Rorate Caeli

The case against masks, presented by a religious Sister in the form of an article from the Summa

Rorate is grateful for the following contribution, offered to us by a religious Sister who wishes to remain anonymous (or rather, who must remain anonymous for the sake of her community).

For the past ten months or so, we have been urged, commanded, and threatened to wear masks. The majority of the populace seems to be complying. It is the exception, rather than the norm, to see unmasked faces at a grocery store, a gas station, or the gym. Christians seem to be like their neighbors in this regard; walking into most Masses on a Sunday morning, one is likely to be “greeted” with masked parishioners, social distancing, and lots of sanitizer.


There are some, however, who refuse to wear a mask—in church or anywhere else—even when masks are required by state law and when the Bishop has requested that masks be worn. When questioned as to why they do not follow the law in this case, they are typically unable to articulate the reason—except to say that they have a deep-seated sense that wearing masks is just wrong, that it is somehow offensive, and that this sense is even stronger within the context of a church than elsewhere.


While having a sense of something is helpful, we must be able to articulate the reason for the sense, especially since refusing to wear a mask is often an act of disobedience to the civil and religious authorities that the Christian must normally obey. Are we able to give a defense, grounded in faith as well as in reason, for refraining from wearing masks? We have chosen to present this defense in the format of an article from St. Thomas’s Summa.


Whether, in the present day, one ought to wear a mask?


Objection 1: It would seem that one ought to wear a mask. The consensus of the scientific and medical community is that the Wuhan Virus is an infectious disease and that wearing a mask protects one from contracting a virus which could lead to sickness and even to death. But avoiding sickness and death is taking proper care of one’s bodily health, which is a gift from God. Therefore one ought to wear a mask.


Objection 2: Further, as Christ says, “Amen, I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these least of my brethren, you did it to me.”[1] The wearing of a mask protects a person from not only catching the virus, but also, if the person is contagious, from passing it along to others. One does not have knowledge of the potentially fragile physical state of others. Wearing a mask, a little inconvenience to oneself, could save another person from serious illness which could lead to death. Such a motive of charity makes the wearing of a mask a corporal work of mercy of caring for the sick.


Objection 3: Further, it is presently the quasi-universal practice of governors, mayors, and other lawmakers to mandate the wearing of masks in public. These lawmakers have the power and responsibility to care for the common good of the community over which they have been given the authority to rule—an authority that comes ultimately from God, as Scripture teaches. It would seem that the present public crisis requires and justifies the public authorities to enact laws to protect their citizens. One must obey all just laws enacted by legitimate authorities. As Christ says, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”[2] Anyone who disobeys in refusing to wear a mask frustrates the common good.


Objection 4: Further, Canon Law obliges the faithful to be obedient to the hierarchy: “The Christian faithful, conscious of their own responsibility, are bound by Christian obedience to follow what the sacred pastors, as representatives of Christ, declare as teachers of the faith or determine as leaders of the Church.”[3] Some ecclesiastical authorities, at both the parish and diocesan level, have either mandated or encouraged the wearing of masks during the Sacred Liturgy. Failure to wear a mask at church (or at Masses which take place outside of churches) compounds civil disobedience with religious disobedience.

Sed contra: It is written: “My heart hath said to Thee: my face hath sought Thee: Thy Face, Lord, will I still seek. Turn not away Thy Face from me; decline not in Thy wrath from Thy servant. Be Thou my helper, forsake me not; do not Thou despise me, O God my Savior… O God of hosts, covert us: show us Thy Face, and we shall be saved.”[4]


I answer that, the wearing of a mask in the present circumstances is motivated by fear of illness and death. Fear, as a natural passion, is morally neutral. St. Thomas Aquinas explains that fear “is caused by the imagination of a future evil which is either corruptive or painful.”[5] Natural evils—such as the Wuhan Virus—are objects of fear. It is normal to fear sickness and death as natural evils. It is important, however, to clarify that man fears not present evils, but what his imagination presents to him as a future evils. A man may fear being ill with cancer. Once he has cancer, he may experience pain or sorrow, but strictly speaking, he does not fear cancer any more. He may fear the cancer getting worse; he may fear various plans of treatment which his doctors discuss with him; he may fear death—but all of these things are in the future, not the present.


