A recent policy enacted by the State of Alaska Department of Corrections has banned Catholic Mass within the prisons and, as a result, infringed on the religious freedom of inmates. Catholics in Alaska prisons are being prevented from worshipping the Lord in the Sacred Mass and the archdiocese leaders are remaining silent. The theology regarding the Sacred Liturgy is the reason the new policy prevents a valid Mass from being held within the walls of any Alaska prison.
The policy bans the use of altar wine, even for the priest, during Catholic Mass (or any religious service.) The ban of altar wine, consequently, prohibits a valid Catholic Mass. The regulation says that grape juice, or another non-alcoholic drink, can be used as a substitute. The elimination of altar wine prevents a valid Mass because, at a minimum, the priest must partake of the consecrated wine during Mass. There are two areas in Catholic teaching and doctrine which address this issue.
“The essential signs of the Eucharistic sacrament are wheat bread and grape wine, on which the blessing of the Holy Spirit is invoked and the priest pronounces the words of consecration spoken by Jesus during the Last Supper: ‘This is my body, which will be given up for you….This is the cup of my blood.” (CCC 1412)
“It is altogether forbidden to use wine of doubtful authenticity or provenance, for the Church requires certainty regarding the conditions necessary for the validity of the sacraments, nor are other drinks of any kind to be admitted for any reason, as they do not constitute valid matter.” (Redemptionis Sacramentum, 2004 Vatican Instruction)
Catholics have an obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and receive the Eucharist at least once a year. The Department of Corrections policy prevents Catholic prisoners from fulfilling these obligations and also stops them from receiving the graces that flow from Mass and in the Eucharist. Yes, inmates could be provided communion through a consecrated host without a Mass. It would allow them to receive Christ in the Eucharist, but the prevention of their ability to attend a valid Mass is a restriction of their religious freedoms and rights. It should be appalling to the archdiocese. On the contrary, the archdiocese remains silent. Silence is acceptance. Silence is approval.
It should come as no surprise, however, that we are only hearing crickets from the archdiocese. It appears they are comfortable with restricting Catholics from their ability to participate in the life of the Church properly and fully. The archdiocese appears to not be the only one accepting, and even participating, in the restriction of the Sacraments of the Church.
The Diocese of Fairbanks issued a decree four months ago, March 15, 2023, that restores the distribution of the precious blood at Mass. It is the first time Catholics in the diocese have been able to receive the consecrated wine since the suspension of the precious blood during COVID. If the diocese is content in preventing Catholics from receiving the previous blood almost a year after most dioceses in the country have restored the distribution, then it goes to reason the diocese would be unconcerned about the elimination of a valid Mass at the prisons. Politics prevails over faith.
The new Department of Corrections policy replaces the previously enforced regulation that allowed the use of altar wine during Mass by a priest. The old policy required the priest to receive prior approval by the superintendent or chaplaincy coordinator, but there is no documentation that a priest was ever denied the ability to use altar wine during Mass at any of Alaska’s prisons. In fact, the very opposite is documented. Valid masses have been held in prisons throughout Alaska until the new policy was signed.
It is irrelevant that these people are incarcerated or what type of crimes they committed to be sentenced to prison. Catholics in this country, and around the world, should pray for the reversal of this new policy. We should also contact the archdiocese and ask them to speak out against this policy. The clergy and Church leadership have long been silent and refused to defend the Church from consistent persecutive policies and actions in this country. Most Church leadership would rather play politics than defend Catholics and the church. It is time for them to speak up and refuse to remain silent in the face of preventing Catholics from receiving the Sacraments and participating in Mass. (Of course, why should it surprise us since they have already set a precedent during Covid for being comfortable in banning Catholics from Mass)
Alaska has the Archdiocese of Anchorage-Juneau, under Archbishop Andrew Bellisario, C.M., and the Diocese of Fairbanks, under Bishop Steven Maekawa, OP. The contact information for both offices is as follows:
Executive Assistant Kim Bakic
Bishop Maekawa, Diocese of Fairbanks
Contact them and tell them you want your brothers and sisters in Alaska prisons to be able to attend Mass and that you want to see them push back against this persecution.