Catholic Bishops of Minnesota Move Ahead with Plan for Limited Return to Public Masses
From the Catholic Bishops of Minnesota:
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The Catholic Bishops of Minnesota, along with many people of faith, were disappointed in Governor Walz’s May 13 announcement that he would end the Stay-at-Home order to allow more commerce but prohibit religious gatherings of more than ten people. We have attempted to work collaboratively with the Walz Administration up to this time, seeking the guidance of the Department of Public Safety and the Department of Public Health to help us strengthen our specific safety protocols based on the statewide plan. Along with some Lutheran colleagues, we submitted a plan to the Governor on May 8 that detailed the sanitation measures we would take and proposed a cap on occupancy limited to 33 percent of building capacity. Our proposed protocols are based on the work undertaken by a group of national medical experts and theologians, the Thomistic Institute, and they are consistent with the practices that have already been put in place in many dioceses throughout the United States. We continue our willingness to make any necessary adjustments to our safety protocols upon review.
The Life of Faith is Essential
Given our willingness to coordinate with the Governor, we are especially disappointed that his most recent order (20-56) does not address both the vital importance that faith plays in the lives of Americans, especially in this time of pandemic, and the fundamental religious freedom possessed by houses of worship that allows our country to thrive. The Governor’s remarks today further underscored a failure to appreciate the role of our Church and other faith groups in serving the community. The human cost to this pandemic has been extraordinary, not just in terms of lives lost to the virus but the rapidly growing problems of job loss, depression, crime and violence, and substance abuse. As Pope Francis has said, the church must be a field hospital, ministering to all, but especially the poor and vulnerable. He has cautioned that overly drastic measures that limit church life will have a disproportionate impact on “the little ones” and those who have no one to rely on.
The bishops of Minnesota are united in our conviction that we can safely resume public Masses in accordance with both our religious duties and with accepted public health and safety standards. We can worship in a way that reflects both the love of God and the love of our neighbors (cf. Mark 12:30-31). Therefore, we are giving our parishes permission for the resumption of the public celebration of Mass on Tuesday, May 26, which will give us time to be ready for the celebration of Pentecost on May 31. Parishes will be required to follow the strict protocols we have published for sanitation and social distancing and will have to limit attendance to one-third of the seating capacity of the church. No one will be obliged to attend, as the bishops of Minnesota will continue to dispense from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass.
Responsible Worship in Service of the Common Good
We share the Governor’s concern about the importance of taking all reasonable precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. We have charged our parishes with the task of preparing for a limited return to public Mass, but we are not requiring them to begin public Mass on May 26. Each parish community needs to be comfortable that it can meet the standards set forth in extensive and stringent diocesan protocols. We already know that many will be unable to do that immediately because of the configuration of their churches or because of a shortage of staff or supplies. They need a plan for how they would limit admittance to one-third of the seating capacity of their church, and how they will seat those who arrive. We also recognize that some parishes may choose, for now, to adhere to the existing ten-person limit. We trust local leadership will determine when they are able to follow all the directives and open, and we stand ready to assist them when necessary.
We also know that parishes may have to adjust to changing circumstances, recognizing that we do not know how the pandemic will affect us in the weeks and months ahead. A parish that begins public Mass on Pentecost, for example, may have to impose further restrictions later in the year, in the event of an outbreak in the local community.
We have made it clear that the obligation of a Catholic to attend Sunday Mass remains suspended and we have uniformly encouraged those most at risk to stay home. Not surprisingly, dioceses in other states that have already reopened their churches for public Masses report that the number of those attending is significantly reduced. We ask our parishes to continue to provide ministry by live streaming even when public Masses resume. We find it reasonable, moreover, that parishes would continue to look for opportunities for outdoor celebrations.
Rights and Responsibilities
In moving forward with public worship in this limited manner, we wish to provide more explanation for our decision. First, the six dioceses of Minnesota voluntarily suspended parish activities, Catholic schools, and the public celebration of Mass, and did so before any executive orders were put in place. We have followed public health guidance and Governor Walz’s leadership so that we, as a state, could 1) flatten the curve, 2) allow time for the necessary health care infrastructure to be created to handle a surge of patients and avoid unnecessary deaths, and 3) allow a testing regime to be put in place to limit spread of COVID-19. We have done so because we care for our neighbors and it is important for us to be in solidarity with our vulnerable sisters and brothers. We have also done so out of respect for rightful authority—another biblical principle (cf. Romans 13).
Second, we have attempted to engage in dialogue with the Administration. We have twice sent the Governor letters asking for a dialogue, most recently last Saturday. Though public health and public safety officials have listened to our concerns and have created opportunities for input and conversation, we have not received a concrete timeline and roadmap for resuming public worship that includes reasonable guidance on congregational size.
Third, we believe we have been leading by example. Our people and institutions have enthusiastically cooperated with the public health guidance and have been part of the solution at every turn: providing relief to struggling families, finding creative ways to minister to a suffering people, serving on the front lines of the health care crisis, and leaping forward in technology to meet the demand for spiritual comfort created by this pandemic.
