Mass possible in parking lots in some situations, but Communion not permitted

| April 3, 2020 | 0 Comments

Masses celebrated outdoors with the faithful remaining in their cars might be a possibility as Catholics in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis continue to practice social distancing, but such Masses may not include the public distribution of Communion, according to directives issued by Archbishop Bernard Hebda April 1.

Archbishop Hebda issued those guidelines, after conferring with his Council of Priests, “to clear up any confusion or ambiguity, and to extend the suspension of public Mass,” said Father Michael Tix, the archbishop’s Vicar for Clergy and Parish Services.

“The new guidelines foresee the possibility of an outdoor celebration of Mass without the public distribution of Holy Communion, provided that those in attendance remain in their cars, that the CDC social distancing guidelines are respected, and that the parish has the green light from the local public authorities as well as the archdiocese,” Father Tix said in an April 1 statement.

The new guidelines came after the archdiocese received a few reports of public celebrations of Mass and public distribution of holy Communion the past two weekends. Father Tix was surprised by those reports, since the archbishop had already on March 18 directed priests not to celebrate public Mass due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“No priest in the archdiocese had the authorization of the archdiocese to make an exception to that directive,” Father Tix said.

The new guidelines paralleled a tightening of the social distancing restrictions required by public authorities. On March 25, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz issued an executive order for people to stay at home for two weeks, beginning midnight March 27. In a statement issued the same day, Archbishop Hebda said the changing circumstances reflected in the order required that suspension of public Mass would continue, and “priests are asked not to promote gatherings of the faithful that conflict with the governor’s order.”

“It is critical for the common good that we do everything we possibly can to minimize the risk to others and to ourselves, which means simply staying home as much as possible,” the archbishop said. “I know this is difficult for all of us, but it seems critical in order to buy time for the health care needs of our state to be met.

Prior to the archbishop’s explicit prohibition of the distribution of public communion on April 1, Father John Echert, pastor of Holy Trinity parish in South St. Paul, had distributed Communion to those waiting in parked cars at the conclusion of a livestreamed Mass.

He told The Catholic Spirit that he had been looking for creative ways to help Catholics receive the sacraments while respecting the social distancing restrictions. He said he had aimed to comply with the governor’s orders. “It was done in a very orderly way,” he said, noting that he wore gloves and was careful not to touch each recipient’s tongue or hand.

He is grateful, he said, for Archbishop Hebda’s clarification around distributing Communion and will comply with it.

A longtime military chaplain, Father Echert said his zeal for finding creative ways to offer Communion stems from a situation he was in about 40 years ago while serving in the military prior to his ordination. For a year, he was stationed on a mountain top in Turkey and was unable to attend Mass or receive Communion.

“In light of that personal experience, I was resolved to do whatever I could, first as a military chaplain for 30 years, now as a pastor, to do what I can within the boundaries of Church and civil law to provide the Mass and the sacraments,” he said.

Father Echert plans to continue to offer Mass visible to the faithful in his church’s parking lots, but will not distribute Communion. Instead, he will invite the faithful to pray for spiritual Communion and will likely bless them with the Eucharist in a monstrance while they remain in their cars, he said.

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Category: Local News