Thursday, June 18, 2020

Let's do this! - right.

The day is here.  The leaders and guiders of church and state have eased back on the restrictions, and starting Friday evening, once again public worship is permitted in our parish church.  Praise God!   

Now what??

Realize that much still depends on you.  This new virus is still dangerous, and you have responsibility not only for your own health and safety and that of your family or household; but also, you have responsibility toward other believers who will be making their ways back to the Communion we all need to live.  So before you come to church, there are questions you have to answer.

Should YOU go to Mass?

You are finally allowed go to Holy Mass, but you do not HAVE to go.  Because of the health situation, every bishop in the country, including ours, has removed until further notice the obligation to attend Sunday Mass that normally comes with being Catholic.  

You should NOT come to Mass if: 
·      You are medically vulnerable because of your advanced age, susceptibility to infection (immune-suppressed), or other conditions and “co-morbidities.”  (That’s a word most of us didn’t use often three months ago!);
·      You have responsibility to care for someone who is vulnerable;
·      You have been in recent contact with infected persons, because of work or family;
·      You have some harmless condition that nonetheless might frighten other people, for example: violent coughing, or sneezing due to allergies;
·      You cannot get through Mass without a trip to the bathroom;
·      You are not ready to trust other people;
·      You are filled with dread, or your nerves frayed to verge of breakdown, after the long quarantine and daily terrifying news bulletins about the pandemic 

If any of these describe you, by all means, stay where you think you are safest.  We will continue to live-stream Mass for you each week; starting this Sunday, it will be the 11:00 Mass.

If you find yourself hesitant to attend Sunday Mass for any of these considerations, but eager to rejoin the Eucharistic communion, let me suggest what my own parents have been doing since churches reopened where they live.  They attended Mass on a weekday, when fewer people were present, then watched Sunday Mass on live stream.

Who should come to Mass with you?

Here at Saint Bernadette, we love it when everybody comes, and when everybody comes together.  However, you may not want to bring everybody just yet, under the circumstances.  You shouldn’t bring anybody who meets any of the criteria described above, including especially “cannot get through Mass without a trip to the bathroom;” and you may want to leave someone at home to care for them, or keep them company.

We also, very reluctantly because they are some of our favorite people, suggest that children stay home if they are at a stage when they can’t be controlled to keep them safe, and a safe distance from others, including other children; or from interacting with surfaces in a way that is unhygienic.  There is no age criterion – babes in arms are fine – but rather behavior and (self-)control. 

If there are people in your family who should not join us just yet, it should be easier to “tag-team” parental Mass attendance, again because of the added Masses in the afternoon.

Okay, you’re coming to Mass!  What should you do to get ready, before you leave home?

Before you come:

Print out your music and worship aid.  All missalettes have been removed from the pews, and we are distributing no bulletins or other printed resources.  We will send out by email (Flocknote) each Sunday’s music resource for you to print at home and bring with you. 

Bring disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer for your own use.  Professionals will be cleaning the church frequently, including between Masses, but you may feel better if you have the option to wipe some surface or item that catches your attention.  We will have hand sanitizer for the priests and helpers in the sanctuary, but we don’t have access to a supply large enough to provide for everyone to have what they need. 

Bring your mask.  You will want to wear it most of the time you are in church, and your neighbors will be glad you do.  

Use your own bathroom.  Of course we have bathrooms at church, and we will be working extra hard to clean them frequently, BUT: the single bathroom by the main doors of the church will be reserved for elderly and handicapped ONLY.  The downstairs bathrooms will be available to everybody, which is precisely why you may prefer to wait until you get home.  

When you arrive:  

Gather up all the items you brought with you, and put on your masks.   Enter the church through one of the doors that is propped open, or has an usher standing by it to open it for you.  

Be ready to be turned back.  It is unlikely but still possible that we reach a point at which no further participants should enter the church.  Be alert to this (small) possibility, and if you are informed that this is the case, please try again at another Mass later, or on another day.  We have added TWO extra Sunday masses to give you more options, and reduce crowding.

Find your seat(s).   Our church is very large, designed to seat more than 800 people.   Safe occupancy according to prescriptions will not be difficult to maintain without issuing tickets or requiring reservations, as some churches will, not least because many parishioners will be staying home for the reasons listed above, at least for the first weeks.

Every other pew in the church will be blocked off.  Where you choose to sit in the “open” pews is the other and even more important part of safe social distancing.

We live as families or households; we have all been quarantined as families or households; we attend Mass as families or households.  Within your group, be as close to one another as you want; but leave safe distance between yourself, or your group, and anyone who is not in your household.

