A few weeks ago, our pastor informed us that the Bishop, who over a year ago had freed Catholics from their Sunday obligation, had pushed the on button and informed us that it was now a grave sin to fail to do what we did not have to do a week earlier. What gives?
Now, there have certainly are circumstances that justify dispensation from the obligation: illness, mental incapacity, distance from a Church, and presumably plague and war. But, no matter how seriously one takes the COVID panic, only a tiny fraction of the population contracted the disease and of that tiny fraction only a tiny fraction died. I'm not going to play games with numbers--I'll leave that to "conservative" talk radio personalities who never passed General Science in High School--but there are dozens upon dozens of threats to human life that are more imminent than this particular cold virus.
We know why the bishops dispensed Catholics from the obligation: The government told them to do it, and since churches enjoy tax benefits and religious charities receive government grants, they must do what their masters tell them to, in which case, how do we evaluate the Church's strong requirement--perhaps some 17 centuries old--to participate in Sunday Mass?
A strong papist position is that the Church can do no wrong, even when it is manifestly doing wrong, and the laity should simply shut up and follow orders. If that is your position, you are welcome to it, but it puts the Church on a level with the Unification Church and the Democratic Party.
The opposite view is that the Church is no longer The Church, the Pope no longe Pope, but then we should have to apply a similar logic to all the periods in the history of the Church when Popes have been degenerates, skeptics, and heretics.
Of course a similar argument applies to the Church's on-again/off-again pronouncements on the Latin Mass. In the 16th century Catholics were told that the obligation to celebrate the Tridentine Mass was everlasting, and we know the vicissitudes since the Second Vatican Council.
If you have any sense, you will not be much interested in my opinion on these questions, but let us ask ourselves this: What is the real opinion of Pope Francis and the American bishops? I cannot help concluding that they regard the sacred Tradition much as Supreme Court justices regard the American Constitution: It is whatever they feel like saying it is at this moment.
How Catholics turned into papolators is a long story that is bound up with the attempt of secular rulers to control or destroy the Church. This reached a new height under the French Revolution and governments, e.g. the Kingdom of Italy, that imitated its religious policies. The more the Church was persecuted, the more obedient good Catholics were to the Vatican. But--
Surely, we have reached the end game, when the current Pope has proved to be as great an enemy of the Church as Robespierre, Garibaldi, or the Emperor Joseph.
While I have no advice to give anyone else, I can tell you my own position: I am a member of a Christian institution that goes back to the Disciples, whom Jesus called His brothers and His friends. This institution and its traditions have produced Augustine and Jerome and Basil the Great, Gregory the Great and Thomas Aquinas, Dante and Péguy, Chesterton and Belloc.
I try to obey the rules established by Tradition and by Councils, and do my best to ignore the jackasseries of the current hierarchy. To compare something great with something very tiny, I love Italian food, and my love is not diminished by my knowledge that there are meretricious corporations dishing out unspeakable food like The Olive Garden, Pizza Hut, and just about every Eye-talian restaurant in the USof A. Here and there, even in America, some little Italian joint does something right. That is a cause to celebrate, and the less we think about Domino's or the Vatican, the better off we shall be.