Our decision to suspend the public celebration of Mass was painful. We made that decision not because we were compelled to do so, but because we judged that the circumstances required it. We believe that those circumstances have changed, as confirmed by the Governor’s decision to end the Stay-at-Home order and allow more commerce. It is now permissible for an unspecified number of people to go to shopping malls and enter stores, so long as no more than 50 percent of the occupancy capacity is reached. Big-box stores have hundreds of people inside at any one time, and the number of goods that are being handled and distributed in one store by many people—stock staff, customers, cashiers—is astounding. Workers are present for many hours per day, often in close proximity. There is no state mandate that customers wear masks in those malls or stores, wash their hands consistently, or follow any specific cleaning protocol. In these circumstances, and given the well-researched protocols that we have proposed (and that are being followed successfully elsewhere in our nation) how can reason require us any longer to keep our faithful from the Eucharist?
We are blessed to live in a nation that guarantees the free exercise of religion. This right can only be abridged for a compelling governmental interest, and only in a way that is narrowly tailored to be the least restrictive means of achieving the desired end. That is why a large majority of states now allow in-person religious services, including many states that had previously suspended in-person religious services. We think that the executive order issued last Wednesday fails this test. An order that sweeps so broadly that it prohibits, for example, a gathering of 11 people in a Cathedral with a seating capacity of several thousand defies reason. Therefore, we have chosen to move forward in the absence of any specific timeline laid out by Governor Walz and his Administration. We cannot allow an indefinite suspension of the public celebration of the Mass.
In conclusion, as local leadership makes these important decisions about when to safely re-open, we ask them to be in communication with diocesan leadership about their plans. The bishops of Minnesota are grateful that we have such excellent leadership in our parishes and we know that as we work together, we can provide for the essential sacramental life of our faithful, fulfill our duty to worship God, and do so in a way that also protects the common good of our state (cf. Matthew 6:25-34).
We remain yours in Christ Jesus the Lord,
Most Rev. Bernard A. Hebda, Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis
Most Rev. Michael J. Hoeppner, Bishop of the Diocese of Crookston
Most Rev. Donald J. Kettler, Bishop of the Diocese of St. Cloud
Most Rev. John M. LeVoir, Bishop of the Diocese of New Ulm
Most Rev. John M. Quinn, Bishop of the Diocese of Winona-Rochester
Most Rev. Andrew H. Cozzens, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis
Very Rev. James Bissonette, Diocesan Administrator of the Diocese of Duluth
From Our Pastor, Fr. Peter Williams:
March 19, 2020 – Solemnity of Saint Joseph
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
These past couple of weeks have been unique and trying for all of us. Accepting and adjusting to the things we cannot change, such an essential part of trusting in God’s sovereignty over and provision for our lives, is very much an ongoing process. It is human to experience this time of uncertainty with different waves of anxiety, disappointment, and frustration. It is important to grieve the temporary but real losses of events and moments we had looked forward to, relating this grief to those who love us, and ultimately to God who loves us unconditionally. This honest acknowledgment will help us to be disposed to the resiliency and creativity of the Holy Spirit to lead us forward in new ways.
More than ever, the reality of the “domestic church” will have to bear the weight of these days. It will be each household living the faith through daily prayer and acts of charity that will keep us in living communion with Jesus. In finding creative ways of reaching out to our neighbors to simply console and encourage, or to offer service as far as that is possible, we will stay together in hope and on the path of redemption. (Please find links below of resources that can help nourish your faith.)
I have been so very grateful for the excellent parish, school, and early childhood center staff we have here at Saint Ambrose, and how they have worked together in a unified way as things have unfolded so rapidly this week. There has been a tone of calm and hopefulness in our discernment of how to take one step at a time, stay together in our visions of serving you in ways that are possible, and to communicate most effectively to the broader Saint Ambrose community of faith. (Please find links below to various communications that have been sent out with respect to our various programs.)
While all parish events and in-person meetings are cancelled until further notice, as of now it is our intention to have the Church open and available as a house of prayer for individual prayer during office hours Monday through Friday (8:30 am – 5:00 pm). I would ask that you kindly respect what is being asked of all of us with respect to the practical aspects of staying home if you feel symptoms of any kind, being extra vigilant with personal hygiene, and social distancing. While all public celebrations of Mass are suspended here at Saint Ambrose per Archbishop Hebda’s announcement yesterday (please see below), we hope to offer the live streaming of the Sunday Mass at 8:30 am so that we are able to stay connected. With Fr. Froehle and my leadership team here at Saint Ambrose, we are thinking through possible ways of staying connected with all of our parishioners in solidarity in these unprecedented times.
