Hello again, everyone. It has been a while since I have issued any guidance or advice about Mass attendance in the time of COVID-19. As you know, the infection rates have been very, very high recently (see Adams County COVID dashboard) and show no end in sight. The governor could be announcing restrictions any day now, but as of this moment, we have no new guidance. We are also lacking any new guidance from Bishop Paprocki and the Diocese of Springfield, except that the dispensation against the precept to attend Mass continues for the foreseeable future.
In the past two weeks, we have received calls from the Adams County Health Department, simply to inform us that we have had a very small number of parishioners attending Mass who days later have tested positive for COVID-19. They are doing this not to alarm us or to cite us for any wrongdoing, but to encourage us to continue to follow our procedures of requiring social distancing, removing books and other materials from the pews, cleaning the church, and performing other countermeasures found in our re-opening protocols from the diocese. These protocols have been reviewed at national, state, and local levels by church and health authorities and continue to be successful in making our churches some of the safest public gathering places in society. After consulting with the other Catholic pastors in Quincy, none of us are aware of COVID cases traced back to church attendance. Indeed, each of our schools have a number of cases, but, speaking for St. Dominic’s School, most if not all of the cases that we are aware of have come from external rather than school-related sources.
But in reporting that we are ‘clear’, I think the statistics are gravely concerning. There may be as much as 5% of our county population who are now in the midst of an ‘active’ COVID case, and there is likely a large number of undetected cases which are asymptomatic or simply have not developed into full-blown cases of COVID-19 thus far. That number may very well double or triple in coming weeks according to health experts. These odds concern me about being able to maintain our record of safety going forward.
If there is any time to remind our parishioners of the importance of using good judgment with respect to attending Mass, this is the time. The obligation to attend Mass continues to be dispensed. Those who would be particularly vulnerable to the virus and its effects because of age, illness, chronic conditions, or other factors need to stay away from public gatherings. Finally, if a person is has been warned of a possible exposure to the disease or is showing any symptoms, they must refrain from coming to Mass as an act of charity to all who are gathered. We have implemented very successful countermeasure protocols in our church, but we simply cannot guarantee the safety of those who attend Mass.
My intention is to continue to offer daily and weekend Mass according to our regular schedule until Bishop Paprocki advises us otherwise, or until I am stricken with the disease myself. I appreciate that our parishioners, as a matter of religious liberty, have the right to exercise their faith even in the light of risks which this disease presents, so long as they know the hazards to themselves, are no apparent hazard to others, and understand that we cannot guarantee the safety of those who attend Mass in our church. But I am also very conscious that I have a responsibility to urge those who are doubtful about their own health and ability to survive this disease to please stay home. Consider this my plea if you are in this group: please stay home.
Join me in renewing our prayer to Jesus, under the title of “Divine Mercy”, to rid us of this plague, to heal those who have been stricken, to give rest to those who have died, to enlighten and inspire those who are devising medicines and vaccines to treat the disease, and to protect those, especially, who are among our front-line healthcare workers and other public service personnel who care for the sick in our midst. For the protection and deliverance of us all, we ask God’s boundless mercy. Amen.