May 18, 2020 Column Father De Celles

Public Mass Cancelled Again. On Friday, May 8, I emailed you about how elated I was to hear that effective May 15 Governor Northam would be implementing “Phase 1” of his plan to “re-open” Virginia, which would “allow” us to have public Mass again, and that the Bishop was readying safety and attendance guidelines. But of course this last Tuesday the Governor reversed himself for Northern Virginia, postponing our “re-opening” until at least May 29, and the Bishop followed suit on Wednesday. So it looks like it will be another 2 weeks before we have public Mass again.

As many of you, I am personally torn between safety, liberty, and spiritual
concerns. Daily I receive not only the media reports, but dozens of emails passionately advocating for all the different “sides” of the issues involved. I genuinely understand and respect my parishioner’s individual opinions on this. And I am also aware that fear drives a lot of this, again on both “sides”—fear of death and fear of tyranny, etc.,.

I guess the thing that sort of tips the scales for me is the fact that religious liberty and freedom of assembly have been almost ignored by our governments, and I believe this is a grave problem from both a constitutional perspective and a moral perspective. Think of this: Home Depot, and ABC Stores, and Pet stores are open for business with no
“maximum capacity” limits, but churches can’t have more than 10 persons gather; and the 10 person rule applies to meetings in rooms built for 30 people as well as rooms built for 850 people. In all this I don’t see either science or public safety being followed, but something else altogether. I tend to think it is simply a bureaucratic “one size fits all” attitude being applied, but that is not reasonable or just. As Fairfax County Chairman
McKay himself wrote in arguing against Phase 1, “a one-size-fits-all approach in the Commonwealth simply doesn’t work.” I agree, in the sense a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work when applying restrictions to 30 seat classrooms and 850 seat churches: if there’s a 10 person limit in a 30 seat classroom, then it would make sense to have something like a 283 person limit in a 850 seat church. You can disagree with me, and I understand. But emotions are running high on all sides. People say, “listen to the experts,” but different experts say different things. So, let’s all remember we are brothers and sisters in Christ, and be patient and respectful and kind even in our disagreements. Recognize that there is tinge of fear of the unknown affecting most of us. I’m afraid of people dying from the spread of the virus, but I’m also afraid of losing the liberties we have to freely practice our faith, to assemble and to speak out. I’m also afraid of growing numbers of people not having enough to eat, or a place to
live as the economy continues to fall into an abyss. So, “let not your heart be troubled.” Have faith in Jesus. And show the love of Jesus by being calm and respectful to those you disagree with.

“Re-Opening” Plans. As we initially prepared to re-open this current weekend (today) the parish staff and I came to the conclusion that in applying the 50% of capacity and 6’social distancing rules of the Governor, we could fit a maximum of a few over 200 people in the church. To apply this limit folks would have to sign up online (using SignUpGenius), on a first come first serve basis for the 200 seats.

I was a little concerned if this would provide enough opportunities for those who wanted to attend Mass. So I sent out a survey to you. I want to thank all of you who responded to that survey: an amazing 663 household responded. From those responses I was able to determine that 39%, or a total of almost 1,100 people planned to attend Mass today. That would have been just about perfect in that with 6 Masses with a maximum of about 200 people, total maximum attendance would be 1,200. Moreover, we would follow these rules: no one will have to go to any Mass (the Sunday Obligation will remain suspended), and we would encourage you not to come to Mass if you are over 60 or in any other at risk groups, or even if you are just worried about getting sick or spreading the virus. Also, if you’re sick or coughing or sneezing, we would tell you not to come to Mass yet. But if you are healthy and not overly concerned, we would allow you to freely choose to come to Mass. Everyone who chooses to attend would be required to bring and wear a mask during the whole Mass, and to respect “social distancing” (except within families). We would also be cleaning the pews etc. between every Mass. To make time for safe-exiting and entering, and for sanitizing, Mass times would have to be different than usual: 5pm
Vigil, 7am, 9am, 11am, 1pm and 5pm. But now those plans are all on hold—but they are ready in place for when we do get the go ahead, hopefully in 2 weeks.

Do You Need Help? We talk about “re-opening”, but that’s just in regard to public Mass and meetings. I hope you know that the office is open for its regular office hours, and the priests are still available to help. We have some restrictions, but not many. So if you need any help at all during this crisis, financial or spiritual, please don’t hesitate to call or email.

Also, be aware that Catholic Charities is available to assist. I received this note from them this week about emotional stress:
“With the increase financial and emotion stressors brought about by the COVID19 pandemic, Catholic Charities continues to offer high quality, professional mental health services at an affordable cost. Our sliding scale session rates are based on current household income and number of dependents. Additional assistance is available in some cases for clients who are facing financial hardship due to COVID-19. In order to continue to provide mental health support for the people of the Diocese during these
difficult times, Catholic Charities has transitioned all counseling services to teletherapy.
Our professional counseling services are provided via videoconference on a secure, HIPAA compliant web-based platform. This will allow us to serve not just our preexisting but also new clients across the Diocese who were not previously able to travel to one of our 22 locations.
Additionally, the added flexibility of clinicians being able to serve clients across the Diocese has decreased waiting times for sessions, and we are able to provide services to new clients more quickly than in previous times. We have openings and can serve anyone in any part of the Diocese.
We offer counseling in English and Spanish to adults, teenagers, children,
couples, and families. Our services are grounded in a Catholic anthropology.
For persons interested in seeking help, they are welcome to call our intake
coordinators to initiate service. For English and Spanish speakers: call 703-447-9402.”

Oremus pro invicem.

Fr. De Celles