Deacon Rob Lanciotti is a permanent deacon at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Fort Collins and holds a doctoral degree in Microbiology. He was employed as a virologist for the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) for 29 years.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about some basic prevention measures that we should all practice to avoid becoming infected with or spreading the COVID-19 coronavirus or any of the respiratory-borne viruses. These measures are proven prevention strategies that we should all practice every year during flu season. However, we have now entered upon a more serious phase of intervention; yes, even to the cancelling of the public celebration of the Holy Mass. In light of these recent events, I would like to offer some perspective both as a public health scientist and as a permanent deacon.
While cancelling Mass and all large gatherings throughout Colorado may seem drastic and perhaps even excessive, I would like to point out that there are some preliminary data which indicate that measures such as these will slow down the epidemic and reduce the number of cases. Preliminary data from China and Singapore (as well as a few other places) demonstrates that drastic social distancing strategies have reduced the number of cases and reversed the momentum of the epidemic. Not only that, but early implementation of these strategies appears to have the greatest impact. As a result of this data, the state of Colorado has implemented these social distancing strategies, perhaps earlier than most of us would think appropriate; and the Catholic church has followed suit. We will likely never know with 100% certainty whether or not these measures are needed at this time, however, the best data we now have indicates that they will have some positive effect.
As a deacon, my perspective is that as profoundly difficult as it is not to have the Mass, we can still make the most of this grave situation that we are now facing. St Paul tells us in Romans 8:28 that “in everything God works for good with those who love him.” God is always working to bring good into our lives even out of tragic situations; if we love him and cooperate with him. This should give us hope rather than panic. We may remember that Saint Ignatius Loyola was also faced with an extended period of time during recovery in which he had nothing to do. Yet by the grace of God, he was led to spend time reading the life of Christ and the lives of the Saints; and this brought about his conversion which transformed the world! This unique Lent that we are now facing has the potential to accomplish the same deeper conversion in all of us. May we utilize this time wisely in holy endeavors and allow the Lord to transform us as well! May we also pray for the mercy of God to end this pandemic!