France is very lucky: it has a theologian among its government ministers. A minister who ventures to make judgments on the form that prayer can or should take, and especially the prayer of Catholics.
Mr. Christophe Castaner has been Minister of the Interior of the French government since October 16, 2018. As such, he has participated in the decision-making process for managing the Covid-19 pandemic. His portfolio includes the Ministry of Worship, responsible for relations with the representative authorities of religions present in France and for the application of the 1905 law in matters of the policing of worship.
On Sunday, May 3, during a televised political program, Mr. Castaner said: “I think that prayer does not necessarily need a gathering place, where everyone in the religious community would be put at risk.” He thus intended to justify the refusal in opposition to the bishops of France reopening the churches on May 11, the day when many activities will be permitted again.
With this answer, Mr. Castaner clearly leaves his areas of competency and poses as a philosopher of religion, unless he is also claiming the title of theologian. Which would be strange for someone who started his career at the poker tables, protected by a big shot who was shot to death, before obtaining degrees in law, criminology, and political science.
To say that “prayer does not necessarily need a gathering place” is to oppose a “scientific” truth, a philosophical truth, and a revealed truth.
Because if there is one thing well known in anthropology, it is that religion has a social dimension. The literature on this subject, whether regarding ancient or current religions, is extensive. No need to try to demonstrate this evidence. Let us remember that this truth has been shown for a very long time by Catholic apologists.
Philosophy has no trouble in establishing this social dimension either. That man is a “social animal” was affirmed by Aristotle over 23 centuries ago. And that religion, which links us to God, is an eminently human action, is a truth that everyone can easily see or induce.
Finally, Catholic teaching and theology strongly affirm this social dimension. A magisterial teaching on this subject was given by Pope Pius XII in his encyclical Mediator Dei on the liturgy. He recalls in it that, “it is unquestionably the fundamental duty of man to orientate his person and his life towards God… But man turns properly to God when he accords, in short, due worship to the One True God by practicing the virtue of religion.”
It is true that “this duty is incumbent, first of all, on men as individuals. But it also binds the whole community of human beings, grouped together by mutual social ties: mankind, too, depends on the sovereign authority of God.” In addition “men are bound by his obligation in a special way in virtue of the fact that God has raised them to the supernatural order. Thus we observe that when God institutes the Old Law, He makes provision besides for sacred rites, and determines in exact detail the rules to be observed by His people in rendering Him the worship He ordains.” This Old Law worship was only a shadow of that which the Supreme Priest of the New Testament was to render to the Heavenly Father (cf. Heb. 10:1).
We must also affirm with Pope Pius XII that only the Catholic hierarchy can regulate the liturgy and worship. Certainly, a Catholic must care about the common good, and certain “public protection” measures must be accepted and validated by the bishops. But it is ludicrous for a government minister to want to determine of what prayer consists and in what manner it is to be performed. Unless he wants think of himself as a prophet, in addition to being a poor theologian?