Parishes have had to adapt to a temporary reality that Mass is temporarily suspended, and offices transitioned to reduced staffing.
The initial shock of this new reality may have worn off, but the solution to this problem has been varied and encouraging. What may have been a novelty in the past, such as live streaming daily and Sunday Mass, or having a Sacrament of Reconciliation from a car in a church parking lot, are becoming commonplace.
As common as these efforts to stay connected to the faithful have become, more is still taking place, all in response to a communication from Bishop Frank J. Dewane to the priests of the Diocese. In one letter, Bishop Dewane asked the priests to draw upon the Church’s rich tradition of prayer and devotion to ensure that the spiritual life of parishioners is nourished and remains vibrant through means which are prudently adapted to the current circumstances.
Father Hugh McGuigan, Oblate of St. Francis de Sales, is Pastor of Our Lady of Light Parish in Fort Myers, was one of the first to live stream Mass and to hear confessions from the car.
“With people cut off from reception of the Sacraments and the Mass we had to make adjustments,” Father McGuigan said. “While these are not the answers to all of the problems, the response has been overwhelmingly positive.”
St. Joseph Parish in Bradenton has confession times on Saturday mornings and afternoons. Each session is scheduled for one hour but in the first two weekends (March 21 and March 28) the time has been extended by as much as 30 minutes.
Father Shawn Roser, Parochial Vicar at St. Joseph Parish, said he was encouraged to have so many people interested in the sacrament.
The drive-thru confession is typically a set time when a priest, or priests are available under the church portico, seated or standing a safe distance away from the vehicle, but close enough to hear the penitent. (See list of Parishes and times below.)
To ensure the Sacrament is properly administered, there is a limit of one penitent in the vehicle. When there are more people in a vehicle, arrangements are made to ensure confession is heard not only at a safe distance for the health of the priest and penitent, but also for the purposes of ensuring absolute privacy. Priests are also available for the Sacrament by appointment through the Parish Office.
The Diocese, as well as Parishes, have used their websites for not only broadcasting a live Mass, but for the prayer intentions for the day, as if the church was open. In addition, numerous intentions have been added for all impacted by the pandemic. Live Masses in the Diocese are being offered, in English, Spanish, Haitian Creole, Vietnamese and Latin.
Some priests have also been sharing daily and weekly reflections on the readings and/or current pandemic crisis; reciting of prayers such as the rosary, Our Father, Chaplet of Divine Mercy, Angelus, and more; as well as having live Adoration, Stations of the Cross and Holy Hours.
Each effort keeps a connection open. Comments reacting to the efforts have been very positive, with some offering suggestions for more content.
Bishop Dewane acknowledged in his March 18 letter to parishioners announcing the suspension of the Mass, the sacrifice for the Catholic Faithful, “who have a great love for the Holy Eucharist and depend on the Most Blessed Sacrament for their spiritual lives. Do recall that Faithful Catholics, throughout the history of the Church, have kept the faith alive through trying times. By prayer and devotion, as well as spiritual solidarity with each other, the life of faith continued to be a source of strength and perseverance during persecutions and other times of public crisis.”
On the Diocesan and Parish websites, a number of additional resources, including links to prayers, devotions and the daily readings have been made available.
Parishes are also continuing to produce their weekly bulletin, updating schedules of cancelled or postponed events and sharing the latest updates on actions people can take to help in the community. In many cases, copies are being mailed to those who do not have access to the internet. This is one reason the Diocese offers the Televised Sunday Mass, airing at 9:30 a.m. on the CW in the northern portions of the Diocese and 10:30 a.m. on FOX-4 in the southern area.
During this time, priests and Parish staff are limiting their exposure to others by first curtailing access to offices and encouraging most, if not all, business to be conducted by phone. Many staff are also working from home to ensure necessary social distancing.
Last rites will be administered only in the case of death. Baptisms are not being denied but temporarily only taking place in cases of emergency. Weddings are encouraged to be postponed. In the event postponement is not a viable option, limitations are required in regard to the number of people present. In addition, funerals are being limited in size to immediate family members only.
Bishop Dewane is aware of the difficulty some of these restrictions are causing but said they are necessary during this extraordinary and historic time.
“In this time of Lent, with challenges, uncertainty, and fear in our lives, let us turn toward prayer,” Bishop Dewane said. “Through prayer and trust be confident in the belief that God does not abandon us in times of peril, in fact, the Lord will draw us close and protect us.
Please pray for everyone impacted by this pandemic – the sick, their caregivers, courageous medical personnel, and those reaching out in charity to help our brothers and sisters in Christ.”
Seeking the intercessions of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and in particular, her spouse, St. Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church, pray for protection and guidance through these troubling times, the Bishop continued,
“Through the Word of the Lord, that is Sacred Scripture, it is possible to overcome fear and courageously face the challenging days ahead,” the Bishop said.