The Personalist Project

After several weeks away, I went to mass at our parish Tuesday morning. Among the 30 or 40 attendees, I was the only one not wearing a mask. I felt a little distracted by self-consciousness. No one said anything, but I imagined fellow parishioners being perturbed and judging me selfish and disobedient.

I know of a family with five young children who now drive a long distance to a different parish, because they so oppose the mask mandate at ours. I know others who feel pressured to act in a way that feels wrong to them or otherwise alienated by church policy in these Coronavirus times.

Here's one of the main things that bugs me about it all: the laity have no say. Our thoughts and suggestions aren't solicited; we're not consulted; we're just instructed and expected to cooperate. There's no forum for discussion, nowhere to air our views or listen to others', never mind participate in the decision-making.

And it's not as if this is a small matter. For months, we were completely deprived of the Eucharist. People were left to die alone. Visits from priests and family members were prohibited. We weren't allowed to go to funerals or weddings. How many babies haven't been baptized, I wonder? How many people have left the Church altogether because they're demoralized and disaffected?

"We had to stop the spread to keep people from dying," "Better safe than sorry," I hear people saying in reply. And then of course there's the liability issue. Imagine the lawsuits if an outbreak were to happen in our church! 

Fine. I understand that perspective. I'm not accusing anyone of bad motives. Rather, I'm pointing out that there's another perspective not being heard. Important values besides physical health and safety are at stake.

Set aside the dubiousness of masks as a health measure. What's most disturbing to me is that the Church as a whole seems to be paying no attention whatsoever to the large social and moral issues at play at this historical moment. The secular authorities are asserting a shocking degree of control over our freedom to worship, and the Church is meekly complying. A violent, marxist, atheistic, anti-family, anti-life ideology is making gigantic inroads in our society, and the Church is virtually silent. 

The battle of our times is the same as the battle of all times since Eden: It's the master/slave dynamic of fear and objectification versus the interpersonal exchange of faith and love.

Masks abet the master/slave dynamic. They embolden the violent while they disempower the righteous and law-abiding. They thwart the interpersonal encounter that is the only true antidote to the evil sweeping our society. I hate them with a passion. I wear them in stores because I have to. I won't wear them at mass, where I go on purpose to meet God and fellow-Christians face to face.

Also, I want to publicly stand for what I deeply believe: "It's for freedom that Christ has set us free." We're not supposed to be slavish. We're not supposed to be timid and compliant. We're supposed to live and act like the sons and daughters of the Most High God we actually are.

That's my opinion. I hope I'm not alone.

Comments (31)


#1, Sep 3, 2020 7:32am

Katie, you are most definitely not alone. Thank you for this post! You articulated exactly what I wish I could say from the rooftops!

Rhett Segall

#2, Sep 3, 2020 1:30pm

Hi Katie,

Pope Francis, America Magazine, Diocesan News Papers, etc. have published spiritual and practical guidelines on the pandemic. I wrote the following in response to an article in America:

"Until there is a vaccine and successful therapies I think we have a responsibility to self quarantine in all but basic necessities. In an earlier time people thought it presumptuous to have frequent communion. Indeed, it wasn't until the 6th century that Sunday Mass became an obligation. Soldiers in combat can't get to Mass. As you mention, prayer in the spirit of the Liturgy is certainly to be encouraged. Recently the NYT underscored the correlation between "Church" going and the spread of the virus.The "Hippocratic Oath", that we first do no harm, is a vital way of loving our neighbor.   Lets be patient till we have the vaccine and proper therapies. God put a head on our shoulders for a reason."

Katie van Schaijik

#3, Sep 4, 2020 7:32am

Thanks for the boost, Janice!

Katie van Schaijik

#4, Sep 4, 2020 7:35am

Rhett, you express a different opinion, but you don't engage my points at all. Let me engage this one of yours: the suggestion that we're obliged to wear masks on the "do no harm" principle. 

If that were the case, then wouldn't it also be so that we shouldn't drive cars, since it increases the probability of fatal accidents? How could mass ever be deemed safe, since human contact always carries the risk of spreading disease?

