Hope in the Lord — A pastoral heart in returning from COVID-19

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz

Back in February at the Priests’ Council meeting, I invited a conversation about fruitful ways that we as a church can return to full participation in the Holy Eucharist after the vaccinations become more plentiful and the COVID restrictions are removed.

I was not sure what directions the priests would recommend. Would our return to full participation begin by inviting people to bring someone back to church with them? Would there be some public archdiocesan event to which we invite people? What would be the best first step?

To my pleasant surprise, the priests moved as one with a pastoral heart overflowing with Christ’s love. They responded that we should attend to those who have died as victims of COVID-19 and to the loved ones they left behind.

I recently read that a national poll from the Associated Press indicated that approximately one in five people in the United States has lost someone in the pandemic. One person from Florida was quoted in USA Today as saying: “We didn’t have a chance to grieve. It’s almost like it happened yesterday for us. It’s still fresh.”

Among the deepest and most sacred sentiments in the human person is the need to bury the dead with dignity and to mourn their loss with loved ones around them. When I visit the graves of my parents, brother and sister, my heart is filled with deep emotion. It is not just a gift of faith. These instincts are in the deep recesses of our DNA. We need to attend to those who have died, and we need to support others in this noble and necessary task.

Traditionally the beginning of November, with Nov. 1 as All Saints Day and Nov. 2 as All Souls Day, is an occasion to remember the communion of saints and those who have gone before us and to pray for those who have died. The book of Maccabees calls it a noble task: “It is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins.” (2 Maccabees 12:45)

Like most creative pastoral responses, we will likely embark on a combination of efforts on both the parish and archdiocesan levels. One potential archdiocesan event is the annual All Souls Day Mass at Calvary Cemetery on Nov. 2.

For now, the restrictions on public gatherings remain for health reasons. However, it is good and healthy for us to begin to reflect on and plan for the return to active participation in the Holy Eucharist and to full in-person participation. While restrictions remained in place for this year’s Holy Week, surely the months ahead will bring some relaxing of these public health measures.

As we anticipate our future full return, I appreciated the good advice from the members of our Priests’ Council to begin by acknowledging in prayer those who have died as victims of COVID-19 and unite ourselves with those who mourn.

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