I ran across an article this week that really hit me, and I’d like to share some things I gathered from it. It was on a site called “www.realclearscience.com” that’s devoted to what’s going on in the world of science. They had devoted a number of articles to COVID-19, and one of them was on the Catholic Church. This science magazine was praising the Catholic Church for it’s swift and organized stance to address the pandemic. When I saw that, I had to stop and take a second look. This wasn’t a Catholic group, this was a secular science group saying how well we had responded. They estimated that with more than 17,000 parishes in the United States, each typically holding 3 or more masses a weekend, that without counting daily mass, there have been nearly a million masses celebrated with congregations in the United States since public Mass started up again in June. Of those cases, in parishes that followed the Church’s guidelines for distance, masking, and hand-sanitizing, and only had brief mask-less contact for communion or anointing, out of nearly a million masses there have been zero cases traced to those parishes.
In Seattle, one of the hotspots, here are some of the scenarios they listed:
· During a July 3rd funeral mass (45 attendees, capacity 885), two members of one household notified the parish that they had tested positive for COVID-19 and were infected and pre-symptomatic during the mass.
· A volunteer at a July 5th mass (94 attendees, capacity 499) became ill 24 hours later and then tested positive for COVID-19.
· During a July 11th wedding (200 attendees, capacity 908), fresh air circulated from multiple open windows with the aid of fans. The following day, an attendee developed symptoms of COVID and on July 13th tested positive. The attendee was almost certainly contagious with pre-symptomatic infection during the wedding.
· On July 12th, an attendee at a parish board meeting (six attendees, room capacity 30), tested positive shortly thereafter and was determined to have been infected and contagious during the meeting.
· Finally, three priests anointed sick individuals in non-ventilated rooms during five- to fifteen-minute visits. The sick persons were not thought to have COVID-19 at the time but within two days each tested positive for COVID-19.
In every one of those cases, everyone followed the guidelines, and there was no spread. The same hasn’t been true of other faith groups or of Catholic Churches that haven’t been using the masks. When I look at all of that, and I hear the stories of all the issues at the various colleges around the country that started back to school this week, it really makes me think. It means something that science groups are listening to the Church, that when we listen to science in times like these, we are not only protecting ourselves and each other, but we’ve got their attention, when we as Catholics need to stand on moral issues that don’t always line up with popular opinion.
As we keep walking through this, I keep thinking. The more I reflect, the more I come to the same answer when I reflect on all this stuff in our world. The Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith. We come to mass to do what we can’t do anywhere else, receive the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ. If we realize what that really means, it changes everything. It’s something that we’re ready to really sacrifice for. If we really know who is present at the mass, who it is that we receive, it changes everything. That’s why I’ve been pushing for Eucharistic Ministers to bring Jesus to those who can’t go out. That’s why it’s so important to encourage those who have been away from the Church to come back. That’s why it’s worth every bit of our time doing whatever we can as individuals and as a parish to help anyone who’s been estranged from the Church and the Eucharist to find healing and work to help heal those wounds wherever we can. Whatever it takes to help people receive Jesus Christ. It’s worth the sacrifice!
As far as our parish, just a couple of quick updates:
We had our first meeting of the Deanery Pastoral Council, a group of clergy and laypeople representing the different parishes in our region looking to find better ways our parishes can collaborate to build up the faith and meet the needs of our various communities.
If you know of anyone who has school aged children who has not yet registered for this fall’s religious education, please fill out the form we’ve included in this week’s bulletin. Please use one form per child. There will be both an option for in-person religious education as we have in the past, as well as an at-home family based program that I’m very excited about. We’ll be trying to explain those options in a parent meeting soon, but we need all the forms so we can contact the parents and make that meeting happen.
If you see some big trucks around the church in the next week or two, they’re repairing one of our three heat pumps. They will be replacing the heat pump on the tabernacle side. I want to thank everyone who has been contributing to our monthly collection, a/k/a the maintenance fund. You’ve all been caring for our parish and thankfully, we’re able to treat these repairs as what they should be, routine maintenance that comes up every few years, rather than just in a crisis situation. That’s a wonderful thing. Thank you!
I can also announce now that I have some news. As you know I’ve been serving for the last 4 years as the Chaplain at the State Correctional Institute at Huntingdon. I’ve just received word from our Bishop that I’m being transferred. Don’t worry, I’m still staying at Prince of Peace, but I will be leaving St. Dismas Parish behind the walls of SCI-Huntingdon, and beginning at St. Peter in Chains Parish, behind the walls of SCI–Somerset. My day at the prison will remain on Mondays, so it shouldn’t really affect anything here at the parish. Still though, please keep the men at both St. Dismas Parish and St. Peter in Chains Parish in your prayers during this transition.
God Bless you, Now and Always
Father Matthew Baum is the Parish Administrator at Prince of Peace Church in Northern Cambria, PA.