That principle in ethics, as I understand it, refers to the commission of a positive evil. 

A healthy person declining to wear a face covering isn't an evil. 

I've just been in Holland. Masks are only required on public transportation. The top health minister there has said there's too little evidence masks do any good. And I've seen studies and read articles showing that data show that they do not help. No doubt you've got other sources.

My point (one of them anyway) is that it's not okay that only one side and one aspect of this giant and complex problem is being addressed by the Church.

Another one I could spend all day making is that imo masks mandates are doing terrible harm.

Rhett Segall

#5, Sep 4, 2020 10:08am

I knew my response could be judged as skirting your point. But I judged that within my response to the America article  there was a response to your point on the centrality of Eucharistic reception.

Regarding lay involvement in  decisions regarding liturgical worship in the pandemic, health professionals within our parish community have been very involved in consultation. Baptisms, Weddings, Funerals have been celebrated but with rigorous (appropriate) attention to universal safety precautions. I consider Dr. Fauci an exemplary lay Catholic. He strongly advises rigorous precautions in Church services. I'm also vividly aware of the 13 nuns from Detroit who died from Covid 19, 12 in one month!

You mentioned that you were the only one wearing a mask. I think the other members of the congregation utterly irresponsible, playing Russian Roulette. Our awareness that anyone could be an asymptomatic carrier of the virus depositing the germs willy nilly. It's as if a surgeon didn't wash his hands before an operation!

I in no way see the master/slave paradigm operative here. It's simply using our God given intelligence to safeguard our health and that of our brethren so that in due course we can celebrate the Eucharist together again.

Katie van Schaijik

#6, Sep 4, 2020 11:34am

I hadn't made any point about the centrality of Eucharistic reception.

About the health risks entailed with Covid19, we are clearly trusting different sources. I personally have doubts about Dr. Fauci's professional integrity, based on various things I've read and seen, including his shifting recommendations and his declining to condemn public protests. But even if I were to assume it's impeccable, his remains just one medical opinion among those of many equally-credentialed professionals who differ.

Also, you misread my post. I said I was the only one NOT wearing a mask. :)

I think the idea that not wearing a mask is as reckless as a surgeon not washing his hands before an operation is—sorry—risible. As I said, I've just been in Holland, where no one wears masks and the disease is receding. And there are lots of data out there calling into question the idea of asymptomatic spreaders and so forth. 

Katie van Schaijik

#7, Sep 4, 2020 11:44am

But mainly where I take issue with your comments is that you seem not to grant any validity to points on the other side. You write as if there is only one intelligent point of view out there, and as if all the risks and dangers lie in one direction, which is false.

More and more information is coming out, for instance, about alarming spikes in suicides, drugs overdoses, and domestic violence, all attributable to the effects of lockdowns.

And that isn't yet to bring in the other aspects, such as government encroachment on religious liberty.

Anyway, I don't suppose we'll agree on this issue. I don't mind if people who see it as you do quarantine themselves. I don't mind if the Church as a whole accommodates you, for instance by dispensing you from the obligation to attend mass on Sundays and by expanding its online offerings. I can willingly accept certain prudent measures, like suspending Communion under both species and the sign of peace.

I can't willingly accept that those who see it as I do have nowhere to voice our views and advocate for our position. That's not okay.

Katie van Schaijik

#8, Sep 4, 2020 11:49am

Let me throw out there that I think the apposite analogy is this:

It's like the father of a family decides the whole family will stay indoors for the next six months, so he seals all the doors. He doesn't ask his wife what she thinks. He doesn't listen to her perspective or her objections. He doesn't defer to her particular expertise (for instance, about the children's wellbeing.)

When she objects, he tells her that safety comes first and he's just applying his intelligence to the situation out of love. She can either cooperate or make everything worse for everyone.


#9, Sep 4, 2020 10:58pm

[1 of 2] I feel as though the question of mask wearing serves as a proxy for many of the other issues raised in this post. I, for one, have difficulty understanding why there are serious objections to wearing masks at Mass, unless it is caused by an objection to the fact that it is mandated.

