The coronavirus pandemic poses many new challenges to us and our faith.

People are asking: How can we be Catholic if we don’t even have Mass? How can we remain Catholic and yet comply with Governor Scott’s executive order to remain at home? Aren’t we supposed to keep holy the Lord’s Day? Since I have had those questions from two people today, I share my response.

First, we can and must continue to worship God; the obligation to worship God is absolute.  That does not end because of a pandemic. On the other hand, the obligation to attend Sunday Mass comes from a Precept of the Church.  That obligation can be dispensed (suspended) by the Church (i.e. by the bishop.)

Yet, two other important obligations arise. Under the Fifth Commandment and the law of charity, we have an obligation to take good care of our own physical, mental health and that of our neighbors. To clarify the law of charity: Perhaps the law of charity was most clearly and succinctly stated by Jesus, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” None of us would want someone to infect a vulnerable member of our family with a deadly disease.

Since those obligations under charity and the Fifth Commandment flow directly from divine law, they are absolute and always in force. In a pandemic we must avoid gathering to keep ourselves and our neighbors safe. Gathering  people together during a pandemic would impose excessive risk to all, especially since someone carrying the virus can infect others before knowing that they are carrying the virus.

Bishop Christopher Coyne made the right call. the law of charity and the Fifth commandment are greater obligations than the obligation to participate in the Mass.

But we can and must continue to worship at home.  We can read the scriptures, pray the rosary or other prayers. We can watch and participate in the TV Mass from the Diocese or on EWTN or other sources. Since most of us now have ample time to do these acts of worship, and since the Mass is not available to us otherwise, there is no excuse for not worshiping God. Although right now we are not able to receive Holy Communion, we can make a Spiritual Communion, especially during those TV Masses. In doing so we will grow in devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and be enriched even more once we can receive again.

—Deacon Pete Gummere serves at Corpus Christi Parish in St. Johnsbury and is director of deacons for the Diocese of Burlington.