Mary Pope-Handy 408 204-7673 mary@popehandy.com

Including the invisible

Including the invisible - please remember that some of the faithful are watching Mass online from homeOur liturgies do a beautiful job of including the invisible whenever we pray for the intercession of the saints and angels, or for our dead, for those hospitalized or sick or homebound, those in prisons, and those who are unable to be physically present at Mass. The communion of saints is a big tent of inclusion. (And it’s one of my favorite things about being Catholic!)

COVID-19 and lower Mass attendance

COVID-19 is no longer a pandemic, but it isn’t gone – it is endemic, meaning we won’t be able to fully obliterate SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. We are four years in and all of us are sick of it. Many are ignoring it – they are burned out on this topic. But it’s not gone, as much as we wish it were.

A couple of weeks ago I knew four people home sick with that coronavirus, and before that one in the hospital with it (the latter was unvaccinated, the rest all had at least some vaccination protection). And I know many who have long COVID in one form or another.

Important to know is that somewhere around 30-40% of Covid cases are asymptomatic, which is great for the person who has no symptoms, but not so great for those who will get the full blown experience of the virus from them.

As of this writing in February 2024, COVID wastewater levels are high. The peak of the current wave (2nd highest since Covid started) was two or three weeks ago, but it will take a while for the amount of virus circulating to get to Medium. There is a wonderful weekly Covid newsletter put out by a Bay Area doctor, Ruth Ann Crystal, MD. In the 2-10-2024 newsletter, she writes:

Reviewing commercial insurance data in the EPOCH-US study, immunocompromised people make up just under 3% of the population. But, because they are at high risk of severe COVID infections and prolonged hospitalizations, immunocompromised people account for 30% of total hospitalization costs for COVID-19. For many reasons, it is important to protect immunocompromised people against severe outcomes from acute COVID infection.

Three percent is a small amount of people unless you are one of them, or have a family member or close friend in that category and need to be extra careful to not expose that person to unnecessary risks. The immunocompromised population (or at least some of them) are part of the reason why pews have not refilled. People with other risk factors, such as old age, diabetes, lung disease, obesity, or other issues may similarly be staying home for their own safety. Not all, of course.

This may be a permanent change, or it may vary with how prevalent the virus is at any given time. Each person may approach the risk of sickness, long COVID, financial concerns from missing work or of medical bills, or other factors, differently. These are personal decisions and there’s no one-size-fits-all story.

Being absent from the church building and community worship doesn’t mean they have all abandoned either their faith or the church. Including the invisible who are struggling with health challenges such as being immunocompromised is a worthwhile effort for us as people of faith.

A personal connection to this topic

In this blog I don’t really like talking about myself much, but on this subject of including the invisible I think I ought to share that I’m one of those 3% who are immunocompromised (and have a few other risk factors as well). In mid 2023 the infection levels seemed low, so I was overjoyed to return to Mass in person. But when COVID levels skyrocketed just after Advent began, we retreated back to Masses online.

For those unfamiliar with the term, being immunocompromised means that the person with that condition gets sick easier than most people and may take much longer to recover, or have a poorer outcome due to infections. If you listen to the TV ads for Rheumatoid Arthritis or Psoriatic Arthritis meds, you’ll hear a quick warning that taking those prescriptions may make individuals more prone to infection, certain cancers, and death.

Including the invisible is personal to me. If you know anyone in this boat, it may be to you, too.

Huge thanks to the parishes that livestream and record Mass

Early in 2020, all of us quickly learned how to utilize online meetings, and just as quickly, parishes and other churches (such as university chapels) figured out how to live stream Mass. This was and continues to be a great boon to those who cannot (or should not) gather indoors with crowds. Being able to stream from anywhere in the world can be marvelous, but it’s also a help to be able to view Mass at one’s own community or parish.

Some parishes even include the words of the songs and prayers on the screen, which is very helpful and inclusive.

Many thanks to all of you who do this ministry and support it.

Including the invisible at Mass with a few words

There are various times when it may be possible to mention those not physically present but watching online (live or recorded). This can happen in welcome comments at or before the beginning of Mass, or at the final blessing, or in the prayers of the faithful. For me, it’s a small gesture that makes me feel remembered and included. Many thanks to all who wrap that into the liturgy – it is appreciated.  Words matter.
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Mass attendance

Catholic symbols - Sunday Mass attendance, refilling the pewsBefore Covid, Sunday Mass attendance within Santa Clara County was about 100,000 people of 600,000 registered Catholics. That’s approximately 17%.

That always struck me as surprisingly low.

The onset of the pandemic in 2020 forced everyone home. While the coronavirus is still raging as we close out 2022, it’s not as acute of a crisis for most, thanks to Omicron being less damaging than Delta and the availability of both vaccines and post infection treatments.

Even so, people are continuing to get infected, hospitalized, and dying. The newest variants are immune-evasive. Many people refused to get boosted. China just changed its approach to the pandemic, cases are skyrocketing and new variants are likely coming.