As a professional musician who has been regularly serving at Masses throughout the pandemic (even during strict lock-downs), I have become accustomed to wearing a mask--even while singing (which is not easy). There are some who have physical difficulties with masks, but that is rarely cited as the primary reason for not wearing a mask.

There are many who are more vulnerable who feel comfortable coming to Mass precisely because the majority of the people around them are wearing masks. Masks are an extremely low-key way of reminding ourselves that all is not business-as-usual, and that we should be mindful of the welfare of our neighbors at Mass. I wear one, even though I am located well away from people in the pews, because I do serve with 1 or 2 other musicians at times, and as a way of acting in solidarity with everyone else.


#10, Sep 4, 2020 10:59pm

[2 of 2] Acting in solidarity has given me a feeling of solidarity--we're all in this together. So yes, it does bother me when someone comes to Mass and doesn't wear a mask, not so much because they are being disobedient, but because there is an easy way for them to act in solidarity with the rest of us, and they are choosing not to. I quickly try to remind myself that I don't know their motivations and feelings, but it's there.

Is wearing a mask possibly indulging in a bit of what I like to call "hygiene theater"? Maybe. But there is also a possibility that it is of benefit, and for most people it is an easy way to demonstrate courtesy.

(To the point about interpersonal encounter, I don't really find that the Liturgy is--or should be!-- a source of the kind of interpersonal encounter that would be significantly affected by mask-wearing.)

[For the sake of focus, I am intentionally not commenting on the non-mask aspects of the post, though I think there is much of worth there.]


#11, Sep 5, 2020 4:49am

Hi Katie,

I resonate deeply with the things you have written here. I tried to articulate similar ideas in a recent post on my blog, which I titled, Oxymorons and the science of being human.

In the heart of my post, I observed:

I know there were appeals to altruism in the lockdown (“do it for your neighbor” or “we’re all in this together” or even “you’re not pro-life if you don’t comply”). Instead of appealing to people’s reason, however, or their better instincts, in many situations a play was made to activate a sense of shame in those who asked for a rational discussion. I think that’s a trend that, if not put in check, does not bode well for the future of social change.

Katie van Schaijik

#12, Sep 5, 2020 7:25am

MusicanSacram, this point of yours gets to the heart of it for me: 

"it does bother me when someone comes to Mass and doesn'twear a mask, not so much because they are being disobedient, but because there is an easy way for them to act in solidarity with the rest of us, and they are choosing not to. I quickly try to remind myself that I don't know their motivations and feelings, but it's there."

Put it together with what Clayton said: 

"Instead of appealing to people’s reason, however, or their better instincts, in many situations a play was made to activate a sense of shame in those who asked for a rational discussion. I think that’s a trend that, if not put in check, does not bode well for the future of social change."

Solidarity avoids becoming de-personalizing conformity only when it's properly balanced by subsidiarity, and that entails appeals to reason and free self-determination of the membership, who have rights and powers. There's none of that where there's no discussion and no shared decision-making.

I'm glad you remind yourself that you don't know others' motives. I have to do that too, when I get irritated by the seeming supine conformism of fellow Catholics and by the clericalism that's destroying our communion. 

Katie van Schaijik

#13, Sep 5, 2020 7:31am

As a matter of fact and experience, mandates can't serve as points of solidarity. Rather, they cause division and mutual mistrust, as the present discussion shows. 

You and Rhett and anyone who shares your views thinks mask-wearing is a matter of responsibility and solidarity. I and people who share my views think mask-wearing is an unnecessary and irrational collaboration with dark forces bent on dividing and disempowering the people of God.

So, we're divided. QED.

Katie van Schaijik

#14, Sep 5, 2020 7:38am

Another thing I want to say: Discussions like this are vital, exactly as a help to restoring the mutual respect and care that are the sin qua non of authentic community. Conformity doesn't create community. It creates cults and mobs. 

For community, we need to open ourselves to each other as individuals, to listen to each other, to allow each other the spiritual space to form our own views and to make free decisions for ourselves. 

So, one of the most disturbing (for me) features of the status quo in the Church is the complete lack of fora for such exchanges in our parishes.

