Limited public Masses are starting in our diocese. I have taken a little teasing about this label that I have created for this first step in our return to normal life. It is all in good fun, but I have learned over the years that words do matter.
These Masses are public in the sense that the faithful will be present. Priests will continue to offer Masses remotely so that those who are not able and/or are uncomfortable participating in person. Participating remotely has been a blessing and I know all the people of the diocese are grateful for that even as we all understand this is not ideal. Allowing parishioners to be present again if they choose is the goal of this next step in the unprecedented journey we are experiencing. Being present for the celebration of the Mass allows us to receive holy Communion. Both celebrating Mass and receiving communion are significant.
Participation in the sacrifice of Christ leads those who are present to the reception of holy Communion. We walk with Jesus to the cross and enter into his sacrifice with our own sacrifice so that, with Christ, we can rise to new life and full union with God. That is holy Communion, under the form of bread and wine here on earth and fully and completely in eternal life. Therefore, participating remotely has left people with a longing in their hearts.
These Masses are also limited. Unlike our faith practice two months ago, only a select number may be present at any given celebration of the Mass. In union with our governor, State officials and local civic leaders, we are continuing to do our part to protect our parishioners and priests and to slow the spread of the Covid-19 virus so that available medical resources are not overwhelmed. The CDC guidelines for proper distancing seem to have worked. We will never know the effect of our efforts, but we do know that limited exposure does reduce the possibility of spreading this virus.
Limiting the number present at a given time has led the priests of our diocese to make pastoral decisions that are not part of our regular practice. Parishioners will be encouraged and invited. This may be confusing or even frustrating for some. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that, “The Sunday celebration of the Lord’s Day and his Eucharist is at the heart of the Mass (2177). It also assures us that, “The Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life” (1324). In these unprecedented times the bishops throughout the country and I suspended the obligation to celebrate Sunday Mass. With that suspension still in place, I and my brother priests are hopeful that we can provide for the faithful, the opportunity to celebrate the Eucharist and receive communion as often as possible by offering Masses throughout the week. Scheduling more than five Masses per priest on Saturday and Sunday would not accommodate everyone during the weekend with proper distancing. Moreover, such a plan would soon become truly taxing for my brother priests who are already going over and above their normal ministry duties to reach all of you.
In unusual circumstances like these most people become self-focused, first considering their own family or their local parish community and convenience. Each of us needs to remember that this is not just about me or my family or even my parish community. It is about our whole diocese and about all of us who are the Diocese of Rapid City. Guidelines may be tailored to each parish community to a certain extent, but also must take into consideration the common bond we share with one another. We are small-towns, churches standing alone on the prairie and larger parishes in the hills. Pastors take care of multiple parishes. Priests are human, varying in age and health condition. Simply said, there are many factors to consider and many details to take into consideration in implementing the return to limited public Masses.
Our union with the Lord in the celebration of the Mass and the reception of holy Communion necessarily calls us to a love for one another. The God who loves me and calls me to union through his Son Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit also loves every other human person. Jesus died and rose to restore eternal life to everyone who accepts his call. We are bound together, brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, who are also sons and daughters of God. We are a community. True freedom comes not in doing what I want, or worse yet getting what I want, but rather in seeking what is best and most just for all of us who are brothers and sisters in Christ. The easiest way to undermine our union with God in Jesus Christ is to see ourselves as unique and different. It is too easy to convince ourselves that the guidelines do not apply to us. We can quickly excuse our choices and behaviors under the guise that “it really doesn’t matter,” or “my choice doesn’t really hurt anyone else.” In the end, putting our self-interest first undermines the common good and, in truth, the call to love as Jesus first loved us.
I am proud of the dedication of my brother priests in these difficult circumstances. They deeply desire to help you achieve the goals of our limited public Masses. I would ask you to listen to them and follow their lead so that together we can grow in holiness. May God bless all of you, and may he accept our sacrifices and make this truly the beginning of a return to what we cherish as normal in our faith practice.