By Rev. Michael L. Lewis
Rio Grande Catholic Correspondent
A worldwide pandemic unprecedented in modern history has prompted a response from the Diocese of El Paso also unprecedented in its history. The virulent spread of the novel coronavirus that causes the COVID-19 disease has shut down much of El Paso and indeed, much of the world. And Catholic churches in the Borderland were not spared.
In accord with public health orders issued in the El Paso area, Bishop Mark Seitz made the painful but necessary decision on March 18 to suspend the public celebration of Mass within the Diocese of El Paso. Joining nearly every other diocese in the United States, the suspension allowed only a handful of people to be present at any Mass to help prevent the spread of the virus, Bishop Seitz said in a pastoral letter released March 18.
“The Church has to respond resolutely and in a way that sets an example for others,” the Bish- op said. “The law of love is that which guides everything we do.” And showing love for neighbor means doing what we can to stop the virus from spreading, he said.
Since the faithful are not able to attend Mass, Bishop Seitz dis- pensed all in the diocese from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass until public Masses resume. But priests across the diocese have not stopped celebrating Mass, and have found new technologi- cal means to transmit liturgies to the faithful.
Many churches have begun live-streaming Masses on Face- book or YouTube. Though the people are not able to receive sacramental Communion, they can nonetheless make a spiritual Communion with Christ as they participate in the Mass from home, said Father Marcus McFa- din, pastor of St. Luke’s Parish on the Westside of El Paso and acting director of the diocesan office of worship.
“To celebrate Mass with a full assembly would make it very easy for the deadly virus to spread in the very churches where life-giving sacraments are celebrated. But we don’t have to — and shouldn’t stop celebrating our faith,” McFadin said. “People can tune into a live- streamed Mass, or even view a pre-recorded one, and participate from home in the same way they would if they were in the pews at the church. They should make the same responses, listen attentively to the readings from Scripture, and join their prayers with the priest’s as he cele- brates the central sacrament of our faith.”
Though they cannot celebrate Sunday Mass in person, parishioners should not neglect to continue to support their parishes prayerfully, spiritually, as well as financially, Bishop Seitz said.
“This is a difficult time for many people, who have not been able to work, who have had their hours cut, or who have encountered other finan- cial strains as the worldwide economy has come to a virtual standstill. But I trust that, in the midst of the financial challeng- es we are all facing, we all will come together to make sure that our parishes have the assistance they need to pay the bills and continue their service even without a weekly collection at Mass.”
Parishioners are encouraged to make use of online giving options, whether through their parish’s website or the MyParish app. For parishes that do not have online giving, the Founda- tion for the Diocese of El Paso has created a special webpage to direct donations directly to parishes; a link can be found on the diocese’s homepage, www. elpasodiocese.org. Of course, donations can always be sent to parishes the old-fashioned way — through the mail.
Bishop Seitz recalled the memory of the Cristero War in the early 20th century, when the faithful of the region were similarly challenged.
“When the Mass was not allowed to be celebrated in Mexico during the Cristero War, many rededicated themselves to God, drew closer to the Mother of God, and grew day by day in their longing for that day when they would be able to gather once again as the Body of Christ and celebrate his Sacri- fice for us in the Eucharist,” he wrote in his pastoral letter.
“It is my hope that we will be proven to be worthy descen- dants of these great predecessors. As such we should be even more committed during this time to care for our broth- ers and sisters in need, even at the cost of great sacrifice. May we remain close to one another in prayer and in mutual love and caring. Then the Lord will be close to us and give us all that we need to come out on the other side of this present crisis as an even stronger and more zealous Church.”