Rhett Segall

#15, Sep 5, 2020 10:08am

Yes, there needs to be both respectful exchanges of perspectives and a granting of intelligence and good will among the participants, along with frankness.

A principle at play here is authority, ecclesial and civil. Within the Catholic tradition the Bishop, and by delegation the pastor, has authority over the Eucharistic celebration. If masks are mandated by the Bishop,  this should not close down perspectives on their advisability but pose a challenge to presenting a different perspective.

There is also civil and medical authority at play, although the latter involves more the issue of prudence.

So far as the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity go, in the mask situation we're dealing with something like traffic laws against speeding. I might think I can drive safely ati100mph and that the government has no right to prevent me from driving at that speed (after all, what will it impose on me next?) but I realize I am part of the community and I know there are certain things I ought to conform to unless there are vital objections to them.

Katie van Schaijik

#16, Sep 5, 2020 11:41am

Yes, but we elect the representatives who write our traffic laws. Mandates without the consent of the governed is like "taxation without representation."

And, speaking for myself, I DO have vital objections to the mask mandate. As I said, I think it abets the current aggressions of evil against personalistic good. I think it emboldens the violent while it disempowers the law-abiding. I think it inculcates fear and resentment. It alienates and isolates. 

Bishops have authority, but not unlimited authority. Lay Catholics also have rights. One of the principal "complaints" in my series of posts against the clericalist status quo is that bishops act and decide without due regard for the rights and prerogatives of the laity, including the personalist exigency of self-determination.

You agree that various perspectives should be heard. Do you also agree that there has been no hearing? Is there a forum for the exchange of ideas on such things in your parish? There isn't in ours. 

Rhett Segall

#17, Sep 5, 2020 12:30pm


You agree that various perspectives should be heard. Do you also agree that there has been no hearing? Is there a forum for the exchange of ideas on such things in your parish? There isn't in ours. 

 The issue hasn't come up, so far as I know. There's no push for people to attend Mass. Those who do, so I'm told, follow the guidlines.



#18, Sep 5, 2020 9:52pm

Considering the role of subsidiarity, I wonder if our different reactions are affected by local context. The county where I live has by and large seemed to be very supportive of the various state mandates--one gets the feeling at times that many of our state mandates would have been adopted anyway, even if the state hadn't imposed them. (That's not to discuss their merits.)

Likewise with our parish. Although we don't have anything remotely approaching the ideal you've presented of parish lay associations, our parish community has been a significant part of our local response. Our response has been thoroughly and robustly discussed during parish staff meetings, and the informal input from parishioners has resulted in a response that is more rigorous than I think it would be if it was solely based on the inclinations of the pastor. People would be wearing masks even without the mandate.

In fact, we have the opposite problem, in which the pastor is resistant to doing more than we are already doing. In short, my local experience has felt more in the direction of real solidarity and subsidiarity than it would seem yours has, unfortunately. :/


#19, Sep 5, 2020 9:56pm

As a hypothetical, what would your reaction be if the Lay Association of St. Somewhere Parish made a formal, official resolution recommending that the pastor implement a mask mandate?

(As I noted above, if such an association existed at my parish, I strongly suspect such a resolution would have passed with flying colors).


#20, Sep 5, 2020 10:07pm

On a related note, I was recently talking with someone in the medical profession who was expressing their dismay that their pastor was not heeding their emailed advice. I pointed out that their pastor has probably received hundreds of such emails, all with different perspectives, and is likely burned out trying to deal with them all--at a certain point, one tends to give up on trying to accommodate everyone, and just goes with their gut feeling.

Thinking of the importance of collective action, i.e. lay assocations, I suggested that gathering a large number of other medical professionals in the parish to compose a consensus letter on the subject would likely be much more effective. This person was unfortunately too burned out themselves, and had no desire to continue trying.

This illustrated to me the importance, but also the difficulty of taking collective action.

Katie van Schaijik

#21, Sep 6, 2020 6:29am

Rhett, you say the issue hasn't come up, but is there a place where it might have? There isn't in ours. The communication in the parish is one-directional. It goes from the parish staff outward. Downward, in effect. We're instructed and admonished. We're not invited to weigh in. There is no such thing as a parish meeting or a parish website where members can post their views. There's no newspaper. There's no hall. Nor are there elected representatives.

