Catholics around the world have recently come to know what it’s like to not be able to attend Mass in a church. Though many churches are open again after an initial lockdown during the first surge of the coronavirus pandemic, there are still strict limitations in many places, and some vulnerable populations are continuing to avoid public gatherings. And if a second wave of COVID-19 infections gets out of hand this fall and winter, many worshipers will go back to attending Sunday Mass through live-streaming on the internet.
This Veterans Day, it’s instructive to recall that in times of war, Catholic soldiers often found themselves in a similar predicament. They did not always have the luxury of attending Mass on Sundays and holy days. Though there have always been chaplains to accompany the troops, sometimes they are spread too thin. Sometimes, too, dangerous or difficult conditions have made it impossible for them to provide liturgical services.
Before soldiers and sailors had the benefit of internet technology to assist them in worship, Church leaders found other ways to help.
“Many men would carry a pocket version of the Psalms and the New Testament and would try and spend time reading passages from that,” Mike Strainic Sr., historian for the Catholic War Veterans of USA, told Aleteia. “Whenever a priest was available to a unit he would hear confessions, say Mass and sometimes give a special blessing — since the last sacrament was called the last rites, they tried to avoid that name. Priests in wartime also had the privilege of general absolution, so if there was not time for individual confessions, a priest could absolve a whole group so everyone could receive Communion before going into battle.”
In 1942, at the height of the Second World War, the Confraternity of the Precious Blood published My Military Missal, a prayer book intended for use by military personnel in wartime. It was distributed by the National Catholic Community Services, one of several agencies that joined together to form the United Service Organization (USO).
Read more at Aleteia