“BECOMING ALL THINGS TO ALL” (1 Cor 9:22)
Dear Parish Family:
In recent weeks both the Gilbert Town Council and the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors have issued emergency orders and regulations regarding the mandatory use of masks in certain circumstances. In addition, a few days ago - on June 19th - the Diocese of Phoenix issued guidelines by which Bishop Olmsted asked all parishes “to comply with the mandatory face masks policies that have been implemented in every area/city.” In those same guidelines, the Diocese required all those who attend Mass, as well as staff and volunteers, to wear face masks “when on campus and moving about in public areas or when physical distancing is not possible”. Finally, the Diocese affirmed, "for those who have medical conditions or refuse - kindness and understanding should be the rule".
In addition to all of the above, in recent weeks I have been receiving messages from a number of the faithful who have expressed their reluctance, for medical reasons, to attend Mass when people who are not wearing masks are in attendance. Some of these people have told me that they have decided to use the dispensation, which is still in force, not to attend Sunday Mass for precisely this reason. They would come if everyone wore a mask, but they preferred to stay home rather than to expose themselves to close physical proximity with people with their faces uncovered. Others have chosen to stay at home because they don't think they should be at celebrations with a large number of people.
The civil authorities, both local and regional, have provided exemptions to the general rule for wearing masks. I will not quote the list of those exceptions here because they can be easily found on the Internet and this is not a communication of a legal nature. Insofar as they do not contradict the Law of God and of the Church, Christians offer a glorious and supernatural obedience to the temporal powers (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1900).
It is everyone's responsibility, therefore, to know what is asked of us and to fulfill it to the best of our ability.
I wanted to take a few days to think, consult and pray about how these various positions, apparently so irreconcilable, could be harmonized so that the possibility of access to the Eucharist can be given to every one according to the personal situation and conscience of each person.
I considered all of the following:
- the requirement to wear a mask that the Bishop has asked of those who attend Mass;
- the directives of the Diocese and the civil norms to allow access to the Mass to those who are exempt from the use of masks by civil, ecclesiastical and divine law;
- the desire of many parishioners to participate in Masses if all the participants wear a mask;
- the access to Holy Communion for those who, during the time of dispensation from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass, have not yet chosen to participate in the Holy Sacrifice along with the parish community.
Charity asks, among other things, that we “become all things to all, to save at least some.” (1 Cor 9:22) After speaking with parish staff, and with the desire to respect the consciences of all within the framework of what obedience permits us, I have decided the following:
1. Beginning the first weekend of July, for those who wish to participate in the Holy Mass with peace of mind in knowing that all attendees will wear a mask, there will be several Saturday Vigil and Sunday Masses at which the use of a mask will be obligatory and without exception. Those Masses will be: Saturday at 3:00 pm, Sunday at 7:00 am and 5:30 pm. Anyone who does not wear a mask will not be able to attend those Masses. Access to the church for those Masses, will be authorized exclusively to all those who agree to wear a mask.
2. Those who are exempt from wearing a mask according to divine, ecclesiastical or civil law (for example, those who cannot wear a face covering due to a medical or mental condition, children under 2 years of age or anyone unable to remove the mask without assistance) must attend one of the other Vigil or Sunday Masses: Saturday at 4:30 pm in English and 6:30 pm in Spanish, or Sundays at 8:30 am, 10 am and 11:30 am in English, at 1:00 pm in Spanish and at 3:00 pm Traditional Mass of the Roman Rite in Latin. Obviously, these Masses are also open to those who wear masks and feel comfortable participating in the Holy Mass with people exempt from wearing them.
People exempted from wearing a mask who want to attend Sunday Mass are obliged to attend at any of the Masses mentioned in section 2 of this correspondence.
3. All of the Masses will continue to observe the requirements for social distancing that the civil and ecclesiastical authorities require as we have done here at St. Anne since the reopening of public Masses.
4. For those who wish to receive Holy Communion outside of the Mass, a short time will be provided on Saturdays and Sundays for the distribution of the Body of the Lord. Specifically, there will be ministers to distribute Holy Communion on Saturday after the 4:30 pm Mass and on Sunday after the 3 pm Mass for approximately 30 minutes.
5. I want to clarify that the Diocese allows the priest who presides not to wear the mask during the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as long as he remains in the sanctuary area.
6. I want to reiterate the fact that the dispensation from attendance at Sunday Mass remains in force in the Diocese of Phoenix. The risk of contagion still exists, and therefore, the responsibility for individual decisions is always personal and non-transferable. With that said, each person, each family, must make a decision.
I want to dedicate the last part of this communication to three considerations for those who wish to read them. I invite you to think about them and reflect on them in prayer as you consider your decision.
A. Obedience in that which is not sin is the cause of peace, harmony and deep union with God and with others when we live it in the spirit of Christ. In today's world, where we seem to be invited to confrontation everywhere, what is truly "revolutionary" is obeying with freedom and joy. Nothing more resembles Satan to us than proud disobedience, and nothing more resembles Christ than loving and free obedience. Three months ago I said these words in one of my Sunday homilies: “Obedience in difficult times is a sign of fidelity. We do not obey because what is asked of us seems reasonable. That is human obedience, that of this passing world. We obey because when authority is legitimate and acts within the scope of its power, we see in its manifestations an expression of the Will of God for us and that turns this virtue into an act of faith that works miracles.”
