As coronavirus precautions prevent public Masses, priests encourage Catholics to continue to seek Jesus
Mar 16, 2020
I believe it is true that sometimes you don’t really appreciate a gift until you lose it, and in recent days I’ve felt that way about the Mass and the Eucharist, after the Archdiocese of Washington announced that as of March 14, public Masses will be canceled for the time being, following the health precautions recommended by local government leaders in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.
On the day before the cessation of public Masses, I joined colleagues in the St. Ursula Chapel of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Center, for the last Mass that we will experience in person for an undetermined amount of time. It was emotional for me to witness the devotion and reverence of the priest at the altar, Msgr. Joseph Ranieri, who has served as a priest of the archdiocese for more than six decades. I felt the same feeling of loss when I joined my wife in watching the TV Mass at our home on Sunday, and we quietly said the prayers along with the congregation on that televised liturgy.
On the day when I attended that Mass in the chapel, I contacted several priests of the archdiocese, asking them for spiritual and pastoral advice that they could offer to local Catholics in this challenging time.
Father David Beaubien, pastor, St. Aloysius Gonzaga Parish in Leonardtown, Maryland, wrote in an email, “The circumstances regarding the healthcare precautions currently being undertaken are unprecedented in our lifetime. It’s a shock for those who have regularly practiced their faith to go without participation in the weekly or even daily Mass. For the time being, most are having to “fast” from the Lord and make a spiritual communion instead.”
But the Southern Maryland pastor added, “Church doors are open. Now is the time to make a Confession -- the Light is On for You!, or to do a personal Stations of the Cross. Spend some time in adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle. Catch up on spiritual reading, and guide your children in their at-home studies while schools are closed. Have them make good use of their time. When we’re able to come together at Mass again, I pray that we, as well as those who could be more regular at practicing their faith, will have come to a heightened appreciation of the great gift we have in being believing members of the Catholic faith family and of the most valuable treasure we have in the holy Mass!”
In a phone interview, Msgr. Peter Vaghi, the pastor of the Church of the Little Flower in Bethesda, Maryland, said, “In this time when we don’t have the Eucharist, as we proceed on a pilgrimage to Easter, it’s a wonderful time to be open to the word of God in Scripture, to follow the daily readings, and as we listen to God’s word, to encounter Him in those words of consolation and so often healing, to come to know Jesus anew by listening to His word, which is life-giving.”
Msgr. Vaghi, who also serves as the chaplain of the John Carroll Society, added, “This experience will help us hopefully to yearn more deeply for the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist when we return to His holy altar.”
He noted that he told his parishioners at the last public Mass he will celebrate for a while, “I’m not leaving you. The Lord doesn’t leave you. We walk together.”
Father Dan Leary, the pastor of St. Andrew Apostle Parish in Silver Spring, Maryland, said he is encouraging his parishioners to participate in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
“I pray that it creates in them a deeper desire for the Blessed Sacrament,” he said. “I’m going to keep my church open a lot, so people can visit the Blessed Sacrament and make spiritual communions.”
Father Leary said he is going to videotape his Masses and have them posted on his parish’s website and promoted through social media. He hopes that the experience that people have during this time will be like the disciples on the road to Emmaus who were sad at losing Jesus, but he was walking with them, and they ultimately recognized him when he broke bread. When people eventually can return to Mass, they too can recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread as the priest consecrates the Eucharist at the altar, the priest said.
“Once again, our hearts will burn with love,” just like the disciples experienced after encountering Jesus on the road to Emmaus, “and people will receive the Eucharist with a more intense love,” Father Leary said.
In a video message to parishioners, the priest who is known for his healing ministry added, “Don’t give into the sadness. Trust God is walking with us. God never abandons us, even in times of viruses, plagues and illnesses.”
(Zimmermann is the editor of the Catholic Standard newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington. This is his “Editor's Notebook” column for the March 19, 2020 Catholic Standard.)
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