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Celebrating Mass and protecting neighbor

I wish to thank the clergy, religious and laity who serve in our ministries. They have been outstanding in serving all of us during this pandemic.
Different dioceses have experienced different pastoral realities and, as a result, dioceses have differed in determining how best to handle the pandemic. In our archdiocese we have responded by keeping our parish churches open for prayer. Confessions have been heard, baptisms celebrated, weddings officiated, confirmations celebrated, the sick have been anointed, the sick in hospitals have been visited, and Holy Communion has been brought to the sick. The poor have been fed, assistance with rent and utility bills has been provided, clothing for the poor has been provided, the distraught have received counseling, adoptions have proceeded. Catholic schools have provided distance learning, parishes have provided online religious instruction, etc.
At the same time, public Masses were suspended. Even this was a witness to our Catholic faith. As Catholics, we know that we are to be concerned not only with our own needs but with the needs of neighbor. Public Masses were suspended in order to protect the health and lives of neighbor. Suspending public Masses was a witness to our Catholic faith, no matter how painful it may have been. To think otherwise is to misunderstand what the faith is about.
Now that we have been able to resume public Masses, our liturgical celebrations need to be conducted in a way worthy of God and protective of neighbor.
Civil and medical officials are fairly unanimous that social distancing in daily life is essential this time of the pandemic. This includes during the celebration of Mass. Therefore, at Mass seating is restricted so that social distancing is maintained. Social distancing is maintained in the Communion line. Social distancing is also to be maintained during the distribution of Communion. Communicants need to fully stretch out their arm allowing the priest to also stretch out his arm so that the consecrated host may be placed in the hand thus allowing for social distancing.
I realize that some Catholics prefer to receive Communion on the tongue. The Church gives the communicant the option of receiving on the hand or the tongue. However, this is a time of pandemic. People are getting sick and people are dying. There are times when our personal preferences and even our personal rights must yield for the good of neighbor.
I remain convinced that our desire to protect neighbor is pleasing to God. I thank all of you for your understanding and cooperation. As much as some may wish to receive Communion on the tongue, the Church teaches that receiving on the hand is just as acceptable. Receiving the Lord on the hand was approved by St. Pope Paul VI and this approval has continued through the papacies of St. Pope John XXIII, Pope John Paul I, St. Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict and now Pope Francis. I doubt that these good and saintly popes would have allowed the reception of the Eucharist through an act that would not be acceptable.
One of the reasons why I am deeply committed to a celebration of Mass that upholds safety of neighbor is that I have spoken with and heard people describe how their hearts were torn apart by not being present as their loved ones died from the virus in a hospital or nursing home. Standing before God, I would not wish to celebrate Mass in a way which may cause someone to go through that agony of spirit. We must use caution in celebrating Mass.
As an aside, for those who could not be present with a loved one as they died, you may feel that your loved one died all alone. In a sense we all die alone. Loved ones may be gathered around our death bed but we must make the journey of death alone. No one can come with us.
Our presence at the death bed of a loved one may be a comfort to them or to us, but they die alone. Our prayers are with them, but we cannot go with them. On the other hand, I firmly believe that there are those on the other side of death who can help us and journey with us. They are the ones who make sure we do not die alone. If you feel that your loved one died alone, I ask you to reflect on what we mean when we say in the creed that we believe in a “Communion of Saints.”
But I digress. I look forward to the day when we will no longer need to maintain social distancing. With God’s help, may this day come soon. In the meantime, as Catholics, we must be dedicated to protecting the health and lives of neighbor. The Common Good is a foundational principle of Catholic moral teaching. Thank you for your cooperation.

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