Archbishop Hebda celebrates Mass in empty cathedral

| March 24, 2020 | 0 Comments

Archbishop Bernard Hebda delivers the homily in front of empty pews at the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul during 5:15 p.m. Mass March 21. After suspending all public Masses in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Archbishop Hebda celebrated this Mass for video recording and later viewing by the public on the Cathedral’s website and Facebook page. DAVE HRBACEK | THE CATHOLIC SPIRIT

In an almost deafening silence, Archbishop Bernard Hebda walked into the sanctuary at the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul March 21 for the start of 5:15 p.m. Mass.

A church that normally seats hundreds on a given Saturday evening became a sea of emptiness before him.

After Mass, he called his view from the pulpit “startling.” As he looked out during the liturgy, he saw only a member of the Cathedral staff filming the Mass for later broadcast on its website and Facebook page. Softening his isolation in the sanctuary were an acolyte, lector, organist and two other priests, Father John Ubel, Cathedral rector, and Father Joseph Bambenek, assistant director of the Archdiocesan Synod.

Despite the absence of a congregation, Archbishop Hebda said he was “so grateful for the opportunity to be able to celebrate Mass for people to be able to participate remotely.”

Such is the new reality in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, after the archbishop March 18 suspended all public Masses in response to concerns about the spread of the novel coronovirus. He followed guidelines offered by state health officials, who advised that gatherings be restricted to 10 people or fewer.

With thousands of local Catholics undergoing what he called a “eucharistic fast,” Archbishop Hebda acknowledged that this deprivation is “very difficult for so many people.”

Other parishes in the archdiocese followed suit, live streaming Masses to parishioners and, in some cases, coming out into the parking lot to bless people in their cars afterward.

As he reflected on the changes brought on by the rapid spread of the coronavirus, Archbishop Hebda expressed reasons to be hopeful.

“I trust the Lord is always working for the good of those who love him,” he said. “I know that there is great love for the Lord here. It’s certainly a time that’s going to help us to focus on our priorities. It’s going to call forth great heroism in terms of caring for our brothers and sisters who might get sick. But I think it’s also going to be a moment that really gives us that opportunity to grow in our faith, to deepen in our faith, and to be looking for the Lord’s presence, even in those non-obvious places.”

As the virus continues to spread and people continue to engage in safe practices such as social distancing, Archbishop Hebda encouraged the faithful to pray for each other, for priests and for him.

“Every day, I have to thank the Lord for the health that he’s given to me,” he said. “I know he’s given me a big responsibility here in the archdiocese, and I hope that he’ll give me the health that I need to carry that through.”

He also offered a reminder to follow the health protocols recommended by state and federal officials to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.

“I think that’s very important,” he said. “We hope that by being strict about those things, that we’re going to be able to help flatten the curve and that we’re going to be saving lives.”

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