Please know of my love and prayers for you. Please pray that God’s mercy might be made manifest in this trial, commending in a special way to the Virgin Mary’s care all who are suffering, all those most vulnerable, and our health care workers.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Fr. Peter Williams
Resources: Ten Tips For Attending A Virtual Mass
- Find an online streaming Mass to “attend” (see the list below for some options), or use the Guide for the Liturgy of the Word with Spiritual Communion (also below)
- Get dressed up like you are going to Mass
- Place a bowl of Holy Water out so people can bless themselves before Mass
- Set up “pews” using chairs (aka, don’t sit on that comfy couch!)
- Print the readings to create your own missal (see below for links to daily readings)
- Celebrate as a family together
- Offer up your Mass for those who frequently can’t attend (sick, homebound, persecuted Christians, etc.)
- Participate by singing, saying responses, standing, and kneeling like you would in person
- Pray a spiritual communion during the Rite of Communion (see below for this prayer)
- Have donuts or another special treat after Mass
Places to Stream Live Mass or Watch a Recorded Mass
Places to Find Readings for Mass
Act of Spiritual Communion
I believe that You
are present in the Most Holy Sacrament.
I love You above all things,
and I desire to receive You into my soul.
Since I cannot at this moment
receive You sacramentally,
come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace You as if You were already there and unite myself wholly to You. Never permit me to be separated from You.
From Our Director of Faith Formation:
We are certainly living in unprecedented times and this can cause us to feel both stress and fear. It seems that every day we are confronted with more information that may cause us to become more apprehensive. Without a doubt, we are living in a difficult time and it is easy to succumb to the darkness of fear. But this is where we have been given an excellent opportunity to grow in holiness. To let God, sit in the driver's seat. To let Him take over. In the coming days and weeks, we would like to encourage you to pray for all those who are affected by this virus and for all those who are caring for the sick, especially our medical professionals, police officers, and EMT's.
Father Peter and I met this morning and we have decided that we will be postponing all Faith Formation classes (preschool; elementary; EDGE; and Confirmation) indefinitely. We ask for your patience as we take this day by day and as we get more information, we will continue to be in contact with all of our parish families. Please watch the Saint Ambrose parish website for updates, opportunities for spiritual growth, and updates as to the steps we are taking as a parish community.
FIRST EUCHARIST: First Eucharist Retreats have been postponed at this time. We are hoping that we will still be able to hold them at a later date; however, we are not able to make any specific plans about holding the retreats at this time.
In regards to the First Eucharist Masses, we will be taking this one day at a time. Please be assured that we will be celebrating First Eucharist here at Saint Ambrose, we just aren't sure whether or not they will still be held on our assigned weekends. We ask for your patience as we proceed through these unprecedented times and please know that we will update you as soon as we have any additional information.
If you haven't completed your child's take-home materials, we ask that you do so. You should also complete their First Eucharist banner so that they are ready for the upcoming Masses.
CONFIRMATION: Both our Year I and Year II Confirmation Retreats that were scheduled for this month have been canceled. We will not be able to make those retreats up but will have some options available for those teens who would like to attend a retreat after the pandemic has receded.
Year II Candidates can be assured that we will be celebrating Confirmation here at Saint Ambrose, we just aren't sure whether or not it will still be held on Saturday, April 18th. If your teen has not turned in their letter requesting the Sacrament of Confirmation to Father Peter, please have them do so via email by the end of this week. We also need them to turn in the Ministry Reflection paper and that can be done via email as well. Please send all paperwork directly to me and I will get it to Father Peter.
JUNIOR AND SENIOR HIGH YOUTH MINISTRY: All middle and high school youth ministry events have been cancelled. This includes:
- Extreme Faith Night on Friday, March 20th
- All Edge Events and Sessions
- All Tuesday night high school ministry; Novus, Zeal, and Encounter
**Please have your son or daughter follow @teen_zeal on Instagram for more updates and encouragement throughout this time when we cannot do ministry in person**
Again, we want to thank you for your patience and prayers during this time. We are truly blessed to be part of this wonderful Catholic community and the knowledge that God loves us unconditionally.
Do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or need any additional information.
God Bless! Please know that you and your families are in our prayers.
Director of Faith Formation
From Our School Principal:
Dear Saint Ambrose
It is a privilege to partner with you in the education and nurturing of your sons and daughters. As a Catholic school community, we are not confined only to the pursuit of academic excellence. We take seriously our responsibility to care for the physical and spiritual needs of every child in our community. This commitment has caused us to consider very carefully how we might best serve our families during this time of state and national emergency related to the coronavirus (COVID-19).
Following the governor’s announcement, our school and Extended Day program will be closed through March 27. Our Early Childhood Education Center will be closed as we await further guidance regarding our youngest Saint Ambrose community members. At this time we are prepared for distance learning for our K-8 students as our state and Archdiocesan leaders make decisions based on the health and safety of our communities.
We know this is difficult news. We are with you, and are committed to serving you.
Please be assured of our continued prayers and pledge of support for each of our children, students and families. We are joined by Archbishop Hebda and Bishop Cozzens and are praying for all of us in this time of uncertainty. Let us continue to pray for each other and all those affected by COVID-19.
Betsy Osterhaus Hand