Bishop Paprocki sent a letter to priests this week on Thursday (May 7) to congratulate and continue to encourage us on our ministries and work during this COVID-19 health crisis. He also wanted to fill us in on the work that is taking place behind the scenes to restore the regular worship of the Church in the Diocese of Springfield. The posture for now is one of working with civil officials and in particular the governor for the protection of the vulnerable among us, but also to work within a framework that is perhaps a bit more reasonable and permissive for places in downstate Illinois than it is in the great metropolitan areas of the state. It seems to me that the Church would have very broad discretion in the ‘free practice of religion’ guaranteed by our Constitution, even in these times of pandemic, but we want to be reasonable in promoting the public good and protecting the vulnerable among us by continuing to take reasonable precautions. To these ends:
- The abrogation of the precept to attend Sunday Mass continues to om effect until further notice. There is no sin in missing Sunday Mass, while there may be anxiety in so many who have attended faithfully for years and know the value of weekly worship.
- The Eucharistic Fast we have all endured has been intended to promote the public good in the physical-social realm by maintaining distance and separation. In the spiritual realm, we are using this time to realize a conscious hunger for that which is missing in our life of worship… an inconvenient, and even uncomfortable sacrifice, which is temporary and which will end, we hope, soon.
- Priests continue to celebrate Mass ‘privately’ for the people entrusted to their care. They continue to offer the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Anointing, and the other sacraments as they are able.
- Thankfully, while priests have been assigned to anoint, even in wards where COVID-19 is positively known to exist, there have been no reports of illness or death among our priests in serving those in need during this time.
As a first step to being to re-open our churches, Bishop Paprocki has given permission to distribute Holy Communion “at designated times and with proper safety precautions.” Bishop Paprocki has endorsed the plans published by the Thomistic Institute at the Pontifical Faculty of the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, DC. which can be found in their entirety here. While the bishop’s permission is not for the entire celebration of the Mass, the provisions under #4 for distributing Holy Communion are the protocols we are to follow, along with the relevant instructions from the ritual book, Holy Communion and Worship of the Eucharist Outside of Mass.
Here’s how I am going to propose we do this for our community at St. Anthony’s:
- For those who feel the need to go to Confession before receiving Holy Communion, the Sacrament of Reconciliation will be available at St. Anthony Church on Saturdays at 4pm until 5pm or until all are heard. The Faithful are reminded of the importance of being in the “state of grace” before receiving Sacramental Communion, and we will make every effort to help people be properly prepared and disposed.
- While is is not necessary or required to watch or participate in Mass, it is recommended to do so in order to have the experience of at least the Liturgy of the Word, whether by webcast, telecast, or by personal preparation withe the readings of the weekend. The readings can be found >> here << at the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops. Bishop Barron’s Word on Fire homilies >> here << are always excellent for gaining an understanding and appreciation of the Word each week. Many, many other resources are available to help one prepare with the scriptures.
- We ask that parishioners reserve a time. We will offer Holy Communion at BOTH St. Anthony Church and at St. Dominic School (in the gym/chapel) during the 11am, 12 noon, and 1pm hours on Sundays. A sign-in sheet, one for each hour, will be posted on the front doors at St. Anthony so that they are available first thing on Saturday Morning, May 9. Signs will also be posted on the WEST doors at St. Dominic by Saturday Morning, May 9. There will be boxes for each person attending in each block of time during the hour. Please remember your assigned time, and please reserve one space for each person who will be present.
- If these times fill up, additional times will be provided on Sunday evenings, TBA. We will take groups of NINE in 8-minute blocks, which means that nine people, plus a priest or deacon will be present at one time, keeping the governor’s order of groups of no more than ten intact.
- Parishioners will be invited to come to St. Anthony Church or St. Dominic School and to remain in their cars until the group before yours enters the church/chapel. There will be an assistant helping with keeping the time and calling the groups forward. Those with reservations will be lined up to enter and any extra available spaces will be provided to those who do not have reservations. We will fit anyone in who does not make a reservation on an as-available basis.
- The communion service will feature a greeting, penitential rite, 30 second homily, followed by the Communion rite: the Lord’s Prayer followed by “Behold the Lamb of God”. After giving communion, and a short period of silence, there will be a blessing and dismissal. Those who are present will be excused and the next group will be welcomed into the church/chapel.
- The faithful may receive ‘in the hand’ or ‘on the tongue’ according to the guidance of the Thomistic Institute.
- For the time being, we are going to try to keep the use of furnishings to a minimum, to preserve having to have a cleaning crew follow up each cohort. There will be X’s on the floor, spaced at 6 feet apart across the front of the church/chapel. Those who are elderly or infirm will be welcomed to have a seat, but we will try to keep the use of and contact with the furnishings to a minimum for now.
- There will not be a lot of time to offer a full thanksgiving in the sacred space, but we do ask you to do what you can to make this a prayerful experience for all involved. The minister will not have a lot of time to meet and greet, either… and such activities are a bit against the spirit of the quarantine, although we miss you tremendously and want to get caught up. If you have important business that needs to be brought to the attention of the parish, please write a quick note so we can contact you sometime during the week to follow up!
- Alcohol-based handwash will be available at the doors of the church/chapel, and the faithful are encouraged to use face masks as they feel appropriate. A table will be handy to the minister of Holy Communion to re-wash if needed between communicants, although strictly speaking, this is not part of the protocol unless unhygienic contact takes place.
- We will also have a collection basket at the door of the church/chapel. We so gratefully appreciate your assistance during this time of crisis. Our school continues to function and we continue to have the expenses of running the school and the parish. If you are affected by unemployment or underemployment, we completely understand your situation and there is no shame in passing up the collection basket. If you have been particularly blessed during these times and have the ability, we appreciate any special gifts that you might have to offer.
- We did start reprinting bulletins this week with Sunday Missal Service. Alas, I only had 100 printed… so bulletins are limited. Please take one if you don’t have easy access to the internet. We will try to have more copies printed if we run out.
- There are probably more things to say and do than I can remember as I write this guide, but in the spirit of flexibility which these crazy weeks have taught us, please bear with us as we perfect these procedures.
- There is no obligation during these times to receive Holy Communion. Those who come do so ‘at their own risk’. We will take every reasonable precaution proposed by the protocols, but if you are elderly or vulnerable or concerned about your health for any reason, please stay home. If you have even the slightest suspicion about your health status, please stay home. We are not going to frown on anyone with a cough during this pollen and allergy season, as many of us (myself included) are dealing with that… but if you have a fever or chills or any of the other symptoms of COVID-19, for the love of God and his people, stay home!
I speak for myself and Deacon Harry, rejoicing in the opportunity to see you again and to minister the Body of Christ to the Mystical Body of Christ! Stay tuned. Please sign up for reservations starting Saturday at dawn. Thank you for your prayerful support during these crazy, bizarre, grace-filled days. Pray for our bishop and our civil leaders to see fit to announce a time when we can return to more regular patterns of worship. — Fr. Tom Donovan