All men experience sickness to varying degrees, and all men will experience death. Why have the majority of men lived their daily life without the crippling fear of sickness and death which permeates the current day? St. Thomas explains that man generally does not fear remote and distant things, “for as the Philosopher says (Rhet. ii, 5), ‘we do not fear things that are very far off; since all know that they shall die, but as death is not near, they heed it not.’”[6] For most modern men, death is a distant reality; indeed, there is a veritable societal amnesia about death. Death is “very far off,” and we “heed it not.” At least we did not…until the advent of the Wuhan Virus. With the “global pandemic” seems to have arisen a new global fear of death—not the salutary fear which is the beginning of wisdom, but the fear which cripples men and destroys economies.


Tragically, the average man turns to physicians who appear on the media, career politicians, and pop stars for answers about how to respond to the fear of death. Politicians, mainstream media outlets, and so-called “medical experts” say: “You shall not die”[7] if you wear a mask. “Cover your nose and mouth to stop the spread of the Virus.” “Stay safe; stay home.” “Love wills the good of the other. Christians wear masks!” “Save lives—wear a mask.”


Because a virus cannot be seen by the naked eye, every human person one encounters is a potential carrier, a potential threat. Even if a person has no concern for his own health, he may, unbeknownst to himself, pass the virus to someone who does have health concerns. Masks become a necessity in the attempt to save oneself and one’s neighbors from illness and death. An unmasked face has become a threat of illness and a reminder of death. Yet it is wholly un-Christian to consider any other human person first as a threat to oneself. Before the Wuhan Virus came into the public view, someone who habitually considered any other as a potential threat to his own physical health was rightly labeled paranoid. Before Wuhan, being paranoid in that manner was considered abnormal, contrary to the common good, and opposed to the communion which ought to exist between men.


Man is called to love his neighbor and to be in communion with him. The mask obstructs the development of genuine community, which is the basis of human society: it muffles the human voice; it hides the human smile; it obscures the deeply human facial expressions which are integral to forming human friendships. Man is by nature a social animal. The spiritual dimension of man—the fact that he has a rational soul—is expressed most pointedly, profoundly, and truly in his face. A man recognizes his wife, his children, his brothers, and his friends not primarily by their elbows or knees, nor even by their hands (as unique as each person’s fingerprints are). No; a man knows the people he loves by their faces and by their voices. Man communicates most profoundly with his face—with words, looks, facial expressions. When faces are hidden and voices are muffled, the person himself is obscured. It is precisely for this reason that burglars wear masks; they do not want their identity to be known.


Upon encountering a masked person, one’s gaze is drawn to the body rather than to the face. When one looks at the body, to the exclusion of the face, one encounters an object, a thing, rather than a person. Seeing arms, legs, a body, and a third of a face, the intellect categorizes this thing as a human being. That category is objective, not subjective. Without the view of the face—that essentially personal and subjective element of the human body—how can one avoid objectifying the rest of the body and the person whose body one sees? To illustrate the point, often, during serious operations and autopsies, the face of the patient is covered to help the doctor or coroner make a mental separation between the task at hand and the person (or former person) into whom (or into which) they are cutting. The doctor is objectifying the person, in a sense, in order to complete the operation. What is true in this legitimate use of face coverings during medical procedures is likewise true in the current context: masks objectify human subjects.


Furthermore, masks indirectly promote thinking of others in terms of oneself. “You are not wearing a mask; you are a danger to me. You are making me feel uncomfortable by failing to wear a mask.” Objects are meant to be used; that is, to be used as a means to an end. Persons are primarily subjects to be known and loved. When the face is obscured, the person is obscured. However, the only proper response to persons is not use, but love.[8] Love which establishes communion is at the heart of the Christian life; for, God is a communion of three Persons. The Evil One seeks always to separate and to isolate, and the mask is presently his useful instrument to that end.


While one must take reasonable measures to ensure one’s health, physical health is neither the primary nor the sole determinant of a man’s actions. There are more important realities than bodily health, especially spiritual health. A mask worn at all times and in all places conveys the message that physical health is the primary good. There have been numerous saints who, motivated by supernatural charity, contracted contagious diseases and died in service to those who had these diseases. Such persons were canonized because they had a right ordering of goods: physical health, while important, is less important than and must be subordinated to spiritual health.


