On this first anniversary of the World Health Organization’s March 11, 2020, declaration of COVID-19 as a world-wide pandemic, we continue to confront the challenges it has imposed. I ask the clergy, religious and faithful of the Diocese of Trenton to pray for all those who have died from COVID-19 this past year and their families and loved ones; to pray for all those who still suffer from the pandemic and those caring for them; to pray for all health care professionals, support staff and first responders who have been and continue to be truly heroic throughout this difficult time; to pray for all those who are working to prevent COVID-19 from spreading further. May God help us all remain healthy and safe.
Here we are at the midpoint of our Lenten journey with the finish line now in sight. How has it been going? Living our Catholic faith takes practice all the time, even more so with the challenges imposed upon us by the COVID-19 pandemic. But when we trip or fall, the true believer picks himself/herself up, dusts himself/herself off and carries on where he/she left off.
Our experience of the pandemic this past and current year has introduced a new phrase into our everyday vocabulary: “social distancing.” As it is commonly understood, social distancing is the practice of increasing the physical space between individuals and decreasing the frequency of physical contact to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19. Social distancing is being promoted, advocated and even required at virtually every place people are accustomed to gathering together, including churches.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that influenza in the United States was associated with over 35.5 million confirmed illnesses and more than 34,200 deaths during the 2018–2019 influenza season. Data for the 2019-2020 influenza season have not yet been finalized; estimates for confirmed illnesses, however, are between 39 and 56 million; estimates for deaths are between 24,000 and 62,000.
With the Christmas Season behind us, Catholics enter into a period referred to as “Ordinary Time” in the Church’s liturgy. In our vernacular usage, the word "ordinary" describes what is commonplace, "everyday" or without uniqueness or special distinction.
The Vatican announced on Monday, January 11, 2021, that the Holy Father Pope Francis has made a revision to Canon Law that will allow baptized Catholic women and men to be installed in a stable manner in the Church’s official ministries of lector and acolyte. The key concept here is contained in the words “installed in a stable manner.” Reflecting that official innovation, this change confirms what has actually been the practice for some time now, namely that qualified, baptized women and men could proclaim the Scripture reading (except the Gospel) at Mass and other liturgical services as well as distribute Holy Communion at Mass or to the sick with the approval of their pastors. This revision was announced motu proprio (on his own initiative) by Pope Francis in a letter “Spiritus Domini” (the Spirit of the Lord).
The “Christmas Season” in the Catholic Church lasts from Christmas Eve until the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord and includes Christmas; the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph (December 27, 2020); the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God (January 1, 2021); the Solemnity of the Epiphany (January 3, 2021); and, finally, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord (January 10, 2021).
The word “advent” comes from the Latin term adventus, literally meaning “coming to.” The four weeks of the season of Advent before Christmas create a unique season of hope-filled preparation for all of us in the Catholic Christian community – although it can easily be missed by society at large as simply an extended, early celebration of Christmas. True enough, Christ has come, and we should rejoice in his Incarnation every day of our lives. But Advent gives us all time for a prayerful “retelling” of the story of the “Hope of Israel.” We prepare ourselves for the commemoration of Christ’s coming in history in Bethlehem, his coming in mystery each day in the Church and the Sacraments, and his coming in majesty at the end of time.
His Holiness Pope Francis has used the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary to declare the year ahead, beginning Dec. 8, the “Year of St. Joseph,” her blessed spouse and the foster-father of the Lord Jesus.
We have heard St. Luke’s narrative of the Annunciation so often in the Church’s celebrations of Mary, the Mother of God. That word is proclaimed once more at Mass on this year’s feast of the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception
A century before Christ was born, the Roman statesman and orator Cicero (106-43 BC) wrote, “There is nothing that I can esteem more highly than appearing or being grateful. For this one virtue is not only the greatest but is also the parent of all virtues.”
The proposed New Jersey “Reproductive Freedom Act” (S3030 / A4848) is another legislative attempt to advance and expand the state’s “abortion agenda” in service to the widespread “culture of death” by eliminating the few remaining state regulations intended to protect the life and health of pregnant mothers.
“We remember those who were called upon to give all a person can give, and we remember those who were prepared to make that sacrifice if it were demanded of them in the line of duty, though it never was. Most of all, we remember the devotion and gallantry with which all of them ennobled their nation as they became champions of a noble cause (Ronald Reagan, 40th President of the United States).”
Whatever our politics may be, whatever side we may have taken, whatever vote we may have cast, we are all called anew to pray for our country and its leaders, that Almighty God may continue to bless the United States of America and its people with his grace, wisdom, guidance and protection as He has throughout our history.
There are virtues and then there are virtues. Here's one you don't see a lot of today: civility. In a world in which instant information, instant messages, instant solutions and instant gratification are not only expected but presumed – and, indeed, required – precious little room and time are left for the virtue of civility.
Beginning with the Feast of All Saints (November 1) and the Commemoration of All Souls ((November 2), the entire month of November has long been dedicated to the faithful departed, “those who have gone before us with the sign of faith and rest in the sleep of peace (Eucharistic Prayer 1).” The “sign of faith” is that “indelible mark” that the Catholic Church teaches comes with Baptism. St. Teresa of Calcutta once reflected “during this whole month we give them extra love and care by praying to them and for them.”
The COVID pandemic will not take away Christmas 2020! It will, however, change the way we celebrate it, especially in our churches and parishes, if current circumstances continue as they are or worsen. Because COVID is a highly contagious airborne virus, the prospect of large (or larger than usual) crowds gathering indoors this winter for long periods of time without ample ventilation and proper social distancing, as well as the necessity to sanitize churches between Masses, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day Mass schedules will be affected, especially in parishes where there is only a single pastor or priest assigned. The COVID pandemic’s maximum one-third occupancy restrictions in churches coupled with the need for social distancing will limit the space available for parishioners to attend Christmas Mass as usual. Church schedules will also have to accommodate required cleaning.