Let's suppose our parish had had a mature and well-functioning lay association of the faithful when the Covid crisis hit. What might have been different?
By mature and well-functioning, I mean one that comprises the large majority of active parish members, who (thanks to it) know one another and relate to each other regularly in all manner of extra-liturgical capacities. Members know who their elected leaders are and how to reach them. They have at least a general idea of who has what resources and abilities. (This couple has a large farm that can be used for open air gatherings; that woman runs the food pantry; Maria is practically the matriarch of the entire hispanic community among us; Bob, who heads the hospital ministry, knows who's sick; there are at least several doctors in the parish, a number of lawyers, and various people who work in local government. Joe is a wiz at data analysis. The in-house web guru can easily set up a new page at our site for Corona-related news and information...) The association has legal recognition, a governing structure, a bank account and budget, and handy vehicles of communication. Maybe it even has a building with offices and meeting rooms both large and small.
Think how much better prepared such an association would be to meet the needs of the local community in a pandemic than the newly-installed Archbishop in the city an hour's drive away, or the local pastor for that matter. He's maxed-out trying to figure out how to live-stream masses, get the sacraments to the dying without spreading the disease, field complaints, keep up with and implement diocesan mandates for sanitizing the facilities, etc. He has no time for anything else.
The potential of the association, though, is boundless. Here are some things it might have been able to do:
1) Post up-to-the-minute information about how many cases of the disease are in the parish, helping us all understand whether what measure and policies we might need to adopt are about containment or prevention.
2) Have a website platform for identifying concrete needs in our community: who's sick; who's out of work; who's grieving; how many of us are in the vulnerable category?
3) Coordinate ways of meeting those needs. For instance, the association's building might serve as a temporarily warehouse for dropping off and distributing key supplies. Its kitchen might ramp up its free meal service. With many members temporarily out of work, new modes of volunteering can burgeon: Zoom English lessons, for instance. A prayer ministry. Or a phone ministry for keeping in touch with people who are suffering from loneliness and fear and isolation.
4) Establish a committee to work with the priest and to propose ways of getting the Sacraments to people without violating government mandates. Open air masses maybe, or private masses in the meeting center with a rotating list of attendees, so we don't violate social distancing mandates and the diocese won't be legally liable if an outbreak occurs.
5) Establish a committee for outreach to the wider community: offering prayer, food, errand-running service for shut-ins, ways of bringing cheer to those cut off in nursing homes, etc.
6) Have an online forum for raising concerns, offering suggestions, debating issues, etc. Create a web page for sharing testimonies of God's work among us, of answered prayers, of spiritual resources...
The list could be extended infinitely, because the gifts, charisms, ingenuity, creativity and generosity of the faithful are infinite. But they have to be unleashed, and they have to be recognized, gathered, organized, and channelled, if they're to be experienced and effective.
I could write about how this imaginative picture contrasts with the awfulness of the status quo, but readers know that already from their own experience.