Ministering during COVID-19

With the recent decisions by our local bishop, bishops throughout the country and even by our Holy Father, parish priests now are trying to figure out what it means to minister to their congregations during the time of quarantine and isolation. In just the first few days of the decree, I’ve had to figure out with the faithful what it meant for their circumstances for baptism and funerals.

Self-quarantined while watching a movie, I received a phone call from the answering service, who then connected me to the local coroner who wanted to get a hold of me. A family had just lost their son and brother. Our community lost a restaurateur. It was an unexpected death, which made the death even more tragic for the family.

After being assured by the coroner that it was not a COVID-19 death, I headed to the man’s home, where I consoled and prayed with the family. Earlier in the week, Bishop David Ricken had released a set of directives for liturgical celebrations during these times, which indicated that a funeral Mass could be celebrated if restricted to 10 people.

Our conversation later in the evening discussed what a funeral might look like in our confusing time. As one could imagine, this isn’t the way anybody would want a funeral for a loved one. In this time of self-quarantine, it affects not only the family, but our community, as we cannot come together to grieve and pray together.

Our initial conversation the night of the funeral was difficult because this person was a restaurateur along with his mother and brother. They are well known throughout the community. Of course, a mother doesn’t want to envision such a small funeral. This funeral will be a funeral like none other anyone has ever experienced.

Initially the funeral home thought we would just do a service at the funeral home and then the burial. The mother really wanted her son “to go to church.” Given the provisions of our bishop and in accordance with state regulations, a funeral was held with eight family members present.

On Saturday, March 21, I originally had two baptisms scheduled. One couple messaged and said a godparent may have been exposed to the coronavirus and consequently they wanted to postpone the baptism. The second baptism for the morning, gathered with just four adults, a sibling and the newborn. The family Facetimed grandma so she could be a part of the celebration and a camcorder recorded it for other family to watch later.

Parishes are offering many opportunities for their congregants to pray through livestreaming capabilities. Daily Masses, Sunday Mass and other devotions are offered. On March 19 at 3 p.m., I led a rosary on Facebook Live in union with our Holy Father’s request. More than 80 viewers, and probably more with other family present, joined me in praying the rosary. On March 20, I wrote an “Intercessory Stations during the COVID-19 Pandemic” and led them at noon with people tuning in through Facebook Live. I offered a holy hour on Sunday, since that would be our typical Sunday schedule.

What I’ve found with livestreaming is that so many of our parishioners are able to participate. Reflecting on the Thursday rosary, I would have been hard-pressed to gather 100 people together on a Thursday afternoon, but they were able to join me from wherever they were. The same for adoration. While only a handful might join us on Sundays, individuals are now being introduced to new spiritual practices which may carry over in their lives after this difficult time.

Pastors have not forgotten their people. They are reaching out in new ways and leading them in prayer.

Fr. Looney is pastor of St. Francis and St. Mary Parish in Brussels and St. Peter and St. Hubert Parish in Lincoln/Rosiere.