By BISHOP JOEL M. KONZEN, SM | Published November 26, 2020 | En Español
Since the resumption of public worship in late May and of confirmation and other parish Masses in July, we bishops have been on the road more, even if not quite as much as before the arrival of the pandemic. It has been heartening to see first-hand the adaptations that parishes have made in order to continue serving their members, as well as the extra efforts being made by our priests and deacons to minister to their flocks.
Some successes are in the area of conducting outdoor Masses, allowing parishioners to attend either on chairs or, in some cases, in their cars. This has been done at varying levels of added expense, from large tents to an inexpensive radio transmitter, but these Masses have been received enthusiastically where they are offered. In other cases, parishes have expanded their auxiliary spaces by outfitting rooms or halls with equipment and well-spaced seating so that more seats are available than in the church proper.
The efforts at distributing Holy Communion safely, thus satisfying the chief hunger of those who have returned to Masses, are various but aimed at the responsible and necessary sharing of the Eucharist. Some parishes have distanced “stations” for the reception of the sacred species; some have Plexiglas screens for minimizing airborne transmission from breathing; most have rigorous hand-sanitizing procedures for distributors.
About 10% of our priests have tested positive for COVID-19. Of these, most would be uncertain as to how they came by the virus, attesting to the fact that their interactions are highly varied throughout the week, including Masses, confessions, marriages and funerals, hospital visits, office calls, and random contacts. All have quarantined, with contact tracing undertaken when necessary. Sometimes the Mass schedule in the parish has been able to be maintained, but at other times it has necessarily been curtailed or interrupted. Only two priests have been hospitalized, and we are grateful that they are healthy and have returned to their ministry.
While prohibitions continue or have returned in many of the hospitals and care homes, priests and deacons have in some cases been able to bring Holy Communion to the sick and elderly but in other cases have had to communicate via telephone or Zoom, to check on a person’s condition and spirits. Lay volunteers in the parishes have also been active in these efforts. We do have a small number of priests who have taken on the task of visiting the seriously ill and COVID-infected in order to offer the sacrament of the sick or Viaticum, when the facility allows them to do so. They are to be commended for this selfless activity, which requires them to live separately from other priests and to have frequent checks of their own health.
Overall, we are finding that the return to Mass by more each week has not resulted in noticeable spread of the coronavirus. This is due largely to the adherence to stated measures such as mask-wearing, distancing, and careful sanitizing. There are parishes that were using a reservation system but have discontinued that procedure in order to make it easier to attend at the last minute, although in those cases there is the possibility of being turned away if all spaces have been taken.
The resourcefulness and initiative on display in our parishes is indeed impressive, as is the commitment of priests and deacons to finding ways to solve the problems that come up and to maintain the availability of sacraments and the other avenues to spiritual welfare, such as devotions and direction. Your prayers for all who are working to sustain the life of the church under challenging circumstances are appreciated. At Thanksgiving I pray in gratitude for all our clergy and lay ministers, and, with you, I look forward to the Advent focus on Christ, our matchless blessing.