As you know, almost six months ago, our lives changed dramatically. As the reality of the pandemic hit us, we had to adjust quickly as the decision was made to close our churches and suspend Masses. Parish and diocesan leadership immediately responded to this challenge, finding new ways to serve our people from virtual communications to livestreamed Masses. This has been extraordinary on several levels for several months. In this issue, you will find several descriptions from different leaders and mission teams of the diocese on our efforts to stay connected with you during this time of the pandemic.
One way we tried to connect with you during the pandemic was to offer my weekly Mass on WFRV. This was very well received and I am happy to announce that we are bringing the TV Mass back again. We are grateful to be able to offer this beautiful ministry, especially for those of you who are confined to home or are sick in hospitals or nursing homes. The televised Masses began again this past Sunday and will continue to air on channel 5 at 10 a.m. For those who cannot attend Mass because of illness or because you care for a loved one with health concerns, I truly hope these Masses will help you feel close to Christ and the church.
The reopening under the restrictions of the health protocols and the various safety measures has been stressful, but many parishes have adapted to this beautifully. They are safe for healthy people to return. Please join me in giving thanks to our diocesan and parish leaders and volunteers for their extra work to care for you and those who cannot be with us because of health concerns.
I also want to share that the bishops of Wisconsin have decided to remove the dispensation from the “Sunday Mass obligation” for those who are healthy and are able to attend Sunday Mass. After consultation with the Diocesan Pastoral Council, and after consultation with the priests of the diocese through the regional vicars and Presbyteral Council, I have decided that our date of ending the dispensation will be Sept. 20. That means that those who are able should return to Sunday Mass under the pain of serious sin, which needs to be brought to confession before returning to holy Communion.
So why are we doing this and why now? Before I was ordained a bishop 20 years ago, I was told by my superiors that since I was being sent to the Diocese of Cheyenne, Wyo., which encompassed the entire state, I would be responsible for every soul in the state. I thought for a minute in my head, “Thanks a lot!” Nonetheless, I recognize my role as bishop is to care for each of the souls in our diocese and I take that responsibility seriously.
In the Ten Commandments, the Lord makes it very clear, “Remember to keep holy the Lord’s Day.” One way we do that is by attending Mass, what we call the Sunday obligation. At times, though, we may be tempted to see our Sunday obligation as just that, a minimum requirement in order to “keep God and the church off my back.” But this commandment, like all the commandments, is rooted in God’s love for us.
You see, brothers and sisters, it is so easy in our fallen human condition to get in a state of amnesia and to forget that everything we have and enjoy is a gift from God, even our very next breath. While it is easy to identify when we are physically hungry, it is much more difficult to recognize our spiritual hunger. Often we do not know what is best for us, so we begin to seek love and affirmation in all the wrong places, instead of with the Lord. So God reminds us, “Remember to keep holy the Sabbath.”
Attending Mass and receiving the Eucharist helps us fill our spiritual hunger.
Did you know that the word Eucharist means thanksgiving? We come to Mass to give thanks for God’s blessings in our lives in the past week and to ask him for his blessings on the week to come. Have you ever noticed when you leave church on Sunday morning and everything looks better? The problems of last week seem to have diminished and the world seems brighter. That is the holy Eucharist and the love of coming together as a community. Sunday means communion with the Lord and community with one another in the family of faith!
The bottom line, folks, is that God wants to give us so much in the Eucharist. This is not about an obligation, it’s about an opportunity to be together with our Lord to receive the love he has for us. So while it was necessary for a time to release people from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass, it is now time for us to return.
As we enter this next phase, I would ask for your continued prayers for myself as well as our priests and pastoral leaders throughout the diocese. These are challenging times, but we will continue to do all we can to serve you. Please pray, too, for our brothers and sisters who long for the Eucharist in nursing homes and senior care facilities. Finally, we ask that our loving Father would bring a swift end to this pandemic, so that we may all once again join in communion around the table of the Lord!