We live in perilous times. Empty shelves at grocery stores, shopping malls closing, downtown becoming a ghost town, worry and a fraction of fear seem to be the order of the day.
Fast food restaurants are moving to a drive-thru only model; the occupancy of other restaurants has been halved out of fear of coronavirus. Movie theatres have shuttered, and production companies are moving to stream new releases, gatherings have been limited to groups of ten or less.
People worry, and rightly so, about contracting the coronavirus.
Doctors, hospitals, emergency clinics are at capacity. You cough, and people look down upon you as if you were a leper.
So much has happened, so much has changed, and we wonder if there is any end in sight.
This evening, Bishop Mark Sietz has made what I feel to be on of the hardest decisions any Priest, Bishop, Cardinal or Pope could make: today, all public celebrations of the Mass and other Church-related functions are postponed.
I knew Bishop Sietz was prayerfully wrestling with a major decision when he requested the faithful pray for him as he prayed for us.
Seeing the look on his face as he gave his statements today, as he shared his decision, you could see the care and concern he has for each one of us. You can see the impact this decision has had upon him. This decision weighs heavy upon all of us.
The Church is not abandoning us during this time. I have received many emails, calls and direct messages concerning this very line of reasoning, that Holy Mother Church has decided to abandon the faithful during this trying time. That is not the case.
We, as a people, are social in our actions. We long to be around others, we long for community. That desire for community worship, for a community celebration of the Mass, in my humble opinion, goes against loving our neighbouror as God has loved us. We do not want to put the most venerable members of our community at risk. We don’t want to unknowingly become infected and pass this virus on to our family, our children.
What Bishop Sietz has done is an act of love.
“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
“This is the first and great commandment.
“And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
“On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matt. 22:37–40, King James Version)
Rest assured, during this time, Mass will be offered. Our Priests will continue the celebration of the Mass, remembering us as they do. We must remember our Priests and Religious in our prayers.
To Bishop Sietz, I know this was not an easy decision, but I thank you. This decision is an act of love.
Even though my baptism may not occur during the Easter Vigil, I know that Christ is in our midst. I know that the Blessed Mother is praying and interceding for us.
Let us all remember to pray for each other, our Bishop, our Priests, and our Holy Father.
If anyone would like to be added to my prayer list, and have me remember you in a Rosary, please leave a comment below.
The following is from Bishop Sietz:
From the Office of the Bishop of El Paso
Most Rev. Mark J. Seitz, D.D.
Instruction regarding Protocols in Response to the Presence of COVID-19 in the Diocese of El Paso
March 18, 2020
As we are all aware our nation and the entire world is facing a crisis with the rapid spread of the novel corona virus. Our Diocese has not been spared. Daily new cases are reported and based upon the experience of many other communities around the world it has become clear that without radical steps this virus will threatened the lives of a large percentage of our citizens, especially those with already compromised immune systems and seniors.
If we are to have an effective response in our community no one can be exempt from doing their part. Young and old, rich and poor, this virus makes no distinction. Those who are fortunate to suffer mild cases, unless they self-quarantine, will spread this illness to many others. Since this is a novel or “new” virus, no one has immunity.
The Church also has to respond resolutely and in a way that sets an example for others. The law of love is that which guides everything we do. Every other good gift and every other law finds its fulfillment in our love for God and for all his daughters and sons. With these things in mind, after consulting many of my brother priests as well as many lay leaders and in cooperation with the civil authorities of our region I have decided to establish these protocols regarding the life of the Church in our Diocese until they are specifically changed or revoked.
Sunday and Weekday Masses
- Until further notice the celebration of the Eucharist (the Mass) may not be celebrated publically. Only a limited number of those who serve in various ministries may take part. These roles include acolytes, lectors and a small number of musicians. The obligation to attend Mass on Sunday is hereby dispensed.
- The Diocese is presently negotiating with commercial stations to broadcast a Sunday Liturgy in Spanish and in English. Masses may be made available on other platforms and may be offered by any parish. This manner of participa-tion is clearly not the same as being there but it is our hope that a prayerful participation will allow us to stay close to this primary act of the Church and help us to grow in longing for what we now cannot directly share.
- Pastors are encouraged to consider liturgically acceptable ways to provide the Sacraments while practicing the social distancing and the limited numbers which are permitted at this time. I would ask pastors to seek the approval of Fr.
Ben Flores, our Vicar General or myself before implementing such practices.
Churches to temporarily closed for Prayer and Eucharistic Exposition
Parish churches will need to be closed temporarily until we can remedy a critical shortage of cleaning supplies which are necessary to assure that the surfaces in the facilities are free of the virus. As soon as this can be rectified churches will be opened for prayer as long as possible each day for private visits by the faithful. Numbers will need to be regulated to stay below the prescribed limit of 10 persons. Frequent exposition of the Blessed Sacrament is highly encouraged.
