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Hebda: Catholics ‘depend on the Eucharist,’ and Masses will resume

By JD Flynn for CNA

Archbishop Bernard Hebda speaks to reporters May 21. (Credit: Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis/screenshot)

Denver Newsroom, May 21, 2020 / 05:36 pm (CNA).- The day after announcing that parishes in Minnesota can ignore a statewide order on religious gatherings, the Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis explained the pastoral motive for his decision.

Catholics “really depend on the Eucharist to get through the challenges of their lives,” Archbishop Bernard Hebda told reporters May 21.

“The reception of the Eucharist is extremely important,” the archbishop added. “We can’t have the opportunity for communion by livestreaming.”

Speaking at a press conference Thursday afternoon, Hebda said the May 20 decision of Minnesota’s bishops to ignore a prohibition of religious gatherings of more than 10 people was a pastoral decision.

“We have this responsibility to take care of the spiritual needs of our people,” Hebda said.

The archbishop’s remarks came one day after a historic decision that Minnesota’s six dioceses would permit parishes to resume public Masses amid the coronavirus pandemic, and to flout statewide pandemic orders.

The bishops said that parishes can open for Mass next week, if attendance is no more than 33% of building capacity, and if parishes follow rigorous sanitary and liturgical protocols designed in consultation with public health experts.

Missouri Synod Lutherans in Minnesota have also announced that services will resume under similar strictures.

Speaking on Thursday, Hebda said that he had not had the opportunity to speak with Minnesota Governor Tim Walz in the days leading up to the bishops’ decision, but that he would be doing so on Thursday. Walz said last night that he would be speaking to the state’s bishops alongside state public health authorities.

“These are very challenging times, and I recognize that he has a very difficult job,” Hebda said of the governor. “We want to help all of Minnesota get through this pandemic. I look forward to our conversation, but I can tell you I hope the governor changes his mind.”

It is not clear whether priests or bishops who begin celebrating public Masses next week could face civil penalties. Hebda said his “hope is that there won’t be a conflict, and that we will come to some kind of agreement.”

“I’m hoping that when we actually have this opportunity to speak with the governor that we might find more common ground,” he added.

The archbishop also said he believes the bishops are “on solid footing” from a legal perspective. On May 20, Becket Law, a religious liberty advocacy law firm, sent Walz a letter laying out a legal case arguing that Minnesota’s Catholic and Lutheran parishes have First Amendment protections ensuring continued public worship.

In a California fight over reopening churches, federal Department of Justice officials intervened this week, to argue that unless states can prove that churches pose some specific risk for spreading the virus, they can’t be held to more stringent measures than other places of public assembly.

In Minnesota, retail businesses will be permitted to open at 50% capacity on June 1, salons and tattoo parlors will reopen, and restaurants will gradually reopen.

On Thursday, Hebda said equality in law is important.

“Obviously, part of our faith is that we want to respect always legitimate civil authority, so that’s one of the reasons why we have really been trying to reach out to the govern and his administration to explain the needs of our Church, which are kind of particular,” Hebda told reporters,

“And really as we’ve seen other openings and plans for other openings, it makes us feel much more comfortable with what we’re doing, because we see a parallel that’s there and we see that we need to be treated equally.”

There has not yet been any official response from the apostolic nuncio in the United States or from the Holy See to the Minnesota announcement. Officials at the Minnesota Catholic Conference and the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis have not yet answered questions from CNA about whether Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the pope’s representative in the U.S., had been consulted before the bishops announced their decision.

When Italian bishops raised objections in late April to continued strictures on public Masses in the country, Pope Francis did not address the matter directly, but did praise the virtue of obedience at a Mass a few days later.

For his part, Hebda acknowledged that no sanitary precautions are enough to completely stem the spread of the virus, and acknowledged that a parish outside Minneapolis had announced May 20 that at least one priest in the community had tested positive for the coronavirus.

But the archbishop said he appreciated the speed and clarity with which the parish had made the announcement. And he emphasized the risk inherent to life in a global pandemic.

“We’re living in a dangerous time and we can expect that we’re going to have priests and faithful who are infected with COVID, that’s going to be part of life, what’s important is how we handle that,” Hebda said.

“I think we can expect in all dimensions of life, right now, that there are those risks that are there.” Even in the supermarket, he said, “there’s always that risk.”

More than 800 people have died of the coronavirus in Minnesota, and more than 18,000 have been diagnosed with it. Nearly 100,000 people have been recorded dead from the virus across the U.S., with more than 1.6 million positive coronavirus tests.

To Hebda, the difficulty of the pandemic emphasizes the need for pastoral ministry.