No doubt various individuals have made their personal views known by email or in person, as MS describes. But that's not discussion. Nor can it serve the purpose of helping form a consensus.

Katie van Schaijik

#22, Sep 6, 2020 6:38am

MS, I'm sure you're right that locality makes a difference. Which is part of my point. It SHOULD make a difference. The culture and circumstances of the local community should largely determine the practical response in matters like this.

As to your point about "vigorous discussion among parish staff", I'll just note that the parish staff are not representatives of the parishioners. 

If we had the kind of lay association I'm envisioning, and that association had, after due deliberation and debate, elected to adopt measures that don't align with  my personal opinions, I would follow them gladly even so. I would follow them, because it's a key principle of the association that God's will for the group is discovered through group conscience votes.

Katie van Schaijik

#23, Sep 6, 2020 7:05am

As I said somewhere, we've been in Holland twice this summer, sorrowfully, for family funerals (neither COVID-related). Holland was a major hot spot back in March, particularly the province where Jules' family lives. 

The Dutch are a cooperative people. They generally trust their political leaders to do their best in the public interest. The issues surrounding COVID are not ideologically fraught as they are in the US. People willingly do as instructed, and leaders avoid overreaching. It's lovely.

When we was there two weeks ago, we wore masks on the train. Otherwise, the only observable differences were minor. Stores have hand sanitizer at the entrances. At mass, we're expected to sit further apart than usual, and the priest wears a face shield when distributing Holy Communion. At gatherings, most people avoid the traditional three kiss greeting in favor of a bow or an elbow bump.

To come home to a place where the virus is much less present and have to wear a mask everywhere I go feels worse than unnecessary. It feels oppressive. It IS oppressive, imo.


#24, Sep 9, 2020 10:52am

First of all, I missed the mention of funerals earlier. My condolences and prayers--they must have been close family, to warrant overseas travel.

I was looking up something unrelated in the book of Hebrews yesterday, and came across this line: "Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls and will give an account" (13:17a). This is of course an oft-abused message, but it does raise an interesting line of thought:

1) The act of wearing a mask is neither an intrinsic good or evil.
2) There is a plausible case to be made for the benefit of mask-wearing in an enclosed, interior space.
3) The bishop's domain of authority includes the celebration of the sacraments.
4) In certain locations, the faithful are dispensed from their obligation to attend Sunday Mass
5) Question 1: In such a situation, do the faithful have an absolute right to attend Mass?
6) Question 2: If they do not have an absolute right, does the bishop have the authority to mandate conditions on attendance such as mask-wearing?
7) Question 3: Even if there is an absolute right, does the bishop have the authority to mandate any conditions?

Katie van Schaijik

#25, Sep 9, 2020 5:05pm

Thanks, MS. It was my brother-in-law and my father-in-law. A hard summer, especially for my mother-in-law. We're grateful for prayers.

In answer to your good challenge: 

No, I don't think the faithful have an absolute right to attend mass. Nor do I think the bishop has a right to mandate any conditions. On the contrary, I think he has an obligation to refrain from excessive mandating, according to the wisdom of St. Augustine:

In necessary things, unity. In unnecessary things, liberty. In all things, charity.

And according to that great minimizing principle articulated in Acts 15:

It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: 29You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.

As in most human situations, we're dealing with a grey area calling for mutual respect, openness and give-and-take. Which is exactly what's missing in the status quo of American parish life. 

Katie van Schaijik

#26, Sep 9, 2020 5:13pm

The applicability of the verse you quote depends on context. (Remember the one like it: "Slaves, obey your masters.") Are we bound to obey leaders who overreach? Are we ever called to assert ourselves against our leaders? (I'm thinking of Paul challenging Peter, for instance. Or Catherine of Siena's rebuke of the Pope. Or Thomas More's rebuff of King Henry.) 

Think of the horrible scandals, and all the good Catholics who kept silent because their bishops told them to.

