* Fast and Abstinence Regulations for Lent
There are many ways to do penance and keep the spirit of the season of Lent. We list below the current regulations for the Church in the United States. If these do not help you focus on the season of Lent, find some other action or act of self-denial that does so in a better way. It is not a matter of following a rule or thinking one has committed a sin by not following one of the rules on fasting and abstinence. Rather, the real issue is whether we are willing to join the whole community of faith in the spirit of the Lenten season, to enter into a penitential spirit and be open to renewal through God’s Spirit at work. A closed heart and rejection of that Spirit would be the sin, if any is there, not that we ate meat or failed to fast on a particular day. So, embrace the spirit of the season, not just the letter of the law. Find little ways to break your regular routine, take a few moments in prayer, and create a more generous heart.
· Observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
· Required of all 18 years or older until their 59th birthday. Encouraged for all others in the spirit of the season. In addition, all Christians are invited to fast on Holy Saturday, along with the elect preparing for Baptism at the Easter Vigil. Health, ability to work, or other serious reasons always excuse.
· On a fast day one full meal is allowed. Two other meals, sufficient to maintain strength, may be taken according to each one’s needs, but together they should not equal another full meal. Eating between meals is not permitted, but liquids, including milk and juices, are allowed.
· Observed on Ash Wednesday, all the Fridays of Lent and Good Friday.
· Required by all 14 years of age and older. Encouraged for all others in the spirit of the season, especially helping younger children enter into this practice.
· May be extended through the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday so to be in solidarity with those preparing for full initiation into the Church.
· On days of abstinence no meat is allowed. Dairy products and bouillon-type flavored foods are allowed.
* Archbishop’s Recent Decision on the Sunday Mass Obligation
Archbishop Vigneron has extended the general dispensation from the obligation to participate in Sunday Mass to March 13. At that point there will no longer be a general dispensation but only dispensations for particular circumstances. Please see the link on the parish website under News/News Briefs for the Archbishop’s full statement.
In order to support the safety measures instituted in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Archbishop Vigneron issued a general dispensation of the obligation to participate in Sunday Mass last March. In December (Advent) the Archbishop extended that general dispensation but emphasized more strongly the importance of Sunday Eucharist and keeping Sunday as the Lord’s Day, even if one did not participate in Mass. He pointed out the oddity of people going on vacation, gathering for different events, shopping and so forth, but still excusing themselves from Sunday Eucharist due to pandemic concerns based on that general dispensation, even when churches were being more careful with their safety protocols than many retail establishments.
He believes the time has come to lift that general dispensation and to encourage everyone who is able and healthy to participate in the Sunday Eucharist. For that reason, the general dispensation will expire on March 13, almost exactly one year from when it was first granted. From that time on, every Catholic is expected to not only keep Sunday as the Lord’s Day but to make participation in the Sunday Eucharist (or Saturday night Vigil) part of their weekly identity as Catholics. He is asking parishes and their priests to offer sufficient Mass times to accommodate those who will be coming back to worship, some for the first time in almost a year. Churches will still be limited to proper safety protocols (mandatory wearing of masks, proper sanitization between Masses, six foot social distancing, and a maximum of 50% capacity). Here at St. Regis, in order to properly observe all the safety precautions, we need to limit capacity to 25% or a maximum of about 225, depending on how people group themselves, but our four Mass times are more than enough to accommodate all who are attending.
Even during this time of general dispensation many of you discerned that it was important to continue to come to Sunday Mass, and for that I have been grateful. A general or particular dispensation does not prevent one from participating—it only offers one the comfort of knowing that one is not required to participate. There is no objective situation of sin involved, in other words, if one does not participate in Sunday Eucharist. However, the Archbishop’s dispensation should not be seen as a light switch that gets flicked “On” or “Off,” and that answers the issue. Whether in a pandemic or not, the choice to be part of the Sunday worshiping community is a decision that belongs to each person and their conscience before God. Dispensations are a way to ease people’s conscience who might be tempted to come to public worship but given their health or other considerations really should not. They are also a way to support the common good of the civil community by being good citizens and following the state mandates as fully as we could.