“Please remember, we bishops have a solemn duty, really a responsibility, to provide spiritual care and religious services to our faithful, and that responsibility includes doing it in a way that is safe and responsible,” the archbishop said.

Hebda told reporters about a man who had managed a years-long recovery from addictions.

“What makes that possible is that he goes to Mass every morning and receives communion,” the archbishop said.

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  1. I, along with several hundred thousand others, would sincerely appreciate it if The Archbishop would contact my Bishop here in Maine and tell him to break his silence and get our Churches open here!!

    • May 22nd: I agree. So many businesses have opened, people still go to Stop and Shop and to Walmart – a lot of people. But they keep a safe distance. Here in Litchfield, CT. we have the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes with vast areas of land and an open Chapel …and I am hoping they will resume Masses soon. They will be outdoors as they always are in Spring and Summer…people are longing for the Mass and the Eucharist to get through this. So many feel lost and afraid and at the time they need it most, Masses are suspended even as risks get lower and cases fewer. Many Catholics are utterly discouraged by being blocked, shut out from the Sacraments…while Priests continue to receive the grace and blessings of Mass and the Eucharist. Religious communities are also most likely to have Masses but God’s people have been shut out and it seems no attempt was made to find temporary solutions. Will Catholics who feel so terribly let down and shut out return to Mass once the doors open again? Some Priests did find a way to have Mass on loudspeakers while people stayed in their cars outside and who received the Eucharist while remaining in their cars. Perhaps this is not possible everywhere…but how many Pastors tried to find ways? I pray that God will bless us all and show us how to bear up under the deprivation of Mass and the Eucharist.

    • My Bishop opened our parishes in Colorado Springs,CO last week much to my relief. I expresses to him in an email that I was disappointed with the Bishop’conference for being so tepid on our constitutional right to practice religion.

  2. Thank you, our good and faithful Shepherd! Our parish is planning to open with families sitting 3 pews apart, no more than one family unit per pew, no lining up for communion (servers coming to the pews), only one enter/exit, sanitization between masses, masks, hand sanitizer… more than 10 people, but in a church that normally can seat 300. The rhetoric that a church gathering is somehow more dangerous than other types of gatherings defies logic. Thank you Archbishop Hebda!

  3. God bless you Archbishop Hebda!
    We are a Eucharistic people who need to be fed by God’s word and His body, blood, soul and divinity.

    Thank you for you witness and faithfulness.

  4. It is a mystery that more Catholic Bishops don’t stand up and raise objections to the forced closures of churches. They do not seem to show much in the way of spiritual fortitude. Looks more like spiritual weakness and more concerning a lack of conviction about the importance of the mass and sacraments. Is this the way the Holy Spirit wants the Bishops to act?

  5. Well one positive benefit from social distancing at Mass would be the end of hand-holding during the Our Father. While they are at it they can get rid of the Protestant derived “For thine is the kingdom…” that was introduced in the 1970 Missal. I have less objection to personal greetings after Peace be with you… but I wouldn’t miss it if it was gone.

  6. I have to disagree. I haven’t missed the Eucharist and I don’t notice any ill effects of not being able to receive it for the past two months. If the grace is that important and that real, then why don’t I feel like I’m starving for the grace that I’ve been missing out on? Makes me question the bishop’s assertions.

    • Grace and the divine life are not dependent upon our feelings, just as authentic love and obedience are not rooted in how we feel at a particular moment. There can certainly be an emotional element involved in missing or not missing the Eucharist. But our love for Christ and our desire to grow in His divine life should always be the reference point, the inner core, of who we are and what we do, as well as how we see and understand all things. I’m certainly not the one to act as a spiritual director here, but if we do not desire, in some real and substantial way, the Holy Eucharist, we should probably examine our innermost heart and being. What do we really desire? And why?

    • Douglas, It sounds like you never have yet hit rock bottom and found HE was there to hold and carry you. Then the thanksgiving of EUCHARIST would be more clear to you. Why wait or ask for that? Be grateful HE holds you even if you haven’t experienced it sensually yet. IT is called faith.

      Thank you archbishop for your awesome courage on the behalf of your people.

    • Well, it is a matter of “feeling”, it is a matter of “believing” in Jesus promises and what He told us:…believe in Me… This is my Body…This is my Blood…”
      May the Love of Jesus fill your heart and increase your faith!

  7. Its something to see airplanes flying FULL. People are wearing masks but so what?? Their head is 10 inches from yours. Why is there no govt intervention about this? No hysteria??? Why is this ok and then churches that can hold 500 people cant operate with 50 people in them? This is a power grab pure and simple and the Bishops in most places went along with it. Threw their sheep to the wolves, who will be BACK requesting yet another closure. Bishops in NY and Jersey, take note!!!!

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