It is, therefore, not bodily death, which St. Augustine aptly calls the “first death,” that ought to be man’s primary concern, but rather the eternal death of the damned, the “second death,” which man must avoid at all costs.[9] It is thus only the evil man who needs to fear death.


From the depths of our hearts, each Christian unites himself with the Psalmist in saying: “My face hath sought Thee: Thy Face, Lord, will I still seek. Turn not away Thy Face from me; decline not in Thy wrath from Thy servant. Be Thou my helper, forsake me not; do not Thou despise me, O God my Savior… O God of hosts, covert us: show us Thy Face, and we shall be saved.”[10] The Psalmist seeks the face of God with his own face. The face, more than other body part, represents the fullness of the person. It is from his face that man speaks, sees, listens. It is with his face that man communicates. It is by means of his face that he is in relationship with others. An infant knows his mother’s face and develops under the gaze of his mother. The Psalmist understands that the turning of one’s face to God represents the turning of the whole self. He turns himself to God and begs that God would turn towards him.


Reply to Objection 1: There is not a consensus among doctors and scientists, at the end of 2020, about the infectious nature of the Wuhan Virus or the efficacy of wearing masks. In October, three epidemiologists published the Great Barrington Declaration.[11] Merely ten days after its publication, 6,000 other public health experts and 12,000 doctors co-signed the Declaration.[12] The Declaration questions the “medical consensus” touted by the mass media for the past ten months. Citing the better understanding of the virus within the medical/scientific community, these doctors and scientists assert that, while the Wuhan Virus is exponentially more fatal for the elderly than for the young, for children the virus “is less dangerous than many other harms, including influenza.”[13] In other words, the normal flu is more likely to kill children than the Wuhan Virus is. While an in-depth look at the medical-scientific nature of the virus exceeds the bounds of this article, the point is that there is not a consensus among the scientific and medical community about the severity of the virus nor about the necessity or benefit of mask-wearing for the general populace.


Reply to Objection 2: Charity is any action we do for God or do for others for the sake of God. If we do not act for the sake of God, the action, while good, is not charity. Is charity actually the reason why many wear masks? We cannot know another’s motives, but, as Our Lord says, “by their fruits you shall know them.”[14] The fruit of the societal wearing of masks is fear. “Fear is not in charity: but perfect charity casteth out fear, because fear hath pain. And he that feareth, is not perfected in charity.”[15] While the corporal works of mercy—feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, visiting the sick, etc. are acts of charity, if motivated by love of God, it is not clear that wearing a mask qualifies as such a work of mercy. Rather, it seems that the isolation caused by mask-wearing and social-distancing procedures amounts to a failure in the corporal works of mercy.


Reply to Objection 3: Law, as St. Thomas defines it and as the tradition consistently holds, is “an ordinance of reason for the common good, made by him who has care of the community, and promulgated.”[16] As a dictate of reason, “the proper effect of law is to lead its subject to their proper virtue: and since virtue is that which makes its possessor good, it follows that the proper effect of law is to make those to whom it is given good.”[17] Human laws therefore bind in conscience if they are just. It is sinful to disobey just laws. The question is, therefore, whether the virus-related ordinances, regulations, and other mandates which lawmakers across the nation have enacted over the past ten months are just laws.


Laws are just when they are ordered to the common good and when the law does not “exceed the power of the lawgiver.”[18] Furthermore, to be just, the law must not impose disproportionate burdens for the citizens whom the law binds. A law may be unjust in four ways. (1) First, a law is unjust when it is contrary to human good, “as when an authority imposes on his subjects burdensome laws, conducive, not to the common good, but rather to his cupidity or vainglory.”[19] (2) Second, a law is unjust when the one who makes the law “goes beyond the power committed to him.”[20] (3) Third, a law is unjust when the burdens imposed by the law weigh more heavily on certain people or groups within the community even though the common good is being sought. (4) Finally and most importantly, a law is unjust when it is opposed to the divine good or to the divine law.


The requirement to wear a mask is most often a mandate given by executive order. Such mandates exceed the regular power and authority granted to the executive branch of the government. The place of the legislative branch—which has the purpose of creating the laws—seems to have been usurped.


