The Congregation of Divine Worship, invoking the authority delegated to it by Pope Francis, has issued a text for a special votive mass for pandemics that departs from ancient liturgical tradition by omitting any reference to divine wrath and chastisement for sins.
The new “Mass in Time of Pandemic,” was issued in response to popular request during the current COVID-19 crisis. Unlike the Traditional Latin Mass, which includes a “Votive Mass for the Deliverance from Death in Time of Pestilence,” the missal for the “New Mass” of 1970 had no such option until now.
The text of the “Mass in Time of Pandemic” seeks the mercy of God, asking for various forms of aid for those who are suffering from illness, those who have already died, their families, medical staff, and government officials. The traditional “Mass for the Deliverance from Death in Times of Pestilence,” also asks for God’s mercy and aid, but in addition, asks for pardon for sins and speaks of the “scourge of Thy wrath.”
The differences between the two are striking. The entrance hymn or “introit” of the Traditional Latin Mass (last issued in 1962), implores God to “be mindful . . . of Thy covenant and say to the destroying Angel: Now hold thy hand, and let not the land be made desolate, and destroy not every living soul.”
However, the new version gives a brief entrance antiphon that merely states, “Truly the Lord has borne our infirmities, and he has carried our sorrows.”
The special collect or opening prayer of the traditional version states, “O God, who willest not the death of the sinner but that he should repent: welcome with pardon Thy people’s return to Thee: and so long as they are faithful in Thy service, do Thou in Thy clemency withdraw the scourge of Thy wrath. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son…”
The new version’s collect instead asks for help, but without reference to sin or punishment: “Almighty and eternal God, our refuge in every danger, to whom we turn in our distress; in faith we pray, look with compassion on the afflicted, grant eternal rest to the dead, comfort to mourners, healing to the sick, peace to the dying, strength to healthcare workers, wisdom to our leaders, and the courage to reach out to all in love, so that together we may give glory to your holy name. Through our Lord Jesus Christ your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever.”
Outbreaks of disease historically associated with the wrath of God
The tradition of attributing outbreaks of disease to the righteous wrath of God against the sinfulness of man is deeply embedded in the Christian tradition.
The traditional Rituale Romanum, for example, contains a “Prayer in time of Epidemics,” which has numerous such references, and even prays that God will bring people to understand that scourges are the result of God’s “indignation.” Priests that celebrate the traditional rite still use that prayer.
“We beseech thee, O Lord, grant us a hearing as we devoutly raise our petitions to thee, and graciously turn away the epidemic of plague which afflicts us; so that mortal hearts may recognize that these scourges proceed from thine indignation and cease only when thou art moved to mercy,” the prayer concludes.
References to the wrath of God with regard to plagues and other natural disasters originate in the Sacred Scriptures, where such events are often seen as punishments of God for the sins of mankind. In general, suffering and death are themselves seen as the consequence of the fall of Adam, the father of mankind, in the Garden of Eden.
The Old Testament is replete with such references. In the Book of Exodus, Egyptians are struck with various plagues and natural disasters for their refusal to release the Hebrews from bondage. In the Book of Samuel, God sends an angel to strike down 70,000 men of Israel with a plague.
In the New Testament, the Book of Revelation describes numerous plagues and disasters, also delivered by angels, sent to mankind as a punishment for their sins.
However, the same Scriptures sometimes portray illness as having another purpose. In the Book of Job, a holy and righteous man is struck by an illness that causes painful sores all over his body as well as numerous other calamities, all of which are to test his faith. In the Gospel of John, chapter 9, Jesus says that a man he heals was born blind not as a punishment for sin, but rather so that God could be glorified through his miraculous healing.
Cardinal Sarah is well-known for his defense of traditional Catholic doctrine as well as for favoring traditional liturgical forms, such as the ad orientem posture of the celebrant of the Mass. However, after several disagreements with Pope Francis earlier in his pontificate, the pontiff changed the composition of the Congregation for Divine Worship, adding liberal cardinals and removing conservative ones. As a result, Sarah appears to have been obstructed in his attempts to restore liturgical traditions in the Church.
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