Parishes work to meet spiritual needs while public Masses are suspended

  • Written by Northwest Catholic
  • Published in Local
The adoration chapel remains open at St. Michael Parish in Olympia. Photo: Courtesy St. Michael Parish The adoration chapel remains open at St. Michael Parish in Olympia. Photo: Courtesy St. Michael Parish

SEATTLE – Parishes in the Archdiocese of Seattle are working to meet the spiritual needs of their parishioners, while taking precautions to help slow the spread of the coronavirus and protect those most vulnerable to the disease.

After Archbishop Paul D. Etienne has suspended all public celebrations of Mass in Western Washington out of extreme caution, parishes are being encouraged to video stream their priests privately celebrating Sunday Mass.

That’s what Holy Family Parish in Kirkland will be doing, starting at 9 a.m. March 15.

“This will allow us to maintain our customs of sanctifying the Lord’s Day for a holy hour,” Father Kurt Nagel, Holy Family’s pastor, wrote to parishioners March 12. “We will still receive Jesus’ Word through the scriptures of the day and the homily. And even though we will not be able to receive sacramental communion we can make a spiritual communion,” an ancient Catholic practice, he wrote.

Although Catholics won’t be able to attend Mass (they are dispensed from the obligation until Masses resume), “we do not want parish life to come to a screeching halt,” Auxiliary Bishop Daniel Mueggenborg said in a March 11 letter to parish and school leaders.

“It would be irresponsible of us to gather large groups of people,” he continued. “Instead, we encourage pastors to think about necessary activities and postpone non-essential gatherings — keeping in mind the common good.”

The archbishop’s directive about Masses does not close the church, Bishop Mueggenborg noted.

He asked parish leaders to set specific hours for churches to be open for private prayer with the Blessed Sacrament. That also means parishes “must continue the increased sanitizing efforts,” he said. And signs should be posted reminding people to follow public health recommendations — stay home if they’re sick, wash their hands frequently and practice “social distancing” (staying 6 feet away from others when possible) within the church.

Pastors should also still be available for pastoral emergencies, private meetings, anointing of the sick, and other needs, the bishop said.

At the Proto-Cathedral of St. James the Greater in Vancouver, all faith formation activities have been suspended, but the parish has provided a list of resources for families to help continue formation during this time. The church building is open for private prayer from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., the rosary will be prayed as usual and confessions are being heard as scheduled.

In Olympia, the office at St. Michael Parish remains open, with priests and staff available for individual meetings and phone calls. Although the archbishop has dispensed Catholics from their Sunday obligation, “it is our hope … that we as a community of St. Michael Parish will hold one another in prayer,” Father Jim Lee, St. Michael’s pastor, said in a video message. The parish will livestream and record Sunday Mass “so that you will be able to participate virtually,” he added.

The parish’s adoration chapel remains open 24-7 and is being disinfected daily, and confessions are being heard as scheduled. Parishioners are asked to maintain a distance from the priests to minimize the risk of infection, to consider postponing confession if they are not confessing “grave matter” and to stay home if they are sick.

Father Hans Olson, pastor of St. Mary Magdalen Parish in Everett, said in a letter on the parish website that the parish is planning to stream Sunday Mass so parishioners can participate remotely.

“I hope and pray you all remain healthy during the disruption to our normal routine in response to COVID-19,” Father Olson wrote. “Instead of using the time to add to leisure let us use this as an opportunity to turn towards the Lord. Let’s not forget God does not abandon his people, and as we are being reminded of our mortality remember that we are made for an everlasting joy.”

Father Nagel of Holy Family, who reports he is doing well during a time of quarantine after being exposed to the coronavirus while anointing a parishioner, said the archbishop’s decision to suspend Masses is “prudent — but it will hurt.”

He urged Holy Family parishioners to think of Catholics throughout the world “who suffer so much more than we do. There are faithful Catholics in other countries who go, not weeks, but months, or even years, without the Mass,” Father Nagel noted.

He expressed hope that “this social distancing from the Real Presence of Jesus, and from one another, in the weeks to come, become an opportunity for us to grow in our appreciation and hunger for what we might have taken for granted — the Mass.”

“When God delivers us from the coronavirus, as he will, let us return to our parish churches and communities with even more fervor and dedication to celebrating together the ultimate gift of the Eucharist.”

Note: The Archdiocese of Seattle will livestream Mass celebrated by Archbishop Paul D. Etienne March 15 at 10 a.m. on its Facebook page.