Dear Friends in Christ,
Back in March, when we first had to suspend public Masses due to the coronavirus pandemic, I envisioned that perhaps by Divine Mercy Sunday or even Pentecost, we could all join for a large celebration of our faith. Sadly, that was too optimistic.
We are all eager to return to church and to the sacraments.
I am happy to announce that some of us, at least, will be able to return to Mass for the feast of Pentecost, though only at one-third the seating capacity of our churches.
There are two main considerations determining whether our parishes can open. First, it must be allowed by each local jurisdiction, who have different timelines due to the uneven number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. Secondly, each parish must evaluate whether it is ready to open for public Masses.
There is a great deal of preparation our parishes must follow to keep you safe, since they will need appropriate resources and supplies to adequately clean and sanitize the church between services and sufficient staff to guide and direct those who attend Mass. Please be patient with your pastor and his staff during this time.
As we know by now, the effects of the virus and its spread are not in any way consistent. We also know that the threat has not passed. For the sake of those prone to the most severe effects of the coronavirus, we have an obligation to abide by those guidelines. We remain committed to being vigilant and diligent in our efforts to mitigate the risk of exposure for all.
All along, we have balanced public health concerns and pastoral concerns – and although the two go hand-in-hand, it has not always been easy. It’s not a very pastoral thing to put people in harm’s way.
If you are vulnerable, sick or simply apprehensive about gathering with others at this time, consider staying at home. The dispensation from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass will remain in effect through Phase II of our reopening. Many locations will continue to offer Masses online for the time being.
Most importantly, I urge you to demonstrate charity, continued patience and understanding, as together we adapt to these circumstances, and continue to be mindful of the risks that are still very real.
We have produced a video that explains “What to Expect When You Return to Mass.” We also have a lot of resources including the official archdiocesan guidelines, pastoral resources, answers to frequently asked questions and information on practicing your faith at home on our website at archbalt.org/coronavirus. The Catholic Review continues to provide fresh news coverage about the church’s response to the pandemic; please subscribe to the free, twice-weekly e-newsletter for the latest updates.
I also encourage you to download the myParish App, since many parishes will be using resources within the app for “hymnal-free Masses” with the readings and prayers for the Sunday celebration of the Mass. Whether you are in church or at home, the resources are useful.
As we make our way through this process, please keep in mind that the Lord is still with us. He still loves us. We are still being guided by His provident care for us. The Lord has guided us in the Church and whole societies through difficult times in the past. He will not fail us now. If ever there was a time when we needed to strengthen our faith, to cling to our hope and to deepen our love, it’s now.
We cannot do all – or any – of this through our efforts alone. It’s something the Holy Spirit does in us, and the Holy Spirit will work through us. As we celebrate the feast of Pentecost, let us welcome the Holy Spirit into our homes and our churches so as to renew in us a deep sense of faith and hunger for the Lord.
We must be people of hope, but also a people of kindness and generosity. If ever there was a time to practice Christian charity in its fullness, it’s now.
I will keep you in my prayers, and I ask that you keep your priests, parish staffs and me in yours.
Faithfully Yours in Christ,
Most Reverend William E. Lori
Archbishop of Baltimore