It’s not over. We just wish that it were.

Mass attendance dispensation and the lifting of it

Our local bishop in the Diocese of San Jose thoughtfully provided a dispensation from the Sunday Mass attendance obligation during the worst days of Covid, but removed it once things improved earlier this year. For those of us who are immunocompromised (and that includes me), we are not obligated to go.

To me, that’s common sense. It’s known that immunocompromised people get sick easier and stay sick longer and have more risks associated. Those living with them must also be extra careful to avoid bringing the virus home.

I can tell you first hand that it’s no fun to say no to indoor family get togethers, let alone Mass in person. I miss both of them. It’s isolating, and it’s made worse by comments of well wishers who think that avoiding these things is going too far.

What about everyone else?

Many or perhaps most Roman Catholics in the Diocese of San Jose and elsewhere have not been returning to the weekly liturgies despite the overall improvement and the dispensation being lifted. Why is that? Does Mass attendance not matter anymore?

First, we must remember that our prior Mass attendance level was just 17%. Any discussion of the problem needs to acknowledge that Covid did not empty the pews. They were largely empty before Covid ever hit.

Of course, now it’s worse.

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Live stream Mass

UPDATE:

Many parishes provide livestreamed Masses now. Please visit the diocesan website and check your parish and others for available virtual viewings. You can find all of the Santa Clara County Masses here: https://www.dsj.org/mass-prayer-services/

 

Original post from March 2020:

Live stream Mass - Holy Spirit Catholic Church in San Jose CAHoly Spirit parish in the Diocese of San Jose provides a livestream Mass for anyone desiring to view or participate remotely. While this has been available for a long time, I thought it would be good to help spread the word so that those impacted by the flu or Covid-19 might benefit.

New public health guidelines

Earlier this week, the Santa Clara County Public Health Department issued new guidelines to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus (and influenza). It reminds the public that most people who contract the new coronavirus will have mild cases, but for some it won’t go so well.  From the county:

Who is at higher risk?
Information about risk factors for COVID-19 infection is evolving, but the best evidence currently available makes clear that risk of severe illness begins to increase at age 50 for those who contract COVID-19, and increases with age (i.e., an 80-year-old person is at greater risk than a 70-year-old person). The highest risk group are persons age 80 and over.

Persons with underlying medical problems also are likely at higher risk for severe disease, including persons with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, or chronic lung diseases like COPD, as well as those who are immunocompromised.

For those who are at higher risk (age 50+ or / and with a number of health issues), the advice from the health department is to avoid “avoid mass gatherings such as parades, sporting events, and concerts where large numbers of people are within arm’s length of one another.”

That last section – being within arm’s length of one another – seems to be most of our Sunday Masses, at least where my family and I participate.

One of my relatives raised a very good point: if the person who’s at high risk stays in isolation, but other family members are out in public and returning home, it’s possible that the healthy family members could bring the virus home (it is very contagious), and they might never know they were carriers if they had few or no symptoms.

For all of these cases, a live stream Mass might be very helpful, both in helping to prevent the spread of the disease, but also, of course, for spiritually nourishing those who need to either be home or simply stay out of crowds.

I commend Holy Spirit Parish for providing this live stream Mass service, and I would encourage other parishes in other dioceses to follow suit.

There is another site offering Mass view-able on TV, CatholicTV.org.

Finally, I know that many senior or at-risk Catholics will feel uncomfortable missing Mass when they feel fine. I’m not in a position to offer dispensations myself, but I do know that the church does not want us going to Mass when we are sick or contagious, so it seems a small extension that the church would likewise ask us to assess the situation, create an informed conscience, and then decide.

I am hoping that the bishops around the world will make statements so that the faithful do not feel torn between their desire to attend Mass and the obligation to do so on Sundays as opposed to what the health departments are advising for everyone’s safety.

In the meantime, if you are ill or unable to attend Mass in person, I do suggest you check out the live stream Mass from Holy Spirit. Let’s pray that this very contagious coronavirus does not continue to spread and claim lives.

Holy Spirit Parish website

HOLY SPIRIT PARISH MASS TIMES

Monday – Friday: 8:30am
Saturday: 5:00pm
Sunday: 8:00am, 9:30am, 11:30am, 6:00pm
Holy Day: 8:30am, 7:00pm

Nourished by the Church

Are you feeling nourished by the Church? There are some wonderful parishes and priests out there. Right now, one of the silver linings to Covid is that we can live stream Mass from anywhere in the world. If your own immediate parish situation is not good for you, I would like to suggest changing parishes or getting nourished by the Church online if nothing else immediate can do the trick.

 

Catholic means universal not uniform

 

If you’ve been reading this blog, you may have noticed that one of the central concerns I have is in the area of alienation and belonging with the Church (two sides of the same coin). In other words, what helps people to stay Catholic when the going gets rough? And what motivates people to leave when they just cannot take it anymore?

