It has been more than 50 days since Mass was celebrated publicly in the Archdiocese of Denver. The sacrifices made by both the laity and clergy have been substantial, and for most of us, unprecedented. When the bishops of Colorado decided to suspend public Masses, we did so out of concern for the welfare of our flocks and the broader community. With that same care, I have decided to gradually resume public celebration of the Mass in the archdiocese on May 9.
Many have noted that this “Eucharistic fast” has deepened their longing and appreciation for Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and reenkindled their belief in the true presence of Christ. Some have also commented on how much they miss the community they find in their parish. As we begin to resume public celebration of the Eucharist, all these things and more will drive people to seek out the graces of the Mass as soon as possible. These are admirable and praiseworthy motivations. They reflect a desire for union with Jesus and a trust in his words, “I am the bread of life…my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (Jn 6). We truly abide with the God who loves us when we receive the Eucharist.
It must be emphasized, though, that we are not immediately returning to how things were before. We will all need the virtues of charity, patience and perseverance as we gradually and prudently begin to celebrate the Eucharist in public.
As part of our efforts to mitigate the potential threat to the well-being of others, all the faithful will continue to be dispensed from the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days. Instead, if you are able to attend any day of the week at your parish, please do so. I want to emphasize that anyone who feels sick should stay home, and those who feel uncomfortable attending Mass should be assured that they incur no guilt by doing so, if they strive to keep holy the Sabbath with prayer.
During these last few weeks, it has been encouraging to see the creativity of our priests as they looked for ways to bring the faithful the grace of Reconciliation and the Anointing of the Sick, and with our deacons the graces of celebrating Baptism and Matrimony. In that same spirit of extending sacramental grace to as many people as possible, I am also granting a dispensation from place to pastors so that, in these extraordinary circumstances, Mass can be celebrated in outdoor spaces, gymnasiums, halls and other places that allow for physical distancing.
For Masses held in the church, there will be limits on the number of people who can be present in the church. These limits will vary depending on the size and shape of the church. Those who attend Mass will also be expected to wear a mask if they are three years-old and above, and everyone will be asked to maintain six feet of distance from others not in their family group. Moreover, entering and leaving Church will be monitored so there is no congregating. These are among some of the practices that should be expected, so please check with your local parish to understand what measures are being put in place. Parishioners should pay close attention to any changes to the normal Mass times and what method is being used to fairly and consistently determine who attends Mass, given the limitation on crowd size.
The early Christian community lived under the threat of persecution, and while this pandemic is not the same kind of threat, it should inspire us to learn from their example. While he was in prison for preaching the Gospel, Paul wrote to the Christian community at Philippi, and his words should guide us in these times, too.
“Have no anxiety at all,” he wrote, “but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7). May the peace of the God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit guard our hearts and minds in these times as well.