Prayers against pandemic: Catholics take steps to thwart coronavirus
March 18, 2020
The coronavirus outbreak has drastically changed many aspects of life, including the way Catholics worship, minister, work, study and care for each other.
The Archdiocese of Omaha is among many dioceses that have taken the extraordinary step of indefinitely suspending all public Masses and communal celebrations of the sacraments and other liturgies.
The archdiocese announced the move March 16, shortly after Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts called for businesses, organizations and other entities to keep gatherings to 10 people or less. The governor said his decision was based on recommendations by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and includes gatherings for funerals and weddings.
Churches will remain open for private prayer and adoration, and arrangements can be made for individual confessions and the anointing of the sick. Baptisms, weddings and funerals will go on, but with attendance limited to 10, including those officiating.
“These are difficult days,” Archbishop George J. Lucas said. “The Lord is inviting us to put our faith in him and discern what his plan for us is.”
In the preceding days, parishes had already been draining holy water fonts, canceling or postponing fish frys, suspending the sign of peace at Mass and encouraging members to receive holy Communion in the hand.
On March 13, Archbishop Lucas had granted a dispensation from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass to the faithful in the archdiocese.
At a March 16 press conference, the governor and state officials called for the gathering restrictions of 10 people or less – and also for all schools to temporarily close their doors by March 20 and have a plan for remote learning. Most schools, including Catholic ones, had already taken that step.
Their basketball teams had finished tournament play in front of limited audiences, while spring sports and other activities were dropped.
Homes for seniors and religious communities have restricted visitors.
Everywhere, people are scrubbing hands and sanitizing surfaces to avoid the risk of spreading the virus.
And through it all, they’ve been praying.
“Jesus is not absent,” Archbishop Lucas said. “He has not turned his back on us.”
“He’s called us, he’s given his life for us, and he’s here with us,” the archbishop said.
The family, the domestic church, will be increasingly important to staying connected to God, he said. Electronic communications have been a blessing, and will continue to be, he said. The archdiocese will be making more resources available for Catholics in the absence of public Masses.
Several parishes have developed “calling trees” to make sure that the elderly and vulnerable who are alone are checked on regularly. If anyone feels alone or anxious, they can “invite Jesus to accompany them through the day’s challenges,” Archbishop Lucas said.
Individuals and organizations continue to revise measures to protect people, based on recommendations from public health officials.
Based on a recommendation from the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services to limit the size of public gatherings to fewer than 250 people, Archbishop Lucas had granted the Sunday Mass dispensation March 13. Within three days, he called for the suspension of public Masses and liturgies.
Priests are still offering the Mass privately, “and this is still a source of grace for the church,” said Father Scott Hastings, vicar for clergy and judicial vicar.
For many, not being able to go to Mass and receive holy Communion has been difficult.
“The strong desire to receive the Blessed Sacrament is a beautiful thing,” Father Hastings said. “However, this suspension will not be forever.”
He is encouraging people to make “spiritual Communions,” the Christian practice of desiring to receive Jesus in the Eucharist, uniting oneself with him, when holy Communion cannot be received physically.
Archbishop Lucas has urged prayer, particularly to St. Joseph, to combat the outbreak. (See sidebar below.)
People have been urged to stay home, especially those who are sick, elderly or have underlying health conditions that make them vulnerable to the illness.
Catholics are encouraged to watch Masses on EWTN or local television stations or listen to the Mass on Catholic radio. In the Omaha area, a Mass for Shut-Ins is aired every Sunday at 10:30 a.m. on WOWT – Channel 6.
The archdiocese also has encouraged parishes to livestream its Masses.
STAYING UP TO DATE
Father James Keiter, pastor of All Saints and Holy Family parishes in Cedar County and St. Rose of Lima Parish in Crofton, said his parishioners have been kept up to date on restrictions through emails, parish bulletins and prayer lines, parish and school websites, Facebook and cable television.
“We’re using any medium possible to give people information as soon as possible,” he said.
Reactions to the measures were initially mixed, he said, but most understand the legitimate health concerns.
Students, including those at Cedar Catholic Junior/Senior High School in Hartington, use a Google Classroom service that can be used from home. Teachers can post homework, videos and recorded lectures with the service.
Colleges across the country, including Creighton University in Omaha, have decided to keep students away from campuses and to teach online, at least for a few weeks.
Religious communities, including the Missionary Benedictine Sisters – Norfolk Priory, have restricted visitors because of the outbreak.
So have homes for seniors, including New Cassel Retirement Center in Omaha. Only essential staff and medical personnel have been allowed in, said Traci Lichti, president and chief executive officer.
Loved ones are encouraged to make phone calls to residents or communicate through mail, email, Facebook, Skype or other means.
Community dining and activities, including attendance at Mass, have been stopped. Meals are being delivered to apartments, and residents can remotely participate in televised activities, including Masses, the rosary and exercise classes, Lichti said.
New Cassel staff members have been creative in making life fun despite the restrictions, she said. A rolling happy hour cart brought popcorn and green beer to apartments on St. Patrick’s Day.
The residents have been understanding, the administrator said. They have lived through wars and other uncertainties, she points out.
Family members should not feel guilty about not being able to visit, said Deacon David Probst, director of pastoral care at New Cassel. Instead, they should take advantage of the break to take care of themselves and be replenished, he said.
The coronavirus outbreak has been challenging, Deacon Probst said. And now is the time for prayer.
“I think the key is prayer,” he said, “asking God for researchers to come up with ways to treat it.”
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Per Archbishop George J. Lucas, see the following link for the prayer to invoke the intercession of St. Joseph.