Canceling public Masses in the Archdiocese of Baltimore was the last thing Archbishop William E. Lori wanted to do, but in the face of the quick spread of the coronavirus and for the good of the Catholic community and the wider community, he took that step March 14.
“Of course, it’s difficult. The priesthood is at the heart of my life as a Catholic and as a priest and as a bishop,” the archbishop said in an interview three days later. “And (the liturgy is) the source and summit of the church’s life.
He made clear that the Eucharist is still being celebrated, but without the presence of the faithful. He noted that Masses at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Homeland and at many other churches in the archdiocese are being broadcast or livestreamed so that people can take part in them in some way.
Archbishop Lori often spends a lot of time after Mass greeting people and chatting with them.
“I’ve learned so much by doing that,” he said. “I miss it. I miss it terribly. And, you know, I love to shake people’s hands.”
Handshakes are on the taboo list when it comes to ways to control the spread of the fast-moving virus that causes a respiratory disease, COVID-19. And social distancing mandates that people stay at least 6 feet apart from each other.
In light of this, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan in early March first restricted gatherings of more than 250. Under that protocol, the archbishop was willing to allow parishes to celebrate Mass if they could limit the size of the congregation. When the governor later reduced the maximum gathering to 10, holding Masses or other events became impractical.
Hogan ordered March 23 that all non-essential businesses in the state to close and encouraged Marylanders to stay home. Palm Sunday Masses and other Holy Week services will be curtailed. (More information will be coming.)
The archbishop celebrated a Mass at the cathedral March 15 that was “attended” by at least 1,800 people online. If they had been present physically, the cathedral would have been overflowing.
“Let’s hope that when this is all over, they cram into the cathedral. I think nothing makes our fellow Catholics happier – nothing makes me happier – than a full church on Sunday and with people actively participating. It really is the heart of our faith,” he said.
The archbishop will continue celebrating the livestreamed Sunday 11 a.m. Mass while the restrictions remain in place.
He understands those who are upset they cannot receive the Eucharist during this time.
“I think absence from the Eucharist is a tremendous cross. My only hope is – as the old saying goes – ‘With absence, the heart grows fonder.’ I think with each passing day and week, our hunger for the Eucharist should deepen. And one spiritual benefit I hope and pray for, out of this really, really difficult time, is that people’s hunger for the Eucharist, their love for the Eucharist will in fact be intensified,” Archbishop Lori said.
Though many Catholics make sure they receive the sacrament of reconciliation during Lent and Advent, the archdiocese canceled its planned Day of Reconciliation and implemented strict limits on the sacrament.
“In our life, there’s some things that have to be done person to person. And this is one of them,” the archbishop said.
Some parishes have gotten creative, with drive-through confessions in parish parking lots, with penitents staying in cars and confessors remaining at least 6 feet away. Archbishop Lori said that the faithful may have to do some “makeup work” this year.
But he added that the sacrament of reconciliation is for all the liturgical year, saying, “You should always be doing this. We should be going at least once a month.”
Technology has been a big help for the work of the church, he said.
Computers and conference calls allow the Catholic Center staff and many members of parish staffs to continue their work from their homes.
Technology also helps keep parishioners connected to their parishes and priests. The archdiocese provides communications tools to parishes – the myParish App that includes prayers, daily Scripture readings, homilies and links to livestreamed Masses; and Flocknote, an email and text messaging platform.
“I would encourage every parish to have myParish App and every parishioner to make sure it’s on your phone,” the archbishop said.
The archbishop said sometimes the church has to be “dragooned” into adopting new technologies, but it should actually embrace them.
“The New Evangelization was not about reinventing the Gospel, but with, as John Paul II said – and as Pope Francis has reiterated – new methods and new ardor. I hope the ardor is there, but I also hope the new methods are there,” he said.
The archbishop said that people need to be especially helpful to each other now.
“The more we give of ourselves, the more our hope is kindled, and the kinder we are and the more we love, the more our hope is kindled,” he said.
Archbishop Lori said that once all the restrictions are lifted, he looks forward to “baptizing catechumens, welcoming candidates, confirming young people, and really celebrating the joy of being together again as a family of faith. I’m looking forward to a huge, wonderful family reunion, a family of faith reunion.”
Listen to the full interview below.
For more on the Archdiocese of Baltimore response to the coronavirus pandemic and for resources, visit www.archbalt.org/coronavirus
Email Christopher Gunty at editor@CatholicReview.org.