There are times when the moral call of the moment is not for obedience, but for "not violent resistance". 

The way I see it, the mask mandate is just one minor instance of a much wider and deeper systemic problem of clericalism, whereby the rights and dignity of the laity are generally disregarded. Not from malice or ill will in most cases, but from bad formation and longstanding habit.

The way to fix that is for the laity to stop cooperating with it and starting asserting themselves. Not violently, but firmly, and for love.

Rhett Segall

#27, Sep 10, 2020 12:10pm

AT the 1st Church Council James did demand Christians refrain from eating animals that still and blood in them.  Paul did direct women to cover their heads--amazing! These cultures norms can be burdensome. At any rate, they are not necessary. But the mask situation, along with hand washing  and social distancing, is not minimal; according to prominent medical views,  it's life or death. What we're dealing with here is the "principle of the safer path". If a deer hunter sees movement in the bushes which might be a deer, but also might be a hunter, he/she is obligated not to shoot because he might be taking a human life. It's the safer path..Perhaps mask wearing doesn't make a health difference. There is much medical opinion saying it does. People should take the safer path and wear one. Offer the discomfort in union with the Lord's sacrifice for the comfort, spiritual and physical, for those dying from Covid 19

Katie van Schaijik

#28, Sep 10, 2020 2:08pm

If you were right about this being a life or death thing, then we should see deaths rising in places like Sweden and Holland, where there is no mask mandate. But we don't.

And while some medical views favor masks, others are against. They are less prominent because they're censored by media and big tech, not because they're less scientific or less credentialed.

More importantly, again, the "take the safer course" rule only works in cases where the risk of harm is all in one direction while all potential good is in the other. 

Abolishing cars would save thousands of lives annually. So would outlawing air travel. So would requiring everyone to wear a HAZMET suit in public. But doing those things would cause harms and prevent goods. So we make prudential cost/benefit analyses.

Finally, my main objection to the masks isn't that they're uncomfortable. It's a principled objection along the lines of "no taxation with representation." The laity ought to have a say in parish policy. And when the risks are as low as they actually are, no one who isn't sick should be forced to wear a mask or shamed or shunned for not wearing one.

Rhett Segall

#29, Sep 11, 2020 8:55am

I think your bottom line, Katie, is that the hierarchical principle in Jesus' Church has been way overplayed and a balance with the democratic principle of human rights has to be vigorously asserted. Nes pas?

Katie van Schaijik

#30, Sep 11, 2020 11:59am

That's certainly a key element of my case, but I'd express my bottom line in more theological terms.  

The central personalist development of our age is the "discovery" that both love and evil are, ultimately, interpersonal dynamics. Redemption is the gradual overcoming of the master/slave dynamic of the fall through the reciprocal self-giving of complementary equals. 

The current dysfunction in the Church comes from the fact that, due to historical conditioning and habit, relations between the clergy and laity do not reflect this development. They are more like secular autocracies than Christian marriages. They are badly infected with the master/slave dynamic.

Parishes won't become what they are called to be, and they won't bear fruit, unless and until the laity learn to embody themselves and act as a corporate person, the "spouse" and complementary companion of the priesthood, not its handmaid. In other words, we have to throw off the habits of "slavery".

The mask mandate is a minor instance of the general problem.

P.S. After mass this morning a fellow parishioner approached Jules and me to say, "Thank you for not wearing a mask!" It happens that he too studied JP II's personalism in grad school. :)

Katie van Schaijik

#31, Sep 11, 2020 12:04pm

I'll say this too:

It's not a coincidence that the republican principle of self-governance has come to replace the monarchism of the middle ages in the modern world. That historical development is rooted in the same personalist insight. Same goes for the Abolitionist and Civil Rights movements. Also the valid part of feminism.

Embodying that insight in ecclesial law and ethos, I would argue, was the "main point" of Vatican II. I could go on and on about this, as I'm sure you know by now. :)

I'd also want to take care not to suggest that the hierarchical principle is the principle of the Church. It's one principle among many.

Equality is another. "In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, man nor woman, slave nor free, but all are one..." So is freedom. "It's for freedom that Christ has set us free."

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