Dearest brothers and sisters in Christ,
How fast our Lenten journey this year has turned from symbolic to concrete as we find ourselves in the desert of social distance, separated from our beloved Parish community. While it’s indeed a trying time, I can’t think of a better time of the Liturgical Year for us to undergo this journey together.
And together we are(!), even as we endure this temporary physical separation. In Baptism, Christ has joined us to Himself and to each other, and that bond cannot be undone! This is the heart and reality of our communion with God and with each other, the communion which is expressed and strengthened by the Eucharist.
This is an unprecedented situation in the life of the Church, especially here in Wetaskiwin. We’ve not experienced a pandemic in over 100 years, and in our nearly 130-year Parish history, we’ve never had to restrict public participation in Liturgy as we must do right now. But, as Archbishop Smith wrote when announcing his decision, we’re called to “accept this as our civic duty at this time, and offer this moment in sacrifice to God for the sake of all who are ill from the COVID-19 virus” (16 March 2020).
In fact, in the context of our family bond of communion with each other, I’d say that social distancing in this time is a moral duty. We’re called to be our brother’s keeper (cf. Gen 4:9), and we need to make sure that the most vulnerable among us aren’t exposed to this virus, and that we ourselves don’t become the means of transmission.
This brings us back to our Lenten Season, a time of penance and sacrifice. God always knows which penances we should receive, and abstaining from Mass, the Eucharist and liturgical celebrations seems to be what He’s asking us to embrace as a communal penance this Lent.
Now, penance isn’t a form of punishment or deprivation, but an offering to God. That’s why I echo Pope Francis and Archbishop Smith: Let’s embrace this time without Mass, the Eucharist, and community as a voluntary sacrifice offered to God, especially for those infected with COVID-19 and the health-care workers risking themselves to help others. Let’s unite our longing for the Eucharist to His longing for us and bring it to the Cross for those in most need of prayer. We’re in this together, and Jesus is here with us. He hasn’t abandoned us; we’re not left without Him or His grace, even if we can’t receive the Eucharist. God’s grace is not limited to the Sacraments.
It’s important, then, in this time of sacrifice that we make a greater effort for daily prayer and keep a Sunday routine. In the attached bulletin, you’ll see there are several Sunday and weekday Masses that are being televised or live-streamed (even from here in Edmonton!). Along with Archbishop Smith, I encourage you to watch these Masses and join your heart and soul to the offering of Mass, to listen attentively to the Word of God, and to make a Spiritual Communion expressing your desire and longing for the Eucharist. (We’ve included a Spiritual Communion prayer in the Bulletin.)
As for me, I continue to offer daily Mass for the intentions scheduled for these days, including the Sunday Mass for the people of our Parish. Intentions will continue to be published in the Bulletin. You may not be able to attend, but Mass is still being offered for you.
And while we may not see each other face-to-face for some time yet, you are in my heart and my prayers. And I know that Dcn. Leo is also praying for you, even as he endures his own mandatory self-isolation.
The Parish Staff, Dcn. Leo and I remain available to you. Office Hours continue as normal (8:30am-4pm) and the Church is open during this time, and Confession will be available as needed (please call before coming). However, it’s imperative that we be careful and maintain health protocols. Please do not come to the church in groups; your prayer is as effective at home as it is here at church. I myself am considered at medium-to-high risk, due to a history of pulmonary infections and an autoimmune condition. If I’m sick, I won’t be able to minister when it’s really needed.
I know this is going to be hard for some of you to hear and accept, but it’s our duty of charity to care for each other and not place each other at risk of infection or worse, death. This is a real possibility, and we need to take it seriously.
This duty of charity, however, goes beyond merely keeping our distance. Many of us will experience a new degree of loneliness in this time. We must, therefore, make extra efforts to reach out to each other in safe ways. It’s a beautiful opportunity to strengthen or mend relationships with family, neighbours and parishioners. I ask you, please reach out and call others in our Parish; check-in with the elderly and with single people in your area. We’re indeed our brother’s keeper, and we all have a duty to care for one another, especially within our Parish family.
We will continue to publish the weekly Parish Bulletin and forward it to you by email, along with a Sunday Homily. Please forward this email to other parishioners and invite them to register for this email list, as it’s really the best means we have right now of keeping in touch with you. We’ll do our best to keep you up to date as things develop in our Parish.
In the meantime, be assured of my prayers for you, of my longing to be reunited with all of you. Let us pray for each other!