Pastor’s Perspective – May 17, 2020

* May Parish Leadership Gathering Last Tuesday

We had a very good Zoom meeting with all the leadership groups of the parish. We do these meetings three times a year. What we missed at a Zoom meeting is the shared energy that can happen as people give ideas and suggestions. What was gained was great participation in the event because people could be at home or at work and come and go into the meeting as needed. The focus topic was “Becoming a Parish of Dedicated Intercessors.”

Intercessory prayer is one of the necessary components of any parish trying to stay open to the Spirit and to experiencing ongoing renewal. We will send out a copy of the final Intercessory Prayer booklet via an email link to the whole parish once we incorporate all the suggested changes. We will also post it to the website. In the meantime, please give thought to becoming connected to one of our parish’s Intercessory Prayer ministries. We have the “Pray-ers” who receive an email when we get a request for prayers from people; we ask them to include that prayer intention in their daily prayer over the next couple of days. We have “Prayer Teams” who pray with and over people once a month following the Saturday Mass. I would like to see such teams grow, so that more people can experience the power of bringing their prayers to such a team and letting the Prayer Team pray with them. Our Adorers, who spend time in the chapel while the Blessed Sacrament is on the altar, are a vital component of our parish’s intercessory prayer. We ask them to take one of the slips from the Prayer Box outside the chapel (you can put a request in anytime you are at the church) and we ask that they spend a little time interceding for the whole parish. Finally, we have a dedicated Intercessory Prayer Leadership Team who meet weekly in prayer asking the Lord to show them how to pray for the parish, what to pray for, and to guide and protect the parish and its mission.

* Public Masses Begin Again!

As most of you know, Archbishop Vigneron has asked all parishes to begin offering public Masses by the end of the month.  Along with this announcement came very detailed guidelines on liturgical adaptions (such as how to receive Communion) and health issues (face coverings, distancing, and so on). We have posted his letter and those guidelines on our stregis.org website. Below, I will go through how we will adapt these guidelines to our parish situation.

* Our First Public Masses Will Be on May 23/24

Starting the weekend of May 23/24 we will resume our usual weekend/Sunday schedule of Saturday 4:30 pm, Sunday 8am, 10 am and 12 noon. Because there is no obligation to attend Sunday Eucharist (see below), some might wonder why so many Masses to begin? Sunday Eucharist is the cornerstone of the faith life of our parish; we need to allow it to serve in that way. Unless we find ways to connect the community to the Sunday Eucharist, all that we do lacks a proper foundation. On a practical level, because there will be social distancing restrictions, opening up all the weekend liturgies means that we will not have any issues with numbers of people. All who want to attend can be accommodated.

* We Will Begin Weekday Masses and Adoration with Exposition in the Chapel the Week of June 1st

Sunday Eucharist is the central celebration, but daily Eucharist helps to extend and reinforce that experience, as does Adoration. We will be entering slowly back into our daily schedule the week of June 1. The times for Adoration will depend on how many of our adorers are able to commit to their hour.  Those who are more vulnerable to the virus should not push themselves, but stay at home and pray. If you are healthy, it might be something to consider. Maybe the Lord is calling you to spend some time in prayer with Him, in the chapel, on behalf of the parish. Your own life will be enriched beyond what you expect.

* The times for daily Mass (at least for June) will be Monday 6:45 pm, Tuesday 6:45 am, Wednesday noon (livestream only, not open to public at this time), Friday 8:30 am.

These times are made in light of the fact that nearly all who usually attend weekday Masses fall into the vulnerable category and should not be encouraged to come to public gatherings on a regular basis, even if the shelter-in-place is lifted. We will provide one Mass a week for all the various schedules; one Mass a day (except for my day off) each day of the week (keep in mind that we have many funerals and memorial services that will begin to be scheduled), and recognize that many priests are in the situation that they should not make themselves available, at this time, for public Masses. The Archbishop reminded all of the priests that if we are in too vulnerable of a health situation (advanced age, underlying health issues, etc.), we should continue with our private rather than public Masses.

