Is it “Prudent” to Withhold the Sacraments?

April 20, 2020

Is it "prudent" to withhold the sacraments?

Is it “prudent” to withhold the sacraments?

Governor Greg Abbott upheld the right for churches to remain open in Texas during the coronavirus crisis. He sensibly recognized they are essential to citizens. Yet, the doors to Catholic Churches remain closed. “If people come to church to pray and receive the sacraments, the coronavirus will spread,” say the “prudent” ones.

Many Catholics are soul-searching and trying to find meaning in all this. “Isn’t the spiritual life of utmost importance? Is it really necessary to cancel Mass and the sacraments out of ‘prudence?’”

Perhaps another look at the meaning of prudence is due. Prudence is the virtue whereby one chooses the best means of achieving the end in view. Since the primary end of our Holy Catholic Faith is the salvation of souls, prudence applied, in this case, seeks the best way to save souls.

Will closing the churches, withholding sacraments and canceling public Masses be a means to get people to Heaven? The devil would certainly agree that it is!

In the case of a pandemic, true prudence finds ways to administer the sacraments and to maintain public health. Just look at how the “essential businesses” found ways to safely conduct their affairs. Go to H.E.B, Lowes or even sit-down restaurants that shifted to take-out orders and see what they have done. They have applied a natural prudence to conduct their livelihoods. Military graduations have had to do likewise for whole companies of newly graduated recruits.

Ave Maria parish in Ave Maria, Florida is a rare exception. This parish has found a way to administer Holy Communion while keeping people safe. The Eucharist is distributed outside. The faithful maintain a safe distance from each other while in line. They are an example of prudence.

In general, though, why are business leaders displaying more prudence than our church leaders?

Plinio Correa de Oliveira, the Catholic intellectual and man of action wrote meditations on the stations of the cross. In the ninth, when Our Lord falls the third time, he imagines Him sacrificing to expiate and save the souls of the “prudent.”

“…Great acts of heroism can be as prudent as strategic retreats. If the goal is to win, advancing is more prudent in ninety percent of the cases than retreating. It is the same with the evangelical virtue of Prudence.  Nevertheless, some understand that prudence consists only in the art of retreating. This systematic and methodical retreat became the only attitude recognized as prudent by many of Thy friends, my Lord. And because of this they retreat too much. Is the accomplishment of a great work for Thy glory quite painful? Is sanctification very difficult? Does growth in virtue multiply the struggles instead of diminishing them? To avoid great catastrophes, retreat[ing] to the quagmire of mediocrity is deemed ‘prudent.’ Is health endangered? Abandon, out of ‘prudence,’ all, or almost all, apostolate, and moderate the interior life, because life was made, above all, to be long. Living long, rather than living well, becomes the ideal. The eulogy would no longer be that of Scripture: ‘Being made perfect in a short space, he fulfilled a long time’ (Wisdom 4:13), but on the contrary, would be, ‘he had a long life, for he had the wisdom to renounce occupying himself overmuch in the ways of apostolate and virtue.’ Long lives, small works…”

The Catechism Explained, by Fr. Francis Spirago, has a magnificent explanation of the virtue of prudence. It is one of the four cardinal virtues, meaning all the other moral virtues hinge on them.

“Prudence is the capacity of the intellect to apprehend the good things of eternity and the means of attaining to them. That is the truest prudence which can best distinguish what is divine from what is human. The prudent man always looks to his final end. Like a wise merchant who thinks continually of what profit he can make, the Christian’s thoughts are fixed upon gaining riches for eternity…”

From both a supernatural and natural point of view, prudence would find ways to administer the sacraments and maintain public health. Withholding the sacraments, canceling public Masses and closing the churches are the farthest things from achieving the salvation of souls.

Father Spirago concludes about prudence explaining its opposite. “The contrary of prudence is worldly wisdom (Luke XVI. 8), or the wisdom of the flesh. The wisdom of this world consists in discerning what will bring a man temporal advantage or sensual enjoyment, this wisdom is foolishness with God (1 Cor III,19).”


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