Sunday Prayer at Home
All Catholics of the Diocese are asked to have a time of prayer together in their homes on Sunday. Recommended prayer guides will be made available at our El Paso Diocese website based upon the Sunday readings.
Wednesdays During Lent – Day of Prayer and Fasting
In addition to the usual requirements for abstinence from meat and penance on Fridays of Lent, Wednesdays will be a special day of prayer and fasting during Lent. This day will be devoted to asking God’s assistance for those who are suffering from this illness, as well as medical personnel and first responders. Each one must decide how they personally will do penance and fast according to their health and ability.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession)
Penance Services are cancelled. Reconciliation times can be arranged by appointment. Once the churches are open for visitation regular opportunities will be offered. Safe social distancing must always be provided for.
Passion (Palm) Sunday
Blessed Palms should be made available for distribution at the church after a non-public celebration of the Mass on this day.
The Chrism Mass
This year the Chrism Mass will be celebrated with the necessary lay ministers and only the priests who serve as Vicars pres-ent representing the priests of the Diocese. All priests and faithful are encouraged to take part by watching the Mass on line. Vicars will be asked to distribute the Holy Oils to the parishes in their Vicariate in the days following the Mass.
The Sacred Triduum
The Rites of the Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday, the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday) may only have lay ministers (in-cluding musicians) who are essential to the smooth celebration of the rite in addition to priests and deacons. The Scrutiny Rites and Baptisms will be done at a later date.
Receptions into the Church
Receptions of those already Baptised in other Christian Churches can be arranged with your pastor and celebrated at a daily Mass or outside of Mass but keeping under the limit of 10 present.
With the exception of emergency Baptism, Infant Baptisms may not be celebrated until these restrictions are eased.
Group Confirmations are postponed until a later date.
Marriages are to be postponed until a later date or celebrated at the discretion of the pastor respecting the limit of 10 present.
Quinceañera ceremonies must be postponed until a later date.
Communion of the Sick
Communion of the Sick at home and hospitals is permitted to be offered only by priest, deacons and seminarians. Senior priests and those with chronic health conditions may not bring Communion to the Sick. Trained Lay Eucharistic Ministers may bring Communion only to infirm members of their families.
Anointing of the Sick and Viaticum
Priests may celebrate these Sacraments individually, not communally. They must practice recommended precautions, but the Sacrament does require that the priest apply the Oil of the Sick to the skin of the person receiving the Sacrament. They may use gloves and/or apply the oils using cotton balls.
At this time Funeral Masses will not be permitted, but private graveside rites with immediate family should be celebrated by a priest or deacon. Priests should offer one of his non-public Masses for the repose of the soul of the deceased. At a later date when Masses open to the public a Memorial Mass should be celebrated.
Religious Education Classes
- Gatherings at church for Religious Education classes are cancelled and will resume when the public schools reopen. Online opportunities for religious education are encouraged.
- First Communions are postponed.
Other Church Related Events
All in person parish gatherings, retreats, bazaars and meetings that gather more than 10 people must be postponed or
cancelled. Meetings using online platforms are encouraged.
Individual meetings with priests and deacons for pastoral counseling or spiritual direction are permitted as long as all parties are in good health and safe social distancing is practiced.
Some Concluding Thoughts
We all need moments in our life which reveal to us whether our faith is a living one or if it has become a mere façade. This is one of those moments. If our practice of the Faith has become cold and superficial over the years I pray that we will experience this time as a wakeup call. Some will sadly see this time as a free pass. They will try to live this time in which we are unable to gather at church and receive the Eucharist as though they have been liberated from former constraints.
When the Mass was not allowed to be celebrated in Mexico during the Cristero War many Mexicans fell away from the practice of their Faith. But many rededicated themselves to God, drew closer to the Mother of God and grew day by day in their longing for that day when they would be able to gather once again as the Body of Christ and celebrate his Sacri-fice for us in the Eucharist. Many gave their life for this noble cause.
It is my hope that we, the People of God here in the Diocese of El Paso will be proven to be worthy descendants of these great predecessors whose deep faith runs in our blood. As such we will be even more committed during this time to care for our brothers and sisters in need, the poor, the elderly, the sick and recent immigrants, even at the cost of great sac-rifice. I trust that in the midst of the financial challenges we will all face that we all will come together to make sure that our parishes have the assistance they need to pay the bills and continue their service even without a weekly collection at Mass.
May we remain close to one another in prayer and in mutual love and caring. Then the Lord will be close to us and give us all that we need to come out on the other side of this present crisis as an even stronger and more zealous Church.
I will stay in touch as will your pastors and other leaders through the MyParishApp. Be sure to download this important free tool by texting the word app to 88202.
May God Bless you!
Most Reverend Mark J. Seitz, DD
Bishop of El Paso