* Masses Will Have a Different Look/Feel

We need to recognize and be ready for a different feel to these celebrations due to ongoing health considerations. The health and safety of all of us (myself included!) has to be kept in the forefront. For that reason the following protocols will be in effect:

· The obligation to participate at Sunday Mass has been lifted by Archbishop Vigneron for all Catholics—no matter their health situation, at least through September 6. [I will be here. 🙂] Sunday is still the “Lord’s Day,” as the Archbishop reminds us. Participation via live-stream Masses, prayer as a family, creating special Sunday-only family activities and being attentive to the blessings of life are ways to make it the Lord’s Day, even if one does not participate at Mass. The bottom line: no one is obligated to be at church on Sunday.

· Please focus on what is most healthy for you and others. If you are sick or have a cold, cough or flu-like symptoms please do not come to these celebrations. If you are in categories that are considered vulnerable to the COVID-19 virus and have any concerns about being in public places with a number of people, not only are you dispensed from participation, you should stay home for now. You are obligated to take care of your health! Please consult the Center for Disease Control to see updated guidelines to follow.

· We will do our best to keep the church space clean and sanitized. We encourage you to have your own hand sanitizer available for your personal use. Some might also want to wear gloves. That is fine, but if you do, the Archdiocesan guidelines state that you remove them before receiving Communion.

· Face coverings/masks make for more awkward participation by voice, but we encourage everyone present to participate at least softly, so that Mass is not something we watch the priest do; rather we actively participate in and do as a community. This is all the more important given the spacing that will be in effect. Whether we use hymnals or separate worship aids, each Mass will have a separate clean set to use.

· Churches must block out pews in a way that maintains proper physical distance.

Every other pew will be blocked out and seating will be staggered to create proper distancing. We ask that all sit only in places that have been marked out. Some of our longest pews will allow for seating on either end; some will need to be limited to only one family per pew, sitting towards the middle of the pew. Please follow the markings and physical distancing out of respect for each other.  Maximum capacity is 25% of the usual capacity. For us that puts our limit at about 225 people in the church space at one time (25 for the chapel) which is just about the maximum we can handle given all the social spacing requirements. Given health concerns and limited attendance, we will not need to worry about these limits for the summer. Do not avoid Mass because you think you might be turned away!

· Face coverings must be worn by everyone who enters the church, including myself.

Once I get to the altar I will remove mine, but when giving Communion or coming in/out I will be wearing a face covering. I know such coverings can be uncomfortable and it will affect the robustness of our singing and spoken responses. We wear them for grocery and retail spaces and need to do so at the church out of care for one another. Remember, they do not have to be N95 certified or constrictive. Many people are being very creative with a layer or two of gaiters—all sorts of colors, pretty comfortable, very stylish—with all sorts of adaptions to increase their effectiveness. Let your children design their own. It will look strange at first, but we will adapt.

* New Guidelines Will Be in Place for Liturgies

Clearly the rules and health concerns listed above will mean that we have to adapt some aspects of how we have been celebrating the Eucharist. Because many of our liturgical ministers fall into the vulnerable category and most likely will not be at Mass during this time, in order to implement these changes we will need teens, young adults, and those who are healthier to step forward to assume many of the ministries.  Everyone under 65 who is in reasonable health, please take seriously this need of the parish and offer your help in all of these areas.

· Ushers/Greeters: We will need them to arrive much earlier so that they can assist in bringing people to the proper pews which allows for maximum spacing, but also maximum attendance, if needed. Weekly worship aids will have to be given out or a clean set of hymnals. If someone wants the Sunday Word (with all the readings), ushers can give them one, but then remind the person that it is now theirs to keep in their car or some place handy for future Masses. Gloves will be available for all ushers/greeters, if needed. They will need to facilitate the new procedure for going to Communion, one section at a time.

· Sacristans: Sacristans will no longer place the gifts on the back table. The procession with gifts to the altar has been temporarily suspended. All bread must be in closed containers. All wine in a cruet with a top. Any handling of these items should be done with gloves on (these will be provided). All ciboria needed for the Mass will have hosts in them to be consecrated with the lid on. After Mass, attention to hygiene will need to be given so that vessels and surfaces are properly wiped down.

