Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

The UK lockdown: where are today’s Maccabees?

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Nov 02, 2020

In new lockdown order for the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announces:

Places of worship will be closed, unless they are being used for:
  • Funerals
  • To broadcast acts of worship
  • Formal childcare or where part of a school
  • Essential voluntary and public services, such as blood donation or food banks
  • Other exempted activities such as some support groups

In the eyes of Her Majesty’s government, some “support groups” must be exempted from the lockdown, but not groups that derive support from communal prayer. Blood banks and food banks are essential services, but worship is not. The government’s priorities are spelled out quite clearly.

If you believe (against the available evidence) that masks are an effective safeguard against the spread of Covid, you might applaud the thrust of Johnson’s order. But if you believe that prayer is an effective weapon against any earthly woe, the lockdown makes no concession for you.

And did you notice that it’s OK to use a church as a childcare center? Because day-care centers are sterile? Because tots never bring home colds or flus? The lockdown also does not close down schools because, the government assures us: “Schools have implemented a range of protective measures to keep them safe.” Churches have implemented a range of protective measures, too, but somehow that doesn’t count.

By any honest appraisal it’s obvious that the Covid virus could be transmitted at childcare centers or schools, at blood banks or AA meetings, at grocery stores or civil offices—all of which will remain open during the lockdown. The government realizes that it cannot eliminate every risk, so it is telling its people which of their activities are important. In the government’s view, worship is not essential. Which puts the government in conflict with a certain opinion expressed on Mount Sinai.

The Catholic bishops’ conference has expressed “deep anguish” at the government’s action. Yes, of course. But now what? Christians in the UK face a painful choice. When the government says that you cannot do what God commands you to do, whose orders to you obey? The question has been raised before—for instance, in the Books of Maccabees.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: 1Jn416 - Nov. 02, 2020 2:40 PM ET USA

    The Maccabees were asked to do what God forbade, which is different. But that aside, the only option would seem to be open defiance. Which would require courage on the part of bishops firstly, and then priests. It is hard to see that happening. I am sure there are brave laity who would gladly attend both open, defiant worship and secret worship, but I just can't see bishops and most priests offering it. The shepherds are afraid to defend their flocks.