If you have a large family or household group, claim an entire pew (in the nave, they each seat TEN; in the transepts, nine.)  Medium-sized (4-5) groups sit together at one end of the pew, leaving the other end of the pew available for someone else to sit.  If you are alone, or only a few (1 -3), please leave space and distance for others in the pew with you; and if you arrive first, please sit in the center of the pew, not at the end where someone might have to climb over you your past you.

How Mass will be different:

There will be some changes in the sanctuary, such as how many altar servers, where the lector is, and so forth.  And receiving Holy Communion will be different; see my letter “Place at the Table” from last week.  Other than that, some changes will affect you.

Most Masses will have no music; and the Mass with music will have little or no congregational singing.  And even though almost everybody will be wearing masks, it will be good to make your responses softly.  Loud singing and speaking have been implicated in spraying droplets – yuck!

There will be no offertory collection during Mass.  This, too, is for sanitary reasons, not because God cancelled tithing for Covid.  You should still make your offering – especially if you’ve missed some months.  Ushers will be holding baskets near the doors as you exit, into which you may place your offering.

For reason I hope to be obvious, there will be: 
·      NO offertory procession with the gifts to be consecrated; 
·      NO distribution of the Precious Blood in communal chalices; 
·      NO handshake of peace.

Speaking of exiting, please be cautious and intentional as you exit, and keep your family close.  Leave room between yourselves and others until you are out the doors.  Linger in your pew until the proper opportunity, and use the extra time to give thanks to God for the Holy Eucharist you just celebrated and received!

Then, once you have left the church, being careful and respectful, at a safe social distance, and enjoy the fellowship of your brothers and sisters in Christ, whom you have not seen in so long.  

See you this weekend (WOW does it feel great to write that)!

Monsignor Smith

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Place at the Table

We were made for this!  Yes, we were made to overcome the obstacles of Covid Crisis Reintegration, once again to be united in Christ.
Not only we, as people; but also our church:  the church we call home; the church built for us through the great sacrifices of our precursor-parishioners; the church in which we have all yearned to assemble once more with one another before God.  This church, beautifully laid out and constructed and adorned, is MADE for our reintegration in the sight of God.
Our church was made BIG, and there is room for all God’s children, as they say.  Or, as the Governor of our State (Commonwealth) has prescribed, there is room for 50% of God’s children, with the remaining space left over as a buffer for safety’s sake.  The seating capacity is over 800 souls; if you leave empty half the pews (already marked off) and leave space within the pews between households or families, we should still be able to assemble in good numbers.
Our church was made GENEROUSLY, to accommodate these children of God who want to come forward when the Good Shepherd spreads his table before us in the sight of our foes. (Psalm 23:5).  Not to be confused with our Holy Altar, which itself is large and worthy to bear the Saving Sacrifice we offer: five feet deep by eight feet wide and over three feet high.  The Communion Table is separate, accessible, and over a hundred feet long, to accommodate as many banqueters as possible.
What hundred-foot table am I talking about, you may ask?  It has been covered over for some years by brown carpeting, all around the sanctuary, so you might have missed it.  But when the Founders built our church, they gave it a table.  It has been here all along, and we need it now.  The communion table of walnut is supported by aluminum rails, marveled the author of the 1961 article “Church of Cruciform Design” about our new church building, shortly after it was constructed.  
The walnut communion table is clearly visible in the foreground of this photo
 from the 1961 article about our newly-constructed church.
So, we pulled up the carpet and refreshed that table:  over one hundred feet length of eight-inch-wide by two-inch-thick flawless beams of fine-grain walnut.  It’s gorgeous.  The aluminum “table legs” were destroyed, so they are replaced by powder-coated steel that echoes the bronze metal of the baldachino (canopy over the altar). 
It is amazing what you can find under some old brown carpet nobody remembers liking.
This is where the Faithful are to approach the Lamb’s High Feast: at the table.  This is where you take this, all of you, and eat of it: at the table.  This is what will give you a place safely and uncrowded to receive the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Him who is Life: at the Communion Table. 
The practice for the past forty or fifty years of having the priest stand in one place while the faithful move toward him to receive has become a chaotic danger in time of coronavirus.  Simply, it is hard to hit a moving target.  What is required for the sanitary and accurate transmission of Holy Communion is that the recipient HOLD STILL.
You may hold still and receive on the tongue: tilting your head (back) and opening your mouth (wide) and extending your tongue.  The best posture for this to work is kneeling (unless you are quite short), so our table has nicely cushioned pads on which you can kneel.
You may hold still and receive on your hands: left hand resting on right, mask already removed so you can immediately, before you move away, place Our Lord on your own tongue.  The best posture for this is STANDING, unless you are really tall, in which case the rail will not impede the motion of your hands as you receive.
After twenty-two years of experience, I am convinced that the safest and most accurate way to communicate the faithful with the Body of Christ is for the recipient to KNEEL and receive ON THE TONGUE, as long as the communicant kneels first, then waits for the priest to come to him and administer the sacrament.  Please note, this is very, very different from how people fling themselves down to kneel at the feet of a priest in a moving communion line; that’s a panic.  Avoiding that panic is where the table comes in.
That said, OF COURSE it is permitted to receive on the hands, as described above, which permission was granted at some point when I was in high school, as I recall.  This method can be safe too, but it requires that both hands be completely free -- no toddlers, purses, rosaries, infants, or canes may be in your hands or arms; and it requires that your hands be clean, otherwise the Sacred Host will touch whatever your hands have touched since last you scrubbed them.  Grabbing, clutching, or snatching the host will result in interpersonal contact – a big no-no under currents circumstances.  Helping you hold still is where the table comes in.
Since you are likely used to the moving-communion-line approach, you may be put off for a moment by how to take your place at the table.  But we are more than our furnishings, too: actual people will help you find and take your place at the table without crowding or causing concern to any of your brother and sister communicants.  This method is two millennia old and obviously intuitive, so after the first time or two, you’ll be a natural.
So, kneeling or standing, you will take your place at the table: your whole family together, a respectful space between you and the next person from a different household.  The table-legs are actually useful indicators of what makes a respectful and healthy distance.  
Holy Communion: the Body of Christ who looks like bread comes together with the members of the Body of Christ, who look like us.  And the two become one flesh.  
We were made for this.
Monsignor Smith

