A Response to the Lockdown of Churches during Easter


On the 23rd of March, 1208, Pope Innocent III laid a general interdict on England and Wales. Most of the Church's sacraments were restricted for the entire kingdom.  The spiritual lockdown meant that the people's ability to attend Mass was severely curtailed, as were the sacraments of extreme unction, the baptism of babies (only the parents and sponsors could attend), and weddings.  The dead could not be buried in holy ground.

The interdict of England lasted for more than six years before it was finally lifted in July, 1214.

David A. Carpenter writes in The Struggle for Mastery: Britain, 1066-1284, that Abbot Ralph of Coggeshall, observer of the effects of an interdict in France during the year 1200, was horrified:

"O what a horrible and miserable spectacle it was to see in every city the sealed doors of the churches, Christians shut out from entry as though they were dogs, the cessation of divine office, the withholding of the sacrament of the body and blood of our Lord, the people no longer flocking to the famous celebrations of saints days, the bodies of the dead not given to burial according to Christian rites, of whom the stink infected the air and the horrible sight filled with horror the minds of the living."

As New York City authorities are reported to be contemplating burying the unshriven dead in city parks, it can be argued that America's churches presently are experiencing the secular equivalent of an interdict.  Churches are shut down nationwide.

During what Christians consider the holiest of weeks, Christians are peering into sanctuaries via the internet, forbidden to congregate as has been the usual habit for centuries.  Like saints and hovering angels, congregants are watching services beamed from afar.

It is true worshippers can be reminded they believe the visible Church on earth is a flawed yet real representation of the New Jerusalem, the City of God; and that the observant are included among a crowd of unseen witnesses. We can also be reminded that the Church catholic exists regardless of her buildings, institutions and governing structures.  Doubtless, we should recall that one solitary worshipper praying in a closet is in the presence of God as surely as the thousands who flock to mega church stadia.

Nonetheless, the forced lockdown of churches by the state during this Holy Week, during which Christians have gathered together for centuries in order to reverentially and ceremonially observe the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ via corporate worship, should cause all citizens grave concerns — religious or not.

The fact is that for what may be initially benign motives concerning public health, Christian churches as well as the sanctuaries of other faiths have been emptied as surely as if a neutron bomb had gone off.

Their worship declared as nonessential, Christians instantaneously have been placed outside the cultural camp as surely as lepers have been in the past and present. Long considered by the Left as inherently pestilential and dispensers of the opiate of the people, Christians now have been rendered virtually invisible and perhaps culturally ineffectual. 

Now essentially jailed in their own homes, Christians (and others) have become imprisoned slaves to the state overnight, acceding ultimate authority to the state. By taking away one of believers' most precious safeguards; namely, the right to worship freely without fear of state interference, the State has asserted its authority over every believer in America, effectively placing them under house arrest while fastening to them a metaphorical ankle bracelet of police surveillance.

Jews and Christians are thinking about Passover this week, as both see the event as an intrinsic part of their histories.  Both might recall the reason Moses insisted the pharaoh of Egypt must allow the Hebrews slaves to go free: the Hebrews wanted and needed to obey God by worshipping collectively.  As Exodus 9:1 relates, "Then the LORD said to Moses, "Go to Pharaoh and say to him, 'This is what the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, says: "Let my people go, so that they may worship me."

It was and is the mark of the slave prisoner that he or she was or is not permitted worship of his or her God freely with like believers.  Egyptian culture provided no alternative to worship other than the gods of Egypt, who were also the gods of the state. Moses defied the lockdown of worship; wrestled with pharaoh and with the aid of Jehovah's miracles, including plagues, finally prevailed.  He led the people from slavery to freedom.

Americans should consider the fact that the secular lockdown of America's churches means that corporate spiritual life is suffocating while material wellbeing is considered essential.  The Christian who can still go to his or her essential work yet is prevented from attending church services is the person that state has decided must live by bread alone. To this materialistic dictate, Christians might reply with the words of Jesus Christ, who said, "Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God."

Christians believe that throughout both Old and New Testament, the mouth of God proclaimed believers must worship Him — not just alone, but corporately. They believe the Son of God also has decreed the corporate taking of Holy Communion, which both Catholics and Protestants believe is absolutely essential to spiritual life.

The secular state, in locking down churches, has effectively proclaimed and is enforcing its version of interdict.  Largely unprotested, even by most Christians, a fearful precedent has been set. This time, the reason for shutting down congregations is public health.  The next time, will the state, upon reflection, decide that the gospel message and Christian ethics are a public nuisance and a danger to the welfare and progress of the State? Certainly, Christians have seen many signs that progressive secularists regard Christianity itself as a block to progress.

Christians also should remember that even during the Black Death, churches did not shut down. They should think about whether or not capitulation to a far less dangerous disease than the bubonic plague may reveal more of their timidity than of compassion for one's neighbors.  They should understand that once a State considers certain elements of society as nonessential or even as contaminating, that as surely as night follows day, purges and pogroms eventually happen.  They always do.

Further, as long as Christian churches are in lockdown, they have effectively been scattered into a new diaspora, fragmented and blown to the four winds by secular authorities; as the Hebrews were deported to the far ends of the Babylonian empire after the destruction and plundering of Solomon's temple by King Nebuchadnezzar.

How will Christians permanently reconstitute themselves in the future if government officials can enact the same draconian measures that resulted in the Babylonian exile of the Jews?  It is quite possible that some churches and even some church institutions may not survive the lockdown.  The strength they receive from corporate worship and the sacraments is vitiated, and they are weakened.

Is the Church to endure this without a roar of protest or even an audible murmur?  Is it to bow without thinking about what St. Peter said to the authority, who on the behalf of the city council, forbad the apostles to preach the Easter message of the resurrected Christ to the crowds:

"We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name," [the leader of city council] said. "Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching…" But Peter and the other apostles replied, "We must obey God rather than men." (Acts 5.)

Christians should think hard about the governments' shutdown of the churches during and after the Easter season.  Church leaders should consider whether or not they should protest non-violently by opening their services to corporate worship this Easter weekend. It is possible to open the door to whosever wills to come while the less intrepid or the genuinely frail stay home and watch services from afar. It is possible to take sensible precautions for the health of the congregation without killing the body of Christ.

Let us pray and hope that this Easter season, a corporate shout rises up from the Church catholic, which once again gathers to proclaim, "Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again."

Fay Voshell holds a M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary, which awarded her the prize for excellence in systematic theology.  Her thoughts have appeared in many online magazines, including American Thinker, RealClearReligion, National Review, Russian Insider, LifeSiteNews, and the Christian Post.  She may be reached at fvoshell@yahoo.com.

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