It is doubtful that the government has the authority to mandate peculiar articles of clothing such as facemasks and to punish those who do not comply. There is a parallel that can be drawn to another time in history when citizens were ordered to wear peculiar articles of clothing: the Jewish star. If the lawmakers exceed their authority in the creation of the laws mandating masks, then the laws are unjust.


Mask-wearing mandates place a disproportionate burden on many groups within society. Many anecdotes are told about infants and small children who are afraid of the masked adults they see. Time will tell what the psychological impact is on these youngest members of our society. Children are often required to wear masks at school, even though the masks can make breathing difficult. Furthermore, the teachers and students’ voices are muffled, hindering the learning process. Many adults have various health problems which are exacerbated by wearing masks. Those who have an objection to mask-wearing on ethical or religious grounds are forced to comply or else will not be allowed to participate in life in both the public and private sector. The mask-wearing mandates place a disproportionate burden on Catholics who are hindered from the free exercise of their religion. It is contrary to the nature of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, as the public worship of the Church, to have the clergy, servers, or even the faithful wearing masks. Even if this point is debated within Catholic circles, the reality is that according to the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, the government cannot prohibit the free exercise of a person’s religion—including what may or may not be worn in public worship.


For all of these reasons, the mandates issued by local governments are unjust and therefore, in good conscience, may be disobeyed.


Reply to Objection 4: Canon 212 obliges the faithful to obey declarations which the clergy make as “teachers of the faith” or as “leaders of the Church.” The faithful are not required to obey declarations of bishops or priests which fall outside of the domain of the Catholic faith. Wearing masks in Church is not a matter of faith. Canon 212 states that the faithful “are bound by Christian obedience to follow what the sacred pastors…determine as leaders of the Church.”[21] It does not seem that the mandating of masks, in accordance with public health regulations, is specifically a matter pertaining the bishop’s authority as leader of the Church. The vast majority of bishops and priests are not medical doctors nor health experts; thus, when they make declarations about mask-wearing for the physical health of their flock, they are exceeding the limits of their competence. The action of the clergy to mandate masks exceeds the bounds of their ecclesiastical authority. Lastly, “the Christian faithful have the right to worship God according to the prescriptions of their own rite approved by the legitimate pastors of the Church.”[22] Nowhere in the Roman Rite, or any other Rite, is there a mandate to wear a mask.


From the foregoing, we may conclude that the “sense” many people have against wearing masks is legitimate. For the light of human reason, and, even more, the light of faith, shines forth in the darkness of the present day.





[1] Mt 25:11. All Scriptural translations are taken from the Douay-Rheims, unless otherwise noted.

[2] Mt 22:21

[3] Code of Canon Law, Latin-English Edition, trans. Canon Law Society of America (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1983): can. 212 §1, p.71.

[4] Ps 26:8-9; 79:8

[5] Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, trans. Fr Laurence Shapcote, O.P. (Lander, WY: The Aquinas Institute for the Study of Doctrine, 2012), I-II, q. 42, a. 2, resp., p.384-385.

[6] STh I-II, q. 42, a.2, resp., p.384-385.

[7] Gen 3:4

[8] Cf. Karol Wojtyla, Love and Responsibility, trans. H.T. Willetts. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press), 1993.

[9] cf. Saint Augustine, City of God, Book XIII, Ch. 2.

[10] Ps 26:8-9; 79:8

[11] The three authors are: “Dr. Martin Kulldorff, professor of medicine at Harvard University, a biostatistician; and epidemiologist with expertise in detecting and monitoring infectious disease outbreaks and vaccine safely evaluations. Dr. Sunetra Gupta, professor at Oxford University, an epidemiologist with expertise in immunology, vaccine development, and mathematical modeling of infectious diseases. Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, professor at Stanford University Medical School, a physician, epidemiologist, health economist, and public health policy expert focusing on infectious diseases and vulnerable populations.”

[12] Dr. David Deavel, “Properly Political Scientists: The Great Barrington Declaration.” The Imaginative Conservative. Oct. 14, 2020.

[13] “The Great Barrington Declaration”:

[14] Mt 7:16

[15] 1 Jn 4:18

[16] STh I-II, q. 90, a.1, resp., p.202.

[17] STh I-II, q. 92, a.1., p.214.

[18] STh I-II, q. 96, a.4, resp., p.250.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] CIC, Can. 212 §1.

[22] CIC, Can. 214.