people are smirking at them behind the masks, or they are contrary and always want to do the opposite of what anyone tells them to do, or they’re just plain dumb.  Whatever!  They are INVINCIBLY IGNORANT.  Don’t waste your breath.

Which brings me around to Vatican II.  I was just a kid in the 1960s when the Catholic Church decided to change the mass.  The altars were turned around.  English replaced Latin, out went the organ and the choir, replaced by a nun with a guitar and/or a tambourine, and the screechy soprano who used to be part of the choir now screeched folk songs and bad hymns directly into a microphone.  Causing people to check for the nearest exits.

And exit they did.  Church attendance dropped dramatically over the decades, from near 75% weekly attendance in the 1950s to around 45% in 2017, according to a Gallup poll.

The big brick and wood barns built for the baby boomers in the 1970s are mostly empty.  (Even before the current COVID crisis closed the churches entirely, for a while.  We shall see what happens as they gradually reopen.)  These structures will serve well as gymnasiums once the pews are removed.  Meanwhile, I have been watching the recorded masses on YouTube, with the added benefit of being able to mute the screechy sopranos.

Some people resisted the Vatican II changes.  Monsignor Schuler was one of them.  Until his death, in 2007, he ensured that the Latin mass, accompanied by the great classical masses of Hayden, Mozart, and others–sung by the Twin Cities Catholic Chorale–persisted at St. Agnes Church in St. Paul.  The surroundings enhanced the experience.  St. Agnes is a grand church, complete with plaster statues and stained glass windows; and it was a grand experience complete with Latin, incense, orchestra, and organ.  It persisted after his death until the COVID epidemic put a temporary, I hope, stop to it. 

I was irresistibly drawn to this nostalgic experience and became a member of the choir in 2000 after a voice teacher encouraged me to try it.  My last practice, this year, was in March of this year.  As a child, the Latin mass seemed mysterious and intriguing.  I went to a Catholic school, and ours was a Cathedral parish, so we were pressed into service as a choir for regular masses from 4th grade, on.  Gradually, we learned more and more complex masses until we learned the funeral mass in 8th grade, then it was all stripped away. Replaced by the afore-mentioned strumming and screeching.

Many, I suppose, were glad to get rid of the Latin mass.  They claimed they didn’t know what it meant, though the translation was written next to the Latin text in the missals I used.  I suspect they just wanted a shorter version.  If a priest tries, he can whip through an ordinary mass in less than a half-hour.

Which brings me around to the mask resisters.  I guess I understand nostalgia.  Perhaps some people just yearn for a “Before Time.”  A time when they were younger and everything was great—or so it seems in retrospect—and the only way they know how to resist is to refuse to acknowledge reality. 

Alas, there is a bad bug out there, and we can’t wish it away.  Even the intransigent Republican Party is bowing to reality and scaling back on their plans for a big August hoopla in Florida.

The future can only get better.  Right?

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