Message to Our Bishops

 

Regarding Access to the Sacraments during the COVID 19 Pandemic

The sacraments are the spiritual “Personal Protective Equipment” of Catholics. They enable us to work in the field hospital of the sick and dying.  

During the COVID 19 pandemic, Catholics are being deprived of what is central to our Faith—the sacraments. The sacraments are gifts of inestimable value: They open up for us the gates of Heaven and bestow upon us graces that enable us to be loving disciples of Christ our Savior.

We, the faithful, appeal to our bishops to provide safe access to the Anointing of the Sick and to some form of public celebration of Mass during this time of strife and pandemic. We appeal to them to keep our churches open for prayer and adoration. This appeal’s intent is to show forth the intrinsic value of such spiritual support given the current crisis we face as Catholics.  We have a great desire to have our spiritual needs met in the safest and most effective way possible. 

In the articleWhat the Catholic Church knows about charity in the time of pandemic,we find these words, believed to be written by Pope Francis himself: 

 

Think of all the souls who feel terrified and abandoned because we pastors follow the instructions of civil authorities—which is right in these circumstances to avoid contagion—while we risk putting aside divine instructions—which is a sin,” the letter reflected, while insisting that priests make the Eucharist and confession available to the faithful.

 

We think as men think and not as God thinks.… We join the ranks of those who are terrified rather than joining the doctors, the nurses, the volunteers, the health care workers, and mothers and fathers, who are on the front lines.” (from a March 13 letter to the priests of Rome)

 

While not having access to the sacraments is always difficult, it is especially devastating not to have access to the Anointing of the Sick when a lethal pestilence is ravaging our world. Catholics believe the sacrament can sometimes effect a physical healing, but that it always strengthens the sick and gives stamina and hope in the face of suffering and death. It enables the sick and dying to unite their sufferings with those of Christ, and to enter eternal life newly blessed by God. As St. Thomas Aquinas said, “in the case where one is bound to look after the salvation of his neighbor, he is also bound to expose his bodily life to dangers for the sake of that salvation” (On Charity, art 11).

 

Many states, hospitals, and even bishops are forbidding priests to attend to those afflicted with COVID 19, even the dying. While we understand the concerns that have led to these decisions, nonetheless, the love of Jesus inculcated by the Catholic faith fills believers with the ardent desire to attend to the needs of others—even to the point of martyrdom. We are preeminently compelled to attend especially to their supernatural needs at the hour of their death. Thus, every attempt must be made to enable priests to minister to the sick and dying.

 

We hope bishops are pressing governments and hospitals to rescind policies that deny priests access to seriously sick and dying patients. This is a matter of religious liberty! We should be free to practice our religion.

Pierre Mignard (1612-1695), “St. Charles Borromeo Ministering to Plague Victims”

St. Charles Borromeo—who himself heroically attended to the sick during an epidemic in Milan in 1576—wrote to the religious of his city that this was a “desirable time now when without the cruelty of the tyrant, without the rack, without fire, without beasts and in the complete absence of harsh tortures which are usually the most frightful to human weakness, we can obtain the crown of martyrdom.”

 

We know many of our priests are eager to attend to those with COVID 19 and are willing to put their lives at risk. We admire their willingness to suffer and possibly to experience martyrdom. We treasure our priests beyond all telling, do not want to lose any of them, and without question support measures to keep them safe. We urge bishops to assure that all priests who attend to those with COVID 19 have Personal Protective Equipment and follow all sanitizing procedures. Most importantly, we promise to cover our courageous and holy priests in prayer.

 

If Catholics can’t turn to our Church for help in the darkest of times, where can we go? We find these words in the March 13 Vatican letter:

 

The government has the duty to guarantee care and material sustenance for the people but we have the duty to do the same for their souls. May it never be said: ‘I’m never going back to a church where no one came to find me when I needed help.’

     

    What we ask of you, our Bishops:

     

    1. To find ways that you and your priests can provide the Anointing of the Sick., especially to those at risk of dying. Click here for some ideas.
    2. If a state or local government prohibits priests from ministering to the sick in the hospital or in their homes, make a personal and formal request of civic leaders to permit such minister with assurances that all due precautions will be taken. Urge them to recognize religious services as essential services
    3. To inform your flock of what you have done and hope to do.