I repeat the same teaching, which is that of the Word of God and of the saints. By way of example, the following are quotes of Saint Maximilian Kolbe, martyr of charity and example of courage, faith, and fidelity to Christ and to the Church and love for brothers. Consider them in the presence of God:“It is obedience and obedience alone that is the sure sign to us of the divine will. A superior may, it is true, make a mistake; but it is impossible for us to be mistaken in obeying a superior’s command. The only exception to this rule is the case of a superior commanding something that in even the slightest way would contravene God’s law. Such a superior would not be conveying God’s will (…)
Obedience raises us beyond the limits of our littleness and puts us in harmony with God’s will. In boundless wisdom and care, his will guides us to act rightly. Holding fast to that will, which no creature can thwart, we are filled with unsurpassable strength.
Obedience is the one and the only way of wisdom and prudence for us to offer glory to God. If there were another, Christ would certainly have shown it to us by word and example. Scripture, however, summed up his entire life at Nazareth in the words: He was subject to them; Scripture set obedience as the theme of the rest of his life, repeatedly declaring that he came into the world to do his Father’s will. Let us love our loving Father with all our hearts. Let our obedience increase that love, above all when it requires us to surrender our own will. Jesus Christ crucified is our sublime guide toward growth in God’s love.
We will learn this lesson more quickly through the Immaculate Virgin, whom God has made the dispenser of his mercy. ”
B. “Therefore, you are without excuse, every one of you who passes judgment. For by the standard by which you judge another you condemn yourself, since you, the judge, do the very same things.” (Rom 2:1)
We will never please God if we judge our brothers and sisters. Catholics have to be unwaveringly united and in agreement on the content of the Deposit of Faith: that is, what the Word of God teaches us, both written in Holy Scripture and transmitted by Holy Tradition, and is authentically interpreted by the Universal Magisterium of the Church in matters of faith and morals.
In everything else, the faithful have the right to have their own opinion about things. I said earlier that obedience is a cause of unity. Now I say that respect for diverse opinion in contingent matters is also a cause of unity because when you want everyone to agree on aspects that are questionable, or on which you can legitimately have different points of view, a person’s conscience is forced and "when you sin in this way against your brothers and wound their consciences, weak as they are, you are sinning against Christ." (1 Cor 8:12)
I can understand all points of view: that of the person who decides to stay home while Bishop's dispensation lasts and does not come to Mass because he has reasons for it; that of the person who wishes to come exclusively for the reception of Holy Communion; the person who wants to be at Mass only if others who attend wear a mask; the person who for reasons of health or conscience does not wear a mask - as long as he does not compromise the health of others and respects the social distancing that obedience asks of us at this time. If bishops or cardinals have different opinions on these issues, why should not the lay faithful also have them?
May each person do what he considers in conscience, acting with purity of intention, in fidelity to the teaching of Christ and of the Church, obedient to the legitimate authorities and seeking the good of the brethren, and may the others respect that decision without criticizing: “Do not speak evil of one another, brothers. Whoever speaks evil of a brother or judges his brother speaks evil of the law and judges the law. If you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save or to destroy. Who then are you to judge your neighbor?” (James 4:11-12)
Since obedience to civil and ecclesiastical authorities allows certain people not to wear a mask, supporters of mask use do not think that those who do not wear it are selfish or irresponsible. On the contrary, those who can make use of their right not to wear a mask within the scope of what is permitted by divine, ecclesiastical and civil laws, do not believe that those who do wear a mask are acting wrongly.
Those attitudes are not Christian. As the sequence of "Veni, Sancte Spiritus"(Come, Holy Spirit) says: "flecte quod est rigidum", “bend that which is inflexible”. This was underlined by the Spanish Jesuit priest Father Luis María Mendizábal: just as in the natural order, flexibility is a sign of life and rigidity is a sign that death has already become present - and for instance, we speak about rigor mortis or stiffness or rigidity of death - in the supernatural order, the Holy Spirit, "Lord and Giver of life", acts in a similar way: rigid positions are usually a sign of "absence of the Spirit of God." Let us not fall into the trap of judging our brother or considering what is opinionable as absolute and definitive. The famous aphorism of Saint Augustine governs here: in doubtful things, freedom; where necessary, unity; in everything, charity (in dubiis libertas, in necessariis unitas, in omnibus caritas).
C. On this last point, I know that I am the voice that cries out in the desert, but I invite you, if it is not necessary for professional or work matters, to spend some time - perhaps a month? - without watching or reading the news on the Internet or on television. It seems to me a way to “nip it in the bud”, as you say in English. Believe me: the world will continue to spin, the birds will continue to sing in the mornings, and we will probably shake off many unnecessary worries.
This exercise will be like opening the windows of a closed room to let in fresh air and light. Information that is urgent, will reach us through other channels. I repeat the words of the philosopher Sören Kierkegaard that I quoted months ago: “The current state of the world and of life in general is one of disease. If I were a doctor and asked my opinion, I would say, "Create silence". Lead human beings to silence. The word of God cannot be heard in the noisy contemporary world. "
One of the great classics of Catholic spirituality, Thomas of Kempis, meanwhile, states the following:“Christ: All human beings desire peace; but not all will do what is necessary to obtain it. My peace is found among the humble and gentle of heart. If you will listen to Me and follow My words, you will enjoy great peace.Disciple: What, then, shall I do, Lord?Christ: At all times pay attention to what you are doing and what you are saying, make it your constant intention to please Me alone, neither desiring nor seeking anything apart from Me. Do not make rash judgments on what others say or do, and do not concern yourself about things not committed to your care. If you follow this advice, you will be little or seldom disturbed. ”
For my part, the desire not to be carried away by the voices of the world has been the main reason for not writing this communication sooner; after all, the words that are born from noise are… noise.
Thank you for reading this long message and thank you also for the consideration and patience with which practically everyone has acted since this unprecedented situation began.
"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." (Rom 5:13)
Fiat Voluntas Tua.
In the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary,