My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
During this extended time of the coronavirus pandemic when the faithful have been unable to receive the Eucharist or gather together physically as a people of faith, it has been encouraging to see so many of our parishes broadcasting Masses, rosaries, Divine Mercy Chaplets, and video messages to parishioners. It is my hope that this time of trial, disruption and uncertainty will prompt a spiritual awakening for many, and that this prolonged fast from the Eucharist will create a deeper longing, appreciation and reverence for our Lord’s humble and powerful presence in the Eucharist, thus bringing many people back to the church.
While I have cause for hope that good things may come from this difficult time, I know that you share my concern that we must return to the proper liturgical life of the church and regular celebration of the sacraments and faith life of our parishes. With this in mind, we have begun thinking and planning for how our parishes will re-open to provide access to the sacraments and public liturgies.
In this regard, I am pleased to tell you that I have given permission for the distribution of holy Communion at designated times and with proper safety precautions, using the guidelines for the provision of the sacraments during the coronavirus pandemic developed by the Thomistic Institute in Washington, D.C. These guidelines were developed by a working group of infectious disease experts, medical professionals, scientists, and Catholic theologians to provide detailed guidance for how Catholic sacraments can be provided in the midst of the current pandemic, in accord with the current standards issued by the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. I have asked the regional deans to coordinate with neighboring pastors the logistics for the distribution of holy Communion in the parishes of each region.
With regard to the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, I have granted permission for pastors to administer the sacraments of initiation to those recently elected to the Easter sacraments, doing so outside the Easter Vigil at a time to be conveniently arranged with the Elect, while maintaining the social distancing requirements, insofar as possible, with not more people present for the ceremonies than may be legally permitted.
While the governor of Illinois has amended his “stay-at-home” executive order to allow for people to “engage in the free exercise of religion, provided that such exercise must comply with the Social Distancing Requirements,” at the same time he also maintained the limit of no more than 10 people at gatherings until the end of May. The Catholic bishops throughout the State of Illinois are urging that numerical limitations on gatherings for public worship be replaced with social distancing standards instead. For example, moving from a limit of 10 to 50 would not be helpful for a small church that seats 60 people, since the congregation would be packed together in close proximity, while a church that seats 900 could perhaps safely accommodate about 300 people while maintaining the recommended space between people for social distancing.
Consequently, the number of people in your parish, the size and layout of your worship space, the number of priests available to celebrate Masses and administer the sacraments, and other factors will influence approaches to handling re-opening at each of our parishes. Some smaller parishes may be able to operate a normal Mass schedule, with fairly minor modifications to ensure proper precautions, while larger parishes will need to make more adjustments. No single approach will be able to accommodate all the differences across our diocese. Therefore, I have asked the local deans to work with the priests in the various regions of our diocese to begin thinking and planning for exactly how best to offer the sacraments and public Masses for your parish, in your physical space, as the restrictions are reduced.
In the meantime, until we have greater clarity on the allowances that will be made for public worship in our churches, all celebrations of the Holy Mass and the other sacraments with a congregation remain suspended until further notice, while priests may continue to celebrate Holy Mass privately as well as the sacrament of reconciliation and the other sacraments individually as pastoral needs demand. In many parishes, these Masses are being streamed live online and will continue to be made available to parishioners through video technology. The priest celebrating these livestreamed Masses may be assisted by some combination of deacons, altar servers, lectors, cantors, and musicians numbering no more than nine people in addition to himself, for a total of 10 people maximum, until further notice.
My dispensation from the obligation to attend Holy Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation remains in effect for an indefinite period of time until there is greater clarity and confidence that the overall risk associated with the virus is diminished.
Even though people have not been in the pews for several weeks, the fiscal reality is that our parishes and schools still have bills to pay and buildings to maintain. I understand some of you may have lost a job, been furloughed, or you are uncertain about the future of your job. You are in my prayers. For those who have not been impacted financially by the pandemic, I ask that you prayerfully consider continuing your generous stewardship of the church. With holy Communion returning to the faithful at your parish, one option is that you can bring your donation envelope and drop it off at church when you come to receive Jesus present to us in the Eucharist. Another option is that you can visit this web-page on our diocesan website, parishgiving.dio.org/support, for a listing of our parishes and links to their online giving platforms. There, you can make easy online donations. Thank you very much for your generous financial support of your parish, especially during these challenging times.
Finally, please keep praying for an end of the coronavirus, those afflicted by it, those caring for others who have it, our government leaders, and those who died from the virus.
May God give us this grace. Amen.