Due to the explosion of the Tambora volcano in 1815, we had a year without summer, for the atmosphere was filled with sunlight-inhibiting dust. This year we had a year without Easter, another gift from the Far East, but it is impossible to miss that although it began much earlier in China, in the West, the Wuhan Flu really got under way in the first weeks of Lent.
While the liturgical calendar unfolds relentlessly, and Easter did occur on schedule, nevertheless, for the faithful, no, Lent did not really end with the Easter punctuation, but continues unabated. Are we in a situation like that of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia, where it is always winter but never Christmas?
I read that Lent comes from Old English for lengthen, due to the lengthening of daylight, but here it seems that we may have entered upon a lengthening of Lent itself, of a penitential season. Will it go on forever? Well, if it began roughly on Ash Wednesday this year and goes to Easter of 2021, we will have had a Lent of roughly 400 days. If so, this would indicate that to deserve an Easter worthy of the name, our penance should be tenfold what it has been. If the churches open at the end of the Easter season, May 31, that will be confirmation enough for me, at least, that we were utterly undeserving of an Easter worthy of the name and that in reality, Lent continues. It may be out of season and liturgically incorrect, inconsiderate of priestly vesture and the Church calendar, but it is Lent nevertheless in mood and in the dispositions of Providence.
Is there not a bit of poetic divine justice for us in this entire Wuhan Flu debacle? We were not Chinese Catholics, so while it was briefly distressing to read of their being deprived of the sacraments, they were there, and we were here, with the sacraments plentifully available.
But how distressed were we, really? Can we say we stormed Heaven with our prayers and sacrifices and raised such a din in Heaven that the Lord was moved to cleanse China of the CCP just to have a little peace? Evidently not! He did liken Himself, did He not, to the unjust judge who could be moved by relentless importunity? Now that the sacraments are not plentifully available, nor our churches, we find ourselves, like Chinese Catholics, hoping at least to find an enterprising priest to absolve us.
And the strange, confirming aspect to this interpretation, is that — according to a growing chorus of analysts — like our faithful Chinese brethren, we owe this entire situation to, if not the machinations, then the carelessness of the CCP, to the Chinese communists in any case. They have effectively closed our churches, too.
And when we find ourselves confronting the Sacred Triduum, Easter, and the Easter season with our churches closed and the Mass suppressed, a person has to wonder if our American bishops would have to be coerced into a Patriotic Association, since they were so eager to sign up. It is heartening on the one hand to find enterprise and initiative arising from the ranks of priests and dismaying to see so little initiative, enterprise, and resistance coming from our bishops. Where is the pushback that would vaunt the sacraments as essential? It remains unsaid, and Easter is effectively suppressed, but no one can accuse us of not being good citizens. Is all this not a kind of Chinese communist ethos? If only you would wear a mask, comrade; keep six feet away; and especially not go to church.
But all such political and ecclesiastical considerations are really by the way if we are in the throes of a divine reprehension for our lack of fervor and charity. If we will not willingly offer sufficient penance for our sins and the whole world, then perhaps He will exact it from us. If we will not come alongside our Chinese brethren and our Nigerian brethren and our South Sudanese brethren voluntarily with fervent prayer and penance, He will have it from us involuntarily nevertheless.
It is too early to tell if such is the case, yet, given our customary softness and self-indulgence, it seems a very real possibility. So here’s looking forward to Easter 2021. May the Lord of Heaven and Earth, the just Judge, find us well prepared and truly worthy of it.
This article was corrected to name the right volcano and the right year.