Even though the general dispensation has been lifted, there is still a need to discern your personal situation. In that regard the Archbishop has issued some guidelines to help your discernment. The first is as mentioned: all things being equal, there is now an obligation to join with the community on Saturday night or Sunday for Eucharist. But there are a number of circumstances that could lead you to discern that you should not come to Mass. Although you are free to consult me or someone else to help with your discernment, that is not necessary. You are the one who is making a conscience-based choice for yourself and family. The Archbishop lists eight particular circumstances that could excuse the Sunday obligation, but again, this needs to be your own prayerful discernment as well. The first three are serious enough that one should not come to public worship at this time, if you find yourself in such a situation, because you will be putting yourself or others in danger: 1) you are ill or your health condition would be significantly compromised if you were to contract a communicable illness; 2) you exhibit flu-like symptoms; 3) you have good reason to think you might be asymptomatic of a contagious illness (e.g., you were in recent contact with someone who tested positive for a contagious illness such as COVID or influenza). The other five may or may not lead you to stay away from public worship for the time being. These have to be discerned on a case-by-case basis and revisited every so often for re-discernment: 4) you care for the sick, homebound, or infirmed; 5) you are pregnant; 6) you are 65 years of age or older (per the CDC’s recommendation of high-risk individuals); 7) you have significant fear or anxiety of becoming ill by being at Mass; 8) you cannot attend Mass through no fault of your own. If you find yourselves in such circumstances, you are more than welcome to attend, if you are able, but you are not required to. Bring it to prayer and let the Lord guide you.
What about livestreaming: does that fulfill one’s obligation of participating in Sunday worship? Although we will continue to livestream the 10 a.m. Sunday Mass and offer Communion to those who are in the parking lot at Communion time, such participation does not fulfill the Church’s obligation to participate fully and actively in person. It might be the best you can do for now. That is fine, and in that case, you have discerned that the obligation does not apply in your particular case. The goal, however, is for all of us who are able and have no reasonable excuse to come together as a community of faith each Sunday. The Sunday gathering is core to our identity. This lifting of the dispensation can be the perfect time to re-commit to that practice.
At St. Regis we have safety precautions in place, including a maximum limit on attendance. Because of the size of the church, we have plenty of space to continue to welcome all who are now able to attend. No reservations are needed. If you prefer fewer people, then the 8 a.m. or 12 noon Sunday Mass might be the better choice for you, but there is room at all the Masses. Like all good habits, if we have fallen away from them, it takes a consistent and intentional decision to make that habit a natural part of the rhythm of our lives again. See the Archbishop’s lifting of the general dispensation as an invitation to continue or re-establish that good habit of Sunday Eucharist, so that the rhythm created by the risen Lord and the earliest Christian communities can once again become our own personal and family rhythm.
* Wednesday Lectio Divina
On the parish’s calendar and in this bulletin, you will find a number of ways to make the season of Lent more meaningful, including participating in the Bishop Barron video series on “The Mass,” setting aside one Friday night to attend a Retreat Night, Stations of the Cross either live or prayed later in the day using the livestreamed video, and more. I want to call special attention to the practice of “Lectio Divina.” We have prepared a booklet to help you enter into this practice each week, centered on the Gospel for the upcoming Sunday which can be downloaded from the stregis.org website. But any booklet that has the Sunday readings can work. The core of lectio divina is a prayerful reading of, meditating on, praying from, and contemplating the Scripture in question, trusting that God’s Holy Spirit can take that Scripture and make it personal to us. To help facilitate this process, one or more members of the parish staff will be available on Wednesdays at noon and at 6:00 p.m. for a brief (about 20 minutes) lectio divina experience of the upcoming Sunday Gospel. The link is on our website under Events, as well as a News post. Click on that link any Wednesday at noon or six o’clock and join in the reflection on the Gospel. Let your friends know about it as well. It is open to all. This first one, on Ash Wednesday, will be led by Theresa Skwara and myself. Hope to see you on Zoom that day.