SALT LAKE CITY — Diocesan clergy are looking for ways to keep the coronavirus pandemic Grinch from stealing the joy of this year’s seasons of Advent and Christmas.
Restrictions on the size of social gatherings have constrained liturgical celebrations since March. Because of concerns for the health and safety of churchgoers, Bishop Oscar A. Solis has extended the dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass until further notice, while encouraging the faithful to participate in spiritual communion by watching Mass on social media or television, or listening on the radio.
Now, as Advent draws near, Bishop Solis and the clergy are addressing the question of how to provide the necessary liturgical celebrations while at the same time considering the health and safety of churchgoers.
The traditional diocesan Advent retreat, which in the past was offered on the same day in English and in Spanish, has been canceled. In a Nov. 6 memo to the clergy and diocesan staff, Bishop Solis suggested that parishes or deaneries plan their own.
Another change for this year is that the Christmas Vigil Masses may be celebrated earlier than 4 p.m.; canon law grants the local Ordinary the right to determine the hours “for the spiritual good of the faithful.” The bishop also has granted pastors the possibility of offering additional Masses for the Christmas vigil and Christmas Day.
Because each parish has unique needs, the celebrations at one may differ from what is offered at another. “There is no one plan that fits all,” the bishop’s memo states, quoting the liturgical preparation aid for the 2020 holiday season sent by the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions.
Clergy in the diocese should focus on the essential, the bishop’s memo states, but added, “It is the pastor’s discretion to plan and offer what they deem good and safe for their respective parish or mission community” while considering the capacity of their parish church.
The memo offers several suggestions for pastors regarding the celebration of Masses during the Advent and Christmas seasons. Among them:
– Plan the celebrations and communicate that plan early to parishioners;
– Livestream the liturgical celebrations on social media so that parishioners who are unable to attend in person may avail themselves of the celebrations remotely;
– Advertise the Mass schedule and times of other celebrations, along with a reminder of the restrictions on the number of people that the parish church can accommodate;
– Remind parishioners of the required health and safety precautions, especially that masks should be worn at all times;
– Open the church during the week for personal prayer and devotions such as Exposition, Benediction and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
“I pray to our loving God that the people of God and all the Church ministers are coping well with the continued challenges, difficulties and uncertainties that the pandemic brings,” the bishop wrote in his memo.
He added, “We must be unceasing in our prayers seeking God’s mercy and compassion to strengthen our faith and give us hope of healing, reconciliation, unity and peace.”