Archbishop’s Weekly Message

Archbishop Don’s Weekly Message

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Dear brothers and sisters in Christ of the Archdiocese of Regina,

Warm greetings in the Risen Lord. It is now 3 months since my last video message. It was the start of the Summer, and now we are into October. Regarding the pandemic and the guidelines for faith communities, not that much has changed. But I thought it would be helpful to give a quick overview of where we are at, and identify a couple of areas where questions have arisen and where we face challenges.

The protocols for celebrating a Mass in the Archdiocese of Regina remain unchanged. The need to sanitize hands and surfaces and the 2m physical distancing between households continue. The number allowed to attend a Mass can be 30% of building capacity, to a maximum of 150 people, and parishes need to be keeping track of the people who attend each Mass. The way communion is handled is determined locally by each parish priest and his parishioners from a short list of options that have been provided. Singing is only permitted if everyone present is wearing a mask.

The archdiocesan protocol team has recently developed some directions for parishes to hold gatherings outside of Mass. As we enter a season when catechesis and sacrament preparation would normally begin, there are ways for these type of gatherings to be held safely. Attention to detail and pre-planning continue to be important when making the decision to return to any type of meeting or gathering. Staff at the archdiocesan offices are available to assist parishes in navigating the decisions and the details.

As you are likely aware, there are different interpretations about how we as society and as church ought to respond to the pandemic. Are the directives too rigid? Are they too lax? Taking part in the societal debate on this can be fruitful, a good thing to do. Right now it feels as though on the internet you can find experts who take radically different stances. But the church here needs to work with our Saskatchewan civic and health officials, and to be guided by their directives. The working relationship we established gave health officials the confidence to allow faith communities to minister within the parameters just laid out. We continue to raise questions as they arise, and to work within their guidelines.

One question that has arisen internally in the Church concerns the dispensation from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass, a dispensation which has been widely granted by bishops throughout the world. Of course, bishops have sought to protect vulnerable people from feeling obliged to gather with groups where they might contract a serious and possibly fatal disease. We also recognized that the need to limit the number of people gathering indoors at any one time meant it was simply impossible, in larger parishes, for everyone attend Mass, at least on Sunday. As the pandemic drags on, the question of when this dispensation might end is a legitimate one. If Mass is, in fact, the center of our Catholic faith, the place where we meet Christ in the Eucharist and where we truly become who we are as Church, we dare not give the impression that it is unimportant.

The increasing likelihood of further waves of the pandemic and the continued vulnerability of many in our faith community means that the dispensation is likely to remain in place for the foreseeable future, here and around the world. That said, I would like to remind us all of the immense value of our attendance at Sunday Mass. A dispensation granted for specific legitimate reasons is not an announcement that Mass is unimportant. If you are able to safely attend Mass, I strongly encourage you to join your parish community, to receive Christ’s gift of himself to us in the Eucharist, and, in this time of separation, anxiety, and loneliness, to remember in prayer those members of our community who are not able to sacramentally join in “the source and summit” of our Christian life. It is my fervent prayer that, whether we are or are not able to attend Mass, the Lord might use these trying circumstances to draw each of us closer to Himself, given for us.

One other challenge that we face in our contemporary situation concerns the reception of the Eucharist. In offering different ways in which communion can be received, we worked with the more general guidelines of health officials, and asked questions about what would be safe and what would put people’s health in jeopardy, and we made decisions accordingly, decisions not everyone is happy with. Here, I would like to stress two things. First, the Eucharist is to be treated with reverence. Our deep conviction is that Christ is present in the Eucharist, and we should not lose sight of that. Deep love and reverence for the Eucharist is a good and holy attitude that we want to encourage in the Church. Second, it is also our deep conviction that we see the Body of Christ in the lives of all the faithful, especially the most vulnerable members of our community. Listen to this homily excerpt from St. John Chrysostom in the 4th century, about how we are to revere Christ in the Eucharist and in caring for our vulnerable sisters and brothers: “Do you want to honour Christ’s body? Then do not scorn him in his nakedness, nor honour him here in the church with silken garments while neglecting him outside where he is cold and naked. For he who said ‘this is my body,’ and made it so by his words, also said: ‘You saw me hungry and did not feed me, and inasmuch as you did not do it for one of these, the least of my brothers, you did not do it for me.’… Do not, therefore, adorn the church and ignore your afflicted brother, for he is the most precious temple of all.”

Dear brothers and sisters, may you know God’s bountiful blessings as we walk together as church, both treasuring the Eucharist and caring for the vulnerable. Perseverance to you all!