A Message From a Priest in 1918 Regarding the Suspension of Mass

Bible Christian Society

     In October of 1918, The Birmingham News ran a message from Fr. James E. Coyle, the pastor of St. Paul's Church - now St. Paul's Cathedral - in which Fr. Coyle addresses the local Catholics regarding the matter of the cancellation of all Masses due to the Spanish flu pandemic. 

     For those of you who have never heard of Fr. Coyle, he was murdered in 1921 while sitting on the front porch of St. Paul's rectory, by a Methodist minister.  The minister was upset because Fr. Coyle had just married the man's daughter to a "dark skinned" Puerto Rican Catholic.  The minister was found not guilty at trial thanks to the presence of a number of Klan members on the jury. 

     Here is his message that was published in the Birmingham News:



By Rev. Father James E. Coyle, Pastor of St. Paul’s Catholic Church [now St. Paul’s Cathedral]

My Dear Catholic Brethren:

     A situation unprecedented in the history of our State presents itself to you today.  By order of the civil authorities, and by the advice of your religious leaders, you will not assemble, as you were wont to assemble on Sundays, in your various Catholic churches to assist at Holy Mass. That you may have some words of uplift and cheer, The Birmingham News, with its wonted up-to-dateness, has courteously invited me to write a few words for its many Catholic readers, and I am thus enabled to address, by means of the printed word, a congregation greater far than the five congregations that Sunday after Sunday gather at St. Paul’s.  I gratefully accept the courtesy of The News.

     You are for the first time in your lives deprived of the opportunity of hearing Mass on Sunday, and you will, I trust from this very circumstance, appreciate more thoroughly what Holy Mass is for the Catholics. Sunday service is no mere gathering for prayer, no coming to a temple to join in hymns of praise to the Maker, or to listen to the words of a spiritual guide, pointing out he means whereby men may walk in righteousness and go forward on the narrow way that leads to life eternal. No, there is something else that draws the Catholics, to the wonderment of non-Catholics, from their warm homes on cold bleak Winter dawns to trample through snow-covered streets in their thousands and hundreds of thousands to a crowded church, where they kneel reverently absorbed in the contemplation of a man, who in a strange garb, at a lighted altar, genuflects and bows and performs strange actions and speaks in a long dead tongue. What draws the multitude?

     The Mass, the unutterable sweetness of the Mass. Nothing human could draw, but the Mass is the God-given sacrifice offered the Creator, it is Holy Thursday come down and Calvary made present today. Mass is God really and truly present on our Catholic altars, a living unbloody victim offered again for the sins of men, offered, too, in thanksgiving for all the wondrous graces that unceasing flow from God’s great mercy throne on high.

     Yes, the Mass is the center of Catholic worship. It is the Mass that matters. Where the Mass is, there is God Himself, really, truly, though under sacramental veils. What a glorious history the history of the Mass! See it offered in the first centuries, in the catacombs over the bodies of martyrs by men who themselves will be martyred tomorrow. The Missionary leaving Rome for lands afar brings with him to sway the hearts of men, when the persuasive words of human wisdom fail, the Eucharistic God, made present in the Mass. See, in Ireland an entire people kept true to St. Patrick’s faith by the Mass. See Columbus and his men, kneeling at Mass on the early morn of the day, when they sailed away from Palos, to lift forever the mists from the Atlantic, and to win half a world for God.

     Ah, brethren, let us today reflect on the meaning and the history of that great sacrifice at which we may not assist, a sacrifice that links us with the saints and sages of every age from Christ’s time till now, and let us beg God in his mercy to remove from us that sickness that keeps us deprived of the great sacrifice, so that soon we may again with glad, worshipful hearts, meet in our churches and assist in offering to the All High that clean oblation, seen by the prophet Malachy in vision [Mal 1:11], that sacrifice that is offered in every place from the rising to the set of sun.


God bless!



Apologetics for the Masses