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Adaptations to Ministry

For the last two months I’ve been managing the stress of dealing with the pandemic by thinking of it as a temporary break from the normal routine, a break during which I may miss significant features of my life, but most likely can make up for everything in a short while. Once I managed the initial fear of thinking that I would become infected at any moment with the corona virus, I actually calmed down a bit and could get some work done. But now I’m allowing it to sink in, what is mostly likely going to be the new normal for our community for the foreseeable future:  we aren’t going to be able to return to the way it was. Each day brings more news of the challenges that individuals, families, organizations, and businesses face in trying to accomplish anything in these very troubled times. All the things we simply took for granted have become so much more precious.

St. Aloysius Gonzaga gave up a life of luxury in the most opulent court the world had ever seen to follow his religious vocation. He is one of the many saints who flourished during a time of plague.

The Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith. It is where we hear the call to mission and it is the goal toward which we work as a community. The Eucharist has continued in our church.  Jesus Christ has not failed in his promise to be with us until the end of the World. At the altar at each Mass, Christ has been present, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity. But we can also acknowledge that when Christ instituted the Eucharist in the Upper Room, he didn’t intend for the Apostles to keep it to themselves. The celebration of the Eucharist is what makes us into His Church. All of us are aware of the loss of sacramental grace, of missing a sacred nutrient that our spiritual diet must contain if we are to be strong enough to fulfill our obligations as stewards of God’s gifts.

In the past six years I have observed the weakness of the Body of Christ around me, suffering from the lack of commitment to the Eucharist. We would all have been much stronger and better stewards had the many people who simply ignore the commandment to keep the Sabbath Holy and the precept to attend Mass on Sunday joined us at the altar. Yes, we have managed because of the generosity of those committed to ministry, but there is so much more we could have done.

We are living in an exceptional time when what is right and just isn’t so complicated. Now that the precept has been suspended until the end of June, it is intention that replaces obligation. There is always greater grace to those who choose to do something because it is right and for the benefit of another and need no one to oblige them to do it.

Now that the major portion of those who perform liturgical ministry are unable to assist because of the very real health risks that the pandemic presents, we have to rely on a much smaller group of parishioners to assist us in holding public services. Social distancing procedures and best hygiene practices require us to have ushers ready to direct the faithful. We need one person outside each church entrance and one person inside each section. That is six ushers per mass. And after mass we need volunteers to stay behind to thoroughly clean the pews. These are the requirements put in place by Bishop McKnight in response to federal, state and local health recommendations.

I really don’t want to lay a guilt trip on anyone. Your first responsibility is to safeguard your family’s health. The safest place to be is at home, and the wise recommendation is to avoid public gatherings as much as possible. Nevertheless, it has been determined that the risk can be mitigated if we follow best health and hygiene practices when we are around other people. Your well-informed conscience will guide you in making the choice to come to mass and participate. I just want to let everyone know that it will be a lot easier to hold services in this time of pandemic if those who are of low risk for developing serious complications from a COVID-19 infection can contact the parish office and volunteer to be an usher at mass. And while we have extraordinary ministers of holy communion for this weekend and next week, it has taken a lot of phone calls to find people who are able to assist in the distribution of communion, so we could use a few more volunteers for that ministry.

Ultimately, the only way this whole pandemic makes any sense to me is accepting it as an opportunity to test our strength as a Catholic parish. The letters of Paul have always been an important reality check on me. Over and over he is thanking God for the hardships he endured because it allowed him to let go of all the worldly support that he had relied on and put his trust in the Lord’s providence. How could I ever justify my complaining or laziness knowing that the next time I would open the Scriptures, God would provide a sometimes not-so-subtle correction to my attitude and I’d have to start walking the talk.