· Lectors: We will be asking lectors to check in by a table behind the sanctuary, near the ambo maintaining proper distancing. Face coverings are on as they approach to read, lifted off for the reading, and placed back on as they walk from the ambo. Hand sanitizer will available for them as they approach to read and then to use after handling the Lectionary or Intercession book. Yes, we are going to go through a lot of hand sanitizer! 🙂

· Altar Servers: Because of social distancing we will need to adjust the duties of altar servers. They will process in/out with the cross and candles, lead the Gospel procession with candles (but stand more to the side and behind the deacon/priest), and ring the bells at the consecration. They will not bring the gifts to the altar or assist in the washing of hands. (continued on page 4)

· Extraordinary Ministers of Communion: We will continue to need two to three extra Communion ministers at Mass if numbers go beyond 40-50. Communion will be offered only in one form, the Consecrated Bread. Communion from the cup will be limited to the priest at this point. All Communion ministers (priest and deacon included) will be wearing face coverings/masks while distributing Communion. They will approach the altar one at a time at the usual time (after the Greeting of Peace, though this will be done only by turning toward people and nodding/bowing), sanitize their hands, and properly distance themselves. This will be possible because we will need a maximum of three Communion ministers at any Mass. After receiving Communion himself, the priest will remove the lids to the ciboria, go and sanitize his hands, then distribute Communion to the Communion ministers who in turn will pick up their ciborium and go to distribute Communion.

· The stations for distributing Communion will change, so that people can receive and return to their seats in one line without passing each other in the narrow aisleways. This means that Communion will be distributed section by section and go a bit more slowly. Plus, those receiving Communion will have to maintain the six foot distance between people. As they approach with their mask on and stop six feet away, the Communion minister will say “The Body of Christ,” the person makes a slight bow and responds “Amen,” then takes a step forward with hands out. If someone is wearing gloves the Communion minister will ask that you remove them, in line with the directives from Archbishop Vigneron. The Communion minister will carefully place the host into the hand without his/her fingers touching; the communicant takes a step, lifts their covering and consumes the consecrated host and then returns to their seat. After all have received they will place the ciboria back on the altar and then go into the sacristy one at a time to clean their hands with soap and water, then return to their seats.

For health reasons many dioceses are making it a rule that Communion be received only in the hand rather than on the tongue, but the Archdiocese has stated that a person can request to receive on the tongue. I would ask that everyone, if possible, receive in the hand because that is the safest way. If you believe in conscience that you must receive on the tongue, then Communion will be given to such participants at the end of the Communion time, near the sacristy entranceway. It will be done by the priest or deacon only, not the Communion minister. This will allow the priest/deacon to sanitize his fingers, if needed, after each person.

As you can see, there are all sorts of little adaptations involved under the new conditions. I went in depth about Communion because it raises the most questions. In all of the above, please realize that we are in a learning process. Further adaptations might occur. The paramount principles are reverence for and belief in the real presence of the risen Jesus in the Eucharist and the health and safety of all concerned. My biggest worry is that we will lose the energy that comes when the community gathers together with joyful faith, praying and singing robustly to create a true atmosphere of worship, and leaves with a sense of being part of a community and mission bigger than just themselves. We need you at Mass, actively engaged, if you are not in any compromised health situation. Join us next weekend and every weekend after.

* Communion to the Homebound, Ill, Vulnerable or Those Who Choose to Participate Via Livestream

We now have permission to distribute Communion both to those who come to Mass or those who have a reasonable reason for not coming into the Church. For those who are able to bring Communion to someone sick or homebound we have pyxes available. Please ask one of the parish staff to provide you with one; they will explain the usual process for praying with someone and giving them Communion outside of Mass.

There may be people who prefer to remain outside the church space during the 10:00 am Sunday Mass and watch it via live-stream in their cars (For Example: You feel your children are antsy, or you are worried about interacting with too many people). Maybe you will watch the 10 am Mass via livestream and want to receive Communion. Is that possible? Yes, it is.  The area of the parking lot by the West Wing of the school building will be reserved for such cars. The expectation is that you will be there for the whole Mass or have watched the Mass via live-stream up to the Communion time and then driven to the church. We will bring Communion to the parking lot immediately after Mass. The Communion minister will be available until five minutes after the end of the 10 am Mass.  Again, subject to revision if need be.

Let us approach this next stage of parish life with a spirit of openness and cooperation. Your ongoing spiritual and financial support is vital and so appreciated.

May God be with you.

Fr. Buersmeyer

Additional / Related Content