2020 was off to a great start. Then March happened and the U.S. was introduced to COVID-19. For many, going to school was a thing of the past as was commuting to work. Soon, attending Mass in person went away as well. School, work and worship were all done virtually.
By June, however, some states started bringing back public Masses. But it wasn’t the Mass as it was before. Mass now included social distancing, scrupulous sanitizing and above all, mask wearing—by both people and priest.
I was struck by the photos of priests and deacons distributing communion wearing masks. Most donned the blue surgical masks we’re now accustomed to seeing. Others opted for the construction-type dust masks. Neither matched the dignity of their vestments and both looked like the masks everyone else was wearing. Nothing special.
But the Church takes great strides to make sure the priest doesn’t look rank-and-file. He wears an alb, stole and chasuble—fashion I would dare say most of us do not have hanging in our closets. In fact, the requirements for the chalice he uses explicitly mention that it should NOT look like anything we see everyday:
“As regards the form of the sacred vessels, it is for the artist to fashion them in a manner that is more particularly in keeping with the customs of each region, provided the individual vessels are suitable for their intended liturgical use and are clearly distinguishable from vessels intended for everyday use.”—General Instruction of the Roman Missal #332
In addition to mere dignity and beauty, there is a theological reason that clashes with priests wearing disposable, everyday masks.
The theology of the mask
When man was in paradise, before the fall, there was no disease, sickness or death. Adam and Eve were in a state of original holiness. They shared in the divine life and were in full communion with God. After the fall, sin and death came into the world:
“Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.”—Romans 5:12
Sickness and death are consequences of the fall and the priest needs to wear a mask because of a virus that’s causing people to get sick and die. It seems strange that, at the moment of Holy Communion when we receive our Lord, the priest is wearing an article that is necessary because of humanity’s sin.
But Mass is a foretaste of heaven—a place where there is no more sin or death:
“And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more.”—Revelation 21:4
During Mass, the assembly should be reminded of heaven, not the fall.
So it became my desire to replace the clinical, hospital masks with ones that are as noble as the priest’s and deacon’s vestments. I took to researching masks and fabrics and created a line of masks in the appropriate liturgical colors that are “Altar Worthy”.
These masks have been bought by:
- Priests and deacons for their own use
- Parishioners wanting to gift them to their priests and deacons
- Parents for themselves and as gifts for the godparents at baptisms
- Parents for themselves and their first communicants
- Confirmation candidates and their sponsors
- The bride, groom and their bridal party
The masks have been available for several months and have made their way across the country and to Canada, Australia and the Philippines. The vast majority of customer comments are incredibly positive:
- Simply elegant. A unique liturgical gift!
- Exquisite design and fabric! Rich color. Will enhance my pastor’s liturgical vestments nicely.
- This liturgical mask is absolutely beautiful, well made and perfect for my Deacon husband and our priest.
- We love it. We ordered it because of my daughters Confirmation. But we’re going to use it from here on on the masses we attend.
- These masks are absolutely stunning! Bought them as godparents gifts for my sons baptism and they are perfect!
- This mask is just as bright and colorful as it shows in the picture.
- I bought five of these masks to gift to my Pastor. I got five Liturgical colors, Gold, White, Green, Red, and Purple. My Pastor was super happy and excited to wear them. Especially with upcoming Confirmation for our young Parishioners.
- These masks are absolutely beautiful, well made.
I couldn’t imagine anyone being opposed to their use. But, peppered in with the positive comments in articles was a negative one: “Absolute blasphemy”. I was aware of altercations at Target, Starbucks and other stores between those who wear masks and those who refuse. But at Mass?
Yes. At Mass.
Some believe the masks are a sign of the government’s ability to arbitrarily take away our right to choose—to take away our freedom. The website of a parish in Wisconsin reads:
“Face coverings are required (ages five and older), per state emergency order.”—St. Francis Borgia Parish, Cedarburg, WI
While another parish in Florida explains that mask use by the assembly is not mandated:
“Parishioners are encouraged, but not required, to wear a face mask. All ministers are to wear masks. “—St. Brendan the Navigator Catholic Church, Ormond Beach, FL
So who has jurisdiction over what happens at Mass—the Diocesan bishop or local, state or federal authorities? For many mask opponents, the imposition of masks are symbolic of the usurping of power and authority from the religious to the civil.
Opponents may also perceive the masks as a symbol of fear—the result of politically driven scare tactics rather than hard science. They point to the CDC’s initial declaration that masks were ineffective and President Trump’s apparent disregard for them. Detractors point to news coverage of BLM protests which rarely mention social distancing or mask use but denounce Republican rallies precisely because of social distancing and mask use. For them, masks are a symbol of partisanship and fear mongering.
From this perspective, I can see why someone would be prompted to write “Absolute Blasphemy” in response to seeing a picture of a priest wearing a mask—no matter how beautiful.
So where do you stand? Do you prefer Mass masked or unmasked? Are masks a necessary part of slowing the spread or are they a symbol of heavy-handed civil authority meddling where it doesn’t belong? Are masks a way of protecting the vulnerable in our parish community or is it the stripping away of our religious freedoms? Or do you have an entirely different opinion on masks at Mass? Share and let’s learn together!