Dear friends in Christ,
This has been a challenging year on many levels. We have had to adapt and to keep adapting to ever-changing guidelines in response to Covid. I am grateful to all those of you who have been patient and understanding as we have tried to navigate these uncertain waters.
Having public Masses suspended for three months was very difficult to say the least. After they resumed, however, we were blessed to be able to celebrate Masses outside through the summer and into the fall. Doing so enabled us to be able to avoid many of the things that most other parishes had to implement in June, like strict limits on attendance at Mass, sign-ups for Masses, and yes, having to wear masks.
Since we had to move indoors a couple months ago, however, we ourselves have also had to implement many of these things. Since then the number of complaints, comments, etc about how we are celebrating Mass and what we are or are not doing to prevent the spread of Covid have increased. Having spoken to numerous other priests, I know that we are not alone in this. There is considerable anxiety out there. And every parish including ours has members with completely opposite viewpoints on what we should and shouldn’t be doing as a parish in response to Covid.
Unfortunately our ushers and sacristans have borne the brunt of some angry remarks and have been treated poorly by a few people, both those who think we are not doing enough to prevent the spread of Covid and others who think that anything we ask is an unjust imposition on their freedom. Much of it has centered around the wearing of masks. Some people are very nervous when they see anyone at Mass without a mask. Others are upset that they are even offered a mask if they aren’t wearing one. Trying to balance these very different viewpoints has not been easy. In an attempt to find this balance, last weekend we began to ask anyone without a mask to sit in one section on the side of the church. Some had no problem doing this, but others got upset.
Therefore I want to clarify that the guidelines we are following right now come from our bishop. They do not come from me or a government official, nor are they made up by our ushers or sacristans. As we have stated since we resumed indoor Masses, these diocesan guidelines ask that we wear masks at indoor Masses. However, at the same time they call for us to be pastorally sensitive to anyone who cannot medically tolerate a mask, small children who won’t wear them, etc. The guidelines also state that we have anyone without a mask sit in one section of the church. Again, this is an attempt to accommodate people with very different opinions. Of course like everything else it is not perfect. So I simply have to appeal to everyone’s better nature and ask you to please exercise patience and understanding. This is what the vast majority of our parishioners have done, and I am very grateful for this.
Whether masks and the other things we have been doing make much difference in preventing the spread of Covid, I do not know. I have been given very different opinions on this from medical professionals as well. But regardless of whether we think they are effective or not, or whether we like them or not, this is what our bishop is asking us to do right now in order to be able to continue to have public Masses. The majority of people I have spoken with about masks have said they wear them not for themselves but for the sake of others. As such, doing this can be an act of charity towards others, a small sacrifice we can offer to the Lord.
At the same time, however, it is impossible to create a completely risk-free environment in which infectious diseases cannot spread. Wearing masks and so on can only minimize the risk. For this reason the bishop has once again extended the suspension of the Sunday Mass obligation through February 17, Ash Wednesday, for those who are most vulnerable to Covid and for anyone who does not feel comfortable attending Mass right now because of the pandemic. If you do choose to come to Mass, please be kind and respectful towards our ushers and all those who help out here at St. Luke’s. They are volunteers who have been giving of their time to the parish week after week, most of them for years.
When we come to Mass, let’s remember the great mystery that we are entering into: how God is literally coming to us to provide us spiritual nourishment for our journey through this life. The Mass is the highest prayer of the Church and a time for us to gather to worship the Lord together. We are so blessed in spite of everything this year has brought.