To me, these are core questions. How can we help to stem the alienation and increase the welcoming and belonging which are central to having a Christian community?

We want to be nourished by the Church and to also be nourishing to others in that setting or community. But not every parish will be a good fit for each of us. (I can hear someone screaming “cafeteria Catholic!”, but please bear with me and keep reading.)

Ecumenism is important. Jesus didn’t want us as Christians to splinter into a million denominations. Just as important, though, is not alienating believers by the harm that we do as individuals, people, or Church leaders. If we cannot change the parish (or perhaps the priest) to stop doing harm, the best thing may be to move on. But hopefully not out of the Catholic Church!

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Staying awake during homiles

Homilist - how to help with Staying awake during homilesOn January 21st, the Valley Catholic ran an article here in the Diocese of San Jose on the laity staying awake during  homilies. I can understand the need for this, and have seen people doze off during the sermon, too. There were some good points, but it didn’t go far enough, as it didn’t touch on what the priest ought to do to hold the congregation’s attention. This is, of course, a two-way street.

What preachers can do to  help the community with staying away during homilies

  • There can be too much of a good thing, so please keep your homilies short. Even the most ardent listener is contending with multiple distractions in Mass – people fidgeting, kids making noises, whatever it might be. Wisely, Pope Francis came out two years ago and said to limit preaching to 10 minutes. ( https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/pope-tells-priests-to-keep-homilies-brief-no-more-than-10-minutes-10753 )
  • Please make sure that you can be heard and understood and that your speaking style is not a problem. Some of this is tech support with microphones. Some of it is intonation (don’t monotone!) and projection. Sometimes, though, there’s a problem with accents. This latter issue is absolutely a pastoral one and it can be addressed with some time and effort, but is worth it so that your thoughtful message can be grasped. When the People of God cannot understand you, or cannot hear you, their minds will drift.
  • The congregants appreciate absorbing more than what they just heard in the readings, so please don’t re-read the gospel, etc., unless it is just a tiny snippet of your homily. What is helpful is hearing what we don’t know about the context of the reading, and some way to apply it to our daily lives.

Beyond that, it’s a matter of common sense: don’t overdo the jokes, don’t use puppets or props, and please no gimmicks (e.g., do not sing your homily, repeat the same phrase multiple times in a short period, flap your arms wildly). While theatrics may keep people from falling asleep, it won’t nourish them the way a well prepared, well delivered, and concise homily will do.

And finally, thank you too all of the homilists who prepare and preach thoughtfully and prayerfully week in and week out. Once in awhile, a person or two may fall asleep no matter how good your homily is. Chalk it up to infirmity, lack of sleep, or other issues having nothing to do with you or your preaching. You do your best to preach well and concisely, and the vast majority of the people in the pews will be listening to every word.

The new translation of the Mass: kudos for a good transition underway

Lex orandi, lex credendiWe Catholics tend to feel passionately about the way we pray for many reasons, including the meaning the words convey, the love of the familiar, the rote prayers, and the ability to meditate on the memorized when we pray. (We also acknowledge the truth in the saying that the way we pray is the way we believe – the law of prayer is the law of belief – “lex orandi, lex credendi”.)  This is especially true at a time of crisis; in my own extended family, I’ve often recognized that the funeral Mass, with all its expected prayers and pattern, “carries us” when we are in a difficult emotion state.  A book could be written on why we prefer liturgy and standardized prayers in many cases.

Every few decades, changes are made to the Mass and to the exact way in which we participate and pray.  On the first Sunday of Advent this year, it was not the Mass itself which changed but the wording for the English translation which did.  The intention is to make the English version closer and more true to the Latin. But it was not anticipated with much joy by the majority of Roman Catholics in America.

Some of it feels like a reversion to the 60s: “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault” or “it is right and just”.  Some of it really is an improvement (the Nicene Creed  begins with “I believe” or Credo in Latin – so it is appropriate that when we say it, it’s in the first person singular, not plural, or “we believe”).  Some of it is awkward, if more theologically precise.

Given how emotionally charged the issue has been, I have to congratulate the faithful and its leaders in the U.S. – or at least in my area, the Diocese of San Jose – for handling the transition very well.  Many parishes began to warm up their communities ahead of time by introducing elements, especially songs, well in advance. On the day of the beginning of the use of the new translation, it seems that presiders and people were both ready.  There were tools available to make it easier for us who are so used to rote responses to adapt to the ones we didn’t yet know by heart.

Perhaps most helpful was the warm hearted understanding that it is going to take time for us to get it down.  As we get to the response “and with your spirit”, it’s going to take some time for all of us to be on the same page and not revert to “and also with you”. We are an imperfect lot and it’s going to take some getting used to, some time.

Many thanks to those who encourage us and soften the transition, and kudos to the Catholic community in every area of the church for working hard to make this a gentle and easier change. Given how attached we are to what we are used to, this could have been much more difficult had it not been for great effort on many levels.