A friend sent me the following note.
Dear Dr. Kwasniewski:
In our State of ———, masks were recently mandated in public places. Failure to comply with the new order can result in a petty misdemeanor or fine. Even at Holy Mass, all are supposed to wear masks.
I think that all this COVID “hype” is being manipulated for other ends and I am opposed to mandatory mask-wearing. Yet I do not see how the law is unjust, since it is promulgated under the auspices of protecting the health of all, even if science fails to show that masks do protect health. The order cannot be considered to be simply a penal law, since it is supposed to protect people from disease and death. (For “medical conditions” one may be exempt from wearing a mask and these conditions may be physical or psychological. I could think up some condition which prevents me from wearing a mask, but it seems quite a “mental reservation” to make.)
Have you, as a philosopher, thought about the matter?
My thoughts fall into three areas: (1) Church authority; (2) the scientific/medical domain; and (3) the theology of worship.
The State may not mandate how the Church should do her liturgy or make use of her sacraments. The Church fought for centuries against state encroachments and arrogations, establishing that her ministers have a God-given right to make liturgical and sacramental determinations.[i] On May 7, an open letter, led by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò and Cardinals Gerhard Ludwig Müller, Joseph Zen, and Jānis Pujats, and signed by many clergy, reminded politicians that “the state has no right to interfere, for any reason whatsoever, in the sovereignty of the Church.”
This autonomy and freedom are an innate right that Our Lord Jesus Christ has given her for the pursuit of her proper ends. For this reason, as pastors we firmly assert the right to decide autonomously on the celebration of Mass and the Sacraments, just as we claim absolute autonomy in matters falling within our immediate jurisdiction, such as liturgical norms and ways of administering Communion and the Sacraments.
In a time of infectious disease, bishops may freely decide to issue the same or similar guidelines as the secular authorities have done, but they do so by their own judgment and authority, not as subservient to the State.[ii] Unfortunately, what we have seen instead is a simple capitulation to health “experts” and civil governors. In some cases, Catholic bishops have imposed even more restrictive and ridiculous conditions than secular leaders. In this way they seem to abdicate their pastoral responsibility of due diligence and evaluation, trample on canon law in regard to the rights of the faithful to worship and sacramental life, and evince a total lack of awareness of what is fitting for sacred rite.
Second, there is the medical/scientific domain. For quite some time now, doctors and specialists have been coming out left and right saying that the typical face-coverings do little to protect anyone from microbes. Fauci initially said masks would not help, then changed his tune when industrial production and supplies were finally in place. Doctors who have found success with simple and inexpensive cures for COVID have been mocked or ignored. It takes little effort to discover that, whatever the truth may be, it is not equivalent to the “official line” that is being promoted by wealthy and powerful interests. From this perspective, it’s eminently reasonable to question the basis of this kind of state law and, having discovered its irrationality, to conclude that it lacks what is necessary for legality.
The foregoing points have been well-covered in commentary. What I have not seen much commented on, however, are the theological and psychological implications of masking in the context of Christian liturgical worship, which has its own specific nature and requirements.
The curse of man under sin and under the Law is to be hidden from God’s face, and, in a sense, to be thwarted in one’s social intercourse with other men (cf. Gen 4:14). In Mark’s Gospel, the covering of Christ’s face is a sign of contempt, treatment worthy of a wretch: “And some began to spit on him, and to cover his face, and to strike him, saying to him, ‘Prophesy!’” (Mk 14:65). Through Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, which tears the veil of the Temple (Mt 27:51) and permits us to enter heaven through the veil of His flesh (Heb 10:20), the curse begins to be reversed, as St. Paul memorably describes in 2 Corinthians:
Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not see the end of the fading splendor. But their minds were hardened; for to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their minds; but when a man turns to the Lord the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Co 3:12–18, RSV)
While a head covering for a woman symbolizes her honorable subjection, even as the uncovered head of the man symbolizes that he stands within the family in persona Christi capitis, no Christian (as far as I know) has ever used face coverings the way strict Muslim women do.[iii] The mask seems to be a symbolic cancellation of something deeply true about Christian identity and worship.
When I enter the church, I am going before God as a person: I present my open face to Him, and He sees me as I am, and leads me closer to seeing Him as He is. Although this is primarily a matter of my spirit vis-à-vis the Spirit of God, we depend as rational animals on our bodies as external reminders and supports of what we are aiming to do interiorly. In other words, showing our face to God and to others in church is not altogether disconnected from showing Him and them myself. Those who play hide and seek don’t say: “3-2-1, here my body comes!” or “You found my body!” When we start looking, we look with body and soul; when we are found, we are found in body and soul.
And when they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in paradise at the afternoon air, Adam and his wife hid themselves from the face of the Lord God, amidst the trees of paradise. And the Lord God called Adam, and said to him: “Where art thou?” And he said: “I heard thy voice in paradise; and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself” (Gen 3:8–9).
So intimate and all-pervasive is the union of body and soul that Adam thought he could hide himself from God by hiding himself bodily; and the omniscient God, who has no need of bodily sight, nevertheless indicated that he wanted Adam to come before him as a man, not hiding his face. Where art thou?
When we come into the church to meet the Lord, we fittingly begin with Psalm 42 said at the foot of the altar, before daring to approach Him more closely. We almost turn around the Lord’s question to Adam by posing to Him questions of our own: Quare me repulisti, et quare tristis incedo, dum affligit me inimicus? “Why hast Thou cast me off, and why go I sorrowful whilst the enemy afflicteth me?” And turning to ourselves: Quare tristis es anima mea, et quare conturbas me? “Why art thou sad, O my soul, and why dost thou disquiet me?” The psalmist, model of the Christian, knows the one and only solution: Spera in Deo, quoniam adhuc confitebor illi: salutare vultus mei and Deus meus. “Hope in God, for I will still give praise to Him: the salvation of my countenance and my God.” The Mass is inherently pointed toward heaven, where we will finally see, and will see that we are seen. “I have seen God face to face, and my soul has been saved” (Gen 32:30). “O my dove, in the clefts of the rock, in the covert of the cliff, let me see your face, let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet, and your face is comely” (Cant 2:14).