Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

Pastoral Remedies in Time of Crisis

April 15th, 2020, Promulgated by Diane Harris

Christifidelis (Excerpts)

March 25, 2020, Feast of the Annunciation, Vol 38 #3

“Pastoral Remedies in Time of Crisis”

by Philip C. L. Gray, JCL



Canon Lawyer Philip C. L. Gray, JCL, recently quoted by LifeSite News for his professional opinions on certain current Canon Law matters related to the pandemic, has published in a newsletter of the St. Joseph Foundation his insightful and dynamic guidance for ‘just such a time as this.’ And, quite frankly, it is so much more than has been available to the laity through its customary diocesan channels that it deserves close attention.

This post is intended to whet the appetites of those who are deeply concerned to read and understand more about worship in a pandemic. These comments are at best small pieces of the larger work which fully deserves our intense reading and analysis. Fortunately, for a short period of time, that 8-page article is available here: and these citations will only mention the page numbers.

Page 1

“While many bishops are calling for prayer, it also appears many bishops in the United States are taking cues primarily from the secular world as they issue guidelines during this difficult time… both Catholics United for the Faith (CUF) and The Saint Joseph Foundation (SJF) have received numerous complaints and questions regarding potential abuses of authority or violations of rights as bishops issue norms and guidelines to address the Coronavirus pandemic. These inquiries have come from priests, deacons, and laity from across the United States.”

“[Unlike exceptions invoked by government in times of crisis] … under Canon Law there are no special powers granted or invoked during exceptional situations. By his consecration, a bishop enjoys the fullness of the Power of Orders, and by appointment as a diocesan bishop, he receives specific mandate to use that power. Divine Law, both Natural and Positive, as well as ecclesiastical laws, regulate his use of that power.”

Page 2


Mr. Gray makes note of an exceptional situation, such as chaplains in wartime receiving dispensations or special faculties, “granted so that the Catholic faithful have sufficient access to the healing graces of Jesus Christ in time of crisis … [E]xceptional measures should be taken by the Church … to increase the opportunities for grace and the sacraments. That is the Mission of the Church.”

“Adding to the disaster, there are bishops across the country doing the opposite .… [T]hey are issuing prohibitive laws to restrict the sacraments…. In many places, they are removing any possibility for the sacraments. This not only violates the spirit of Canon Law and the Divine Rights of the Faithful, it also violates the very Mission of the Church.”

“As in times of war, bishops should use dispensations rather than prohibitions to address the pastoral situations occurring because of a pandemic. Dispensations are used to relax an obligation…. [T]he use of dispensations has an evangelistic element that encourages subsidiarity and solidarity.”

“… [T]he Church recognizes pastors to be administrators of their parishes and provides them certain discretion in the exercise of pastoral care and liturgical expressions…. [P]astors are in a better vantage point to make decisions on the celebration of Mass during a crisis than anyone else…. Rather than issuing prohibitions, [a bishop] should be in close collaboration with his priests.  He should issue guidelines in the form of dispensations and special faculties to allow his priests … to make prudent decisions in the pastoral care of their parishioners.”

Page 3

“To avoid the anger and fear that result from broad, sweeping changes, the Church has always stressed the necessity of formation…. [I]t is imperative that the faithful receive proper instruction on the ‘why’s’ and ‘how’s’ of changing norms. More importantly, the suffering must be viewed as redemptive, or the panic and fear will continue to drive the human response. What is needed is Faith and Hope. These can only be instilled if the pastors of the Church are engaged with the people – not isolated from them.”

“The news of the pandemic pervades all social media platforms, and it is driving a growing fear within the population. This fear is already turning to depression and anger as people are isolated… the Word of God and the Sacraments are the ordinary remedies for isolation, fear, and anger. Regrettably … the restrictions placed on the celebration of sacraments by many bishops in the United States are more radical and isolating than those imposed by State or Federal Governments.”

“The consolations given to people at Mass are huge … the Mass is Jesus making Himself available to His people. The celebration of Mass and participation by the faithful in the Mass is an ordinary means of salvation. Removing a significant source of hope and consolation during such an isolating time will have a significantly damaging effect on the spiritual lives of the faithful. In many cases, it will be more damaging to the soul than the Coronavirus would be to the body.”

Page 4

Mr. Gray also provides three approaches from Canon Law. In the first place, he discusses the principle “No one is bound to the impossible….”  Of course, for a bishop to forbid Mass seemingly implies a dispensation from the obligation to attend.

“Ecclesiastical authorities can and should dispense from merely ecclesiastical laws that are available for dispensation…. It allows each member of the faithful to make a personal and conscientious decision without fear of sin.  It encourages greater prudence and provides for an evangelistic opportunity.”

“A third path that can and should be taken … is for a bishop to rely on the Principle of Subsidiarity and extend broader faculties to his priests [which] should focus on the specific needs caused by the crisis,” and for which the author gives many examples.

“The guidelines and directives should not be prohibitive as much as they are respectful of the Divine Right of the Faithful to obtain the graces of salvation from the Church, particularly through the Word of God and the Sacraments (Canon 213).”

“If the directives become too restrictive, the bishop would deny the Faithful that which is a Divine Right and violate his own obligation to provide the sacraments. Because this touches on Divine Law, such restrictions must be avoided.”

Page 5

“… prudent measures could be provided as guidelines by a bishop, while reserving to individual pastors  the use of such measures as common sense and parish circumstances demand …. [A]ll prudent measures should be exhausted before a bishop begins to restrict rights; and the provision of Mass and the sacraments should never be denied the faithful altogether. Such an act runs completely contrary to the Mission of the Church.”

Beginning on page 5, and carrying over to page 6 are seven key questions for which answers are provided by the author, Canon Lawyer, Philip Gray, which make further and interesting reading.

Page 6

“In the past, Catholics have suffered from pandemics, plagues, wars, and other social maladies that prohibited the faithful from attending Mass in a church. When those things happened, the bishops and priests went to them. It is unprecedented that in a time of crisis, so many bishops are choosing to close churches when they do not have to; or prohibit the exercise of sacraments without coercion from secular laws….”


The remainder of the article deals with Vatican communications, plenary indulgences, and acts of Spiritual Communion. Reading the full, original article in Christifidelis will convey far more than can be done in this post.


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