    The Easter Liturgy

    Christians are People of the Resurrection. Pope Francis has spoken of the Easter Triduum as the “pinnacle of our Christian life.” The most important feast day of the year is Easter, the day that commemorates the Resurrection of Our Lord from death. Catholics fast and pray for 40 days in preparation for the celebration of the Easter liturgy.

     

    In the same address cited above, Pope Francis said:

     

    On the great Easter Vigil, in which the Alleluia resounds once more, we celebrate Christ Risen, the centre and the purpose of the cosmos and of history; we keep vigil filled with hope in expectation of his coming return, when Easter will be fully manifest. At times the dark of night seems to penetrate the soul; at times we think: “there is nothing more to be done,” and the heart no longer finds the strength to love…. But it is precisely in the darkness that Christ lights the fire of God’s love: a flash breaks through the darkness and announces a new start, something begins in the deepest darkness. We know that the night is “most night like” just before the dawn. In that very darkness Christ conquers and rekindles the fire of love. 

     

    Catholics are extremely grateful for the efforts that the Holy Father, bishops, and priests have made to attend to our spiritual needs. The Holy Father’s unprecedented Urbi et Orbi ceremony was an epically powerful event that united people in prayer around the world.

    Bishops and priests are using social media in inventive ways to bring the Mass into our homes, hearing confessions outdoors, blessing us from airplanes, and doing processions with the Blessed Sacrament.

    Bishops and priests are using social media in inventive ways to bring the Mass into our homes, hearing confessions outdoors, blessing us from airplanes, and doing processions with the Blessed Sacrament.

     

    Yet, as wonderful as these efforts are, we ardently desire to gather as worshiping communities and participate as fully as possible in the most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, especially this Easter, when we — and indeed the whole world —need Jesus more than ever.

     

     

    Because of the coronavirus, every diocese in the US has ceased allowing the celebration of Masses in churches. We understand the need to take precautions to minimize the transmission of the coronavirus and are requesting only actions that respect the safeguards that have been put in place and may be put in place. Dispensing the faithful from the obligation to attend Mass was a wise step that we support. Some Catholics feel safer at home. Lifting the dispensation might trouble their consciences unnecessarily. But safe public Masses should be offered to those who want to be near Jesus in the blessed Body and Blood of the Eucharist.

     

    We believe there is no more powerful means for addressing the challenges of the coronavirus—and all the other evils of the world—than to offer the Mass, especially the Mass that commemorates the Resurrection of Our Lord. We will pray for the dead, the dying, the sick, health care workers, caretakers, the unemployed, our leaders, and all those affected by the pandemic. We know we can do so from home, but we also believe where two or three are gathered in His name, prayers will be more effective.

     

    Clearly the question of if and how to distribute communion is of utmost importance. We have provided examples of how it has been done safely at outdoor Masses during this pandemic and   on how the faithful might safely receive their Lord and Savior in the Eucharist.  We urge the bishops to do everything they can to enable the faithful to receive the Eucharist, especially at Easter.

     

     

     

    Whatever is done about communion, it would be appropriate to do a procession of the Blessed Sacrament and a period of Adoration after Mass. Indeed, opportunities for outdoor Adoration should be frequent.

     

    Some states forbid large public assemblies, but make exceptions for religious ceremonies. We request that bishops who live in states with directives forbidding public gatherings make a personal request of the governor that provisions be made for Masses with the stipulation that all parameters designed for safety will be observed.

     

    Again, the recent Urbi et Orbi ceremony performed by our elderly, frail Holy Father in pouring, cold rain brought great consolation and hope to Catholics, and to people of good will all over the world. The opportunity to attend Mass in some form, and especially on Easter Sunday, likewise would be a source of enormous consolation and hope.

     

    Moreover, bishops, priests, and laity would be giving a powerful witness to the world of what we know the Mass to be—the very sacrifice that Jesus made to the Father for the salvation of us all— and that He asked us to do in memory of Him.

     

    Such determination to have the Mass will demonstrate to many that Mass is not just a social event where we pray, but a necessary action tied to the salvation of the world, and a source of healing graces in this world.

     

    We are confident that you have made your decisions out of a profound love for the faithful and the general public, and a desire to keep everyone from undue harm. However, we believe now is the time for our Shepherds to proclaim the profound hope of the Resurrectionat a critical time when the faithful need it mostby providing Mass to the faithful! Such a proclamation would open the floodgates of grace to so many struggling souls during this time of trial! It would be a sign of exultation in the True Presence of Our Lord in the Eucharist and in His ultimate promise of our salvation, the greatest hope we possess in this life.