Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
These are certainly interesting times in which we are living and we are finding ourselves tried by this novel coronavirus pandemic. Please know that you all remain in my prayers as we navigate this uncharted territory together.
Last Thursday I was celebrating a funeral Mass when, as the second reading was being proclaimed, I noticed myself experiencing a deep sense of consolation. As the reading continued, I heard St. Paul writing to the Church at Rome:
“What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? No, in all thee things we conquer overwhelmingly in him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death , nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, not height, nor depth nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8: 37-39).
As I listened to those words, I couldn’t help but think about how what we were doing at that funeral Mass really defied the reality of all that was going on in the world with the COVID-19 pandemic. Even though it was someone’s death that occasioned the funeral Mass, it was really the love of Christ that brought us together as a community of hope. As we gathered in the church we were recalling that, as Christians, death is not to be feared, for the love of Christ has conquered even that. As we face this pandemic together, we must also not let fear get the better of us, for this virus cannot kill the eternal life the love of Christ has won for us.
Now, fearlessness does not mean stupidity! We must be prudent. It is imperative that we heed the calls of our civic leaders and take the precautions necessary to prevent and minimize the spread of this virus. At the same time, it is important that we do not panic. There is a saying that has been attributed to St. Ignatius of Loyola: “Pray as if everything depended upon God. Work as if everything depended upon you.” In the midst of all of that is happening, when we are bombarded with news about the novel coronavirus seemingly 24/7, it can be easy to be unnerved and feel a bit of insecurity or hopelessness. It is in these times that we must place our hope and trust in Jesus Christ while doing all we can to keep ourselves and others safe.
I know that the reality that we are not able to have public Masses at this time is difficult. It is difficult for me, as your priest, not to be able to provide the Blessed Sacrament for you. What might be helpful to remember during these days is that frequent reception of Communion was not always a common practice in the Church. Rather, it is something that came about only in the days of Pope St. Pius X (Pope from 1903-1914). In the Middle Ages, many people, out of sense of unworthiness, did not present themselves to receive Jesus in the Eucharist. Because of this, the Fourth Lateran Council decreed that all of the faithful must receive Communion at least once a year, especially in the Easter Season. This, with the obligation to go to Confession once a year, became known as the “Easter Duty,” which remains a part of the Church’s law today. In Pius X’s decree Quam singulari (1910), the saint lowered the age of first Holy Communion from twelve to seven and encouraged the more frequent reception of Holy Communion.
In a sense, we have entered into a different type of Eucharistic fast. Church law requires those receiving Holy Communion to fast from food and drink for one hour before receiving Communion. Now we are fasting from the Eucharist – and just before we begin the “Year of the Eucharist” on Holy Thursday. Perhaps there is an invitation for us, in this, to grow in appreciation of Who is truly present in the Eucharist, to allow our hearts to seek ever more that real communion that we have with Jesus Christ whose body and blood the bread and wine become at Mass. When we are once again “admitted to the table” of the Lord’s Supper, may we approach with even greater desire, respect and admiration of Jesus Christ, truly present in the bread that is broken and shared.
So, what can we do?????
First of all, let us keep the faith. In the gardens by the Jesuit residence at Creighton University in Omaha there is a magnificent statue of the Sacred Heart. It was a gift of the students at the University. The engraving reads, “Thank Offering of the Students for Protection in the World-Wide Plague in the War Year 1918.” One hundred years ago, college students were aware of the need to seek Divine Protection, and were aware of the hand of God in their protection.
During these days, I would encourage you to watch Mass on Catholic TV (www.catholictv.org or www.watchethemass.com) and to make a spiritual Communion, a practice of desiring Jesus present in the Eucharist when we are unable to receive Communion personally. While various saints may have composed their own prayers, the following prayer might be prayed as we watch the Communion Rite of Mass on TV: “My Jesus, I believe that You are present in the Most Holy Sacrament. I love You above all things, and I desire to receive You into my soul. Since I cannot at this moment receive You sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace You as if You were already there and unite myself wholly to You. Never permit me to be separated from You. Amen.”
I also plan to keep the church building open for personal, private prayer as much as possible during the times when we would normally have Mass offered. On weekdays, as much as possible, the Blessed Sacrament will be exposed. As of last night, however, with Governor Baker’s order, we need to limit the number of people in the church at any given time. On account of that, if you are to be present when the Blessed Sacrament is exposed, I need you to sign up at: https://www.signupgenius.com/go/60b094faba728a4f85-eucharistic. Please do not come if you are not signed up, and remember to observe “social distance.” All of this, of course, is subject to change.
One final thing I would recommend to you…This Thursday, the 19th is the Solemnity of St. Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Clearly we will not be having the Mass and social we had planned. I would invite, however, those who are able to prepare for that solemnity by observing Wednesday as a particular day of prayer and fasting according to the norms of the Church (one full meal and two smaller ones to keep one’s strength) and offer that sacrifice up for deliverance from this pandemic through St. Joseph’s intercession. On St. Joseph’s Day itself, let us together pray the Litany of St. Joseph, which can be found here, asking Joseph’s intercession for the same cause. Let us, also, not fail to seek the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary through praying the Rosary.
On a practical level, in a spirit of charity, please reach out to anyone who is in a high-risk group, especially our elder parishioners, to see if there is anything they need. If you are in a high-risk group, please call the rectory if you have a need taken care of, such as a grocery run or a prescription run, and we will see how we can help you.
I pray you all remain well during this time and I appreciate your prayers.