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Frank Consideration

Let me take a moment to review with you where we stand as a parish.  I get questions all the time from people who are trying to figure out when we can have Mass, each of whom have seen something or heard something or read something, all of which gives them hope or frustration.  

Yesterday (Monday) about this time, Archbishop Gregory transmitted to the priests of the Archdiocese a letter informing us that he was starting today (Tuesday, June 9) permitting public Mass to be celebrated, with the restriction that not more than ten persons may be present, including clergy.

After the initial interest that raised, it became clear that this is precisely the situation under which we have been laboring since March, as we went into “Safer at home,” then “Stay at home” protocols mandated by the Governor of Maryland.  The Archbishop suspended public Masses starting March 14, as gatherings were limited to a number by the Governor.  First it was 250 (remember that?), then it went to ten.  It was clear that genuinely public Mass was not possible under those restrictions.

We had Mass during that time.  Each priest in the rectory offered a Mass daily, but behind locked doors.  As you know, we have been live-streaming a Sunday Mass each week – but we could not and cannot open it to public participation, since that would instantly exceed our permitted attendance.  We had a couple of funerals, which were trick as both of the deceased (Bill Lehman and Donna Brennan) have five children.  Numbers were tricky, but many family members and all friends were told not to come, and Mass was celebrated.

Maryland began Phase One of reopening on May 15 (yes, that long ago) at the direction of the Governor.  Religious gathering would be permitted at 50% of capacity of the building; that would be around 400 persons for us at Saint Bernadette.   Maryland entered Phase Two of reopening last Friday, June 5, which allowed more services to open, but did not change permissions for churches.

Though  you may think we are in Maryland, that is not a pertinent reality;  no, we are in Montgomery County, and our County Executive asserted that reopening on the Governor’s schedule was impossible, and even three weeks later, when he instituted his own version of Phase One, it was actually MORE restrictive of religious gatherings than “Stay at Home” had been for the state – no indoor gathering, at all, and no contact between congregants and clergy.  Montgomery County is the only jurisdiction in Maryland that has not yet already entered Phase Two, OR announced a date to enter Phase Two, OR specified what Phase Two might permit; the other holdout, Prince Georges County, has set June 15 and announced its plan.

So we remain under the tighter restrictions of Montgomery County, with no date and no criteria specified for when the next phase will begin, and no definition or what will be permitted.

The Archbishop’s letter arrived as this discomfort became acute.  It could be suggested that it would permit us to go back to the Governor’s original lockdown restrictions, rather than the County’s stricter Phase One prohibitions.  But ten people (including clergy) still would not make it possible for genuinely public Masses to resume.

The Governor’s office has acknowledged that under the Maryland constitution, County Executives have the power to impose restrictions of their own.  According to my observation, come Monday, that will make us the only county in the United States under this level of restrictions

Archbishop Gregory gave no indication that he has obtained or even requested of the civil authorities, including ours here in Montgomery, any change in the protocol.

Meanwhile, thousands upon thousands of people locally and around the nation interact freely without regard to restrictions or limitations, and without legal consequence, or as yet observed health consequence.  You’ve seen the pictures.

We are obliged to wait – for at least a few more days; human hearts can bear only so much, and I am acutely aware of this reality.  We are not obliged to be silent, however; nor are we obliged to ignore what this says about our civil officials, and perhaps a few other people too.

 Monsignor Smith