After reading the Communicarion of Cardinal Nichols and Archbishop McMahon about the newly reimposed prohibition within this Kingdom of England of the public Offering of the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, I began by being rather favourable. The steely tone seemed exactly what the circumstances required. The in-your-face and iterated demand for statistical evidence that the Eucharist spreads infection seemed to me rather good. The appeal to flabby Utilitarian ethical presuppositions (worshipping communities generate community benevolence) appeared to me just the sort of argument you have to use, unwillingly perhaps, in dealing with somebody as devoid of moral integrity as Boris Johnson. I even found myself thinking: "Is this the most forthright public text by an English Catholic Archbishop since Archbishop Hethe spoke in the House of Lords in 1559?"
As so often, I changed my mind after discussion with someone whose judgment I respect. She wondered why the two archbishops had not seized the opportunity to explain why the Mass is of such overriding importance to Catholics; to make clear what the Eucharist is and why it is in a category totally different to Protestant and Pagan worship; what it is that makes the Most Holy Sacrifice not part of the entertainment or feel-good industry, but something, for Christians, both vital and (to employ a term which often crops up in goverrnment regulations) "essential".
Why had the Church missed an important opportunity of evangelism?
Here is a passage from Dom Gregory Dix, which I published earlier in the year after the gauleiters banned Easter.
"To secure [the Sunday Eucharist] a whole congregation of obscure provincials at Abilinitina in Africa took the risk of almost certain detection by assembling at the height of the Diocletian persecution in their own town, where the authorities were on the watch for them, because, as they said in court, the eucharist had been lacking a long while through the apostasy of their bishop Fundanus, and they could no longer bear the lack of it. And so they called on a presbyter to celebrate - and paid the penalty of their faith to a man. ... Even when a church had been scattered by long persecution, the duty was never forgotten, 'At first they drove us out and ... we kept our festival even then, pursued and put to death by all, and every single spot where we were afflicted became to us a place of assembly for the feast -- field, desert, ship, inn, prison', writes S Denys, bishop of Alexandria, of one terrible Easter day c. A.D. 250, when a raging civil war, famine and pestilence were added to the woes of his persecuted church.
"The christian came to the eucharist, not indeed 'to learn something', for faith was presupposed, but certainly not to seek a psychological thrill. He came simply to do something, which he conceived he had an overwhelming personal duty to do, come what may.
"What brought him to the eucharist week by week, despite all dangers and inconveniences, was no thrill provoked by the service itself, which was bare and unimpressive to the point of dullness, and would soon lose any attraction of novelty. Nor yet was it a longing for personal communion with God, which he could and did fulfil otherwise in his his daily communion from the reserved sacrament at home. What brought him was an intense belief that in the eucharistic action of the Body of Christ, as in no other way, he himself took part in that act of sacrificial obedience to the will of God which was consummated on Calvary and which had redeemed the world, including himself. What brought him was the conviction that there rested on each of the redeemed an absolute necessity to take his own part in the self-offering of Christ, a necessity more binding even than the instinct of self-preservation.
"Simply as members of Christ's body, the church, all christians must do this, and they can do it in no other way than that which was the last command of Jesus to his own. That rule of the absolute obligation upon each of the faithful of presence at Sunday mass under pain of mortal sin,which seems so mechanical and formal to the protestant, is something which was burned into the corporate mind of historic christendom in the centuries between Nero and Diocletian, but it rests upon something more evangelical and more profound than historical memories. It expresses as nothing else can the whole new testament doctrine of redemption; of Jesus, God and Man, as the only saviour of mankind, who intends to draw all men to him by his sacrificial and atoning death; and of the church as the communion of redeemed sinnners, the body of Christ, corporately invested with his own mission of salvation to the world."