27 March 2020
Dear Brother Priests, Deacons, Religious, and Colleagues in Ministry:
May the Lord give you peace.
In his encyclical, Deus Caritas Est , Pope Benedict emphasizes that the initial encounter with Christ is love and this begins the journey to God which is a process in which “our will and God’s will increasingly coincide. Self-abandonment to God increases, and God becomes our joy.”
This beautiful awareness must fill our hearts with the confidence that is needed in this time of fear and unknowing. These two components of human life are precisely what Jesus came to resolve and put away from our lives by giving us true faith in Him.
So many pieces of my life right now are filled with the challenge of making decisions—difficult decisions, decisions about things that were considered speculative concepts when I was in the seminary. Now life demands practical applications of faith for all of us. We must not be afraid; like Saint Paul, “I know the One in whom I have believed.” (2 Tim. 1:12). Each of us must hold to such positive affirmation of faith!
The necessity of acting as your Bishop in this pandemic crisis—unlike any other we have ever faced—urges me to make decisions that are unique and different. Some are uncomfortable—for all of us. Nevertheless, the safety of our people and our responsibility to good citizenship and the common good require these steps. The information contained herein will offer my decisions, made in prayer and confident dialogue with our leadership (local, provincial, national, and international), concerning the basic plan for Holy Week, the Triduum and the Sacraments of Initiation during this year’s Easter season. These directives are more than requests. Some items may change or be interpreted in future communications from me . With you, I pray for God’s guidance as we serve His people in the Church and pray for one another.
- Following directives from the Holy See for Holy Week, we will postpone the Chrism Mass until a later date. Once the pandemic health crisis has passed, we will schedule the Chrism Mass for all the faithful to gather in prayer and joyful thanksgiving.
- The suppression of the public daily and Sunday celebrations of the Holy Mass continue in place. Priests should continue to celebrate the Mass without a congregation. As I communicated in my 19 March letter, the only occasions at which the laity may participate in person (nine persons only) are with the express invitation of the celebrant due to the lay faithful having requested the particular Mass intention for that day, as well as weddings, funerals, and the Triduum liturgies. Pastors may wish to communicate to their parishioners the times of the Triduum liturgies so that they can join with you spiritually in their homes.
- I will celebrate Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday Liturgy, and Easter Vigil live-streamed from the Cathedral. The modifications in the liturgical celebrations decreed by the Vatican will be observed. As was discussed at the Deans’ zoom meeting, concelebration by less than nine priests is permitted in a parish church during Holy Week.
- The Baptisms of the Elect and the receptions into full communion across the Diocese are postponed until a later date. Please notify those in your RCIA of this news and the assurance that this postponement is not a cancellation. They all will certainly be remembered in our prayers.
- Confirmations and First Communions are also postponed until the health crisis has passed. At that time instructions will be provided for scheduling.
- With the suspension of Masses obviously follows the lack of offertory giving. The Stewardship and Development office will be providing suggestions for maintaining offertory giving. Please encourage your parishioners to take advantage of on-line giving and electronic transfers of funds to assist the existence of the parish at this time of crisis. Each parish can obviously plan its own method of support.
- With the new restrictions from Governor Evers, it will be a challenge to celebrate funerals in the manner in which we might be accustomed. You might choose to encourage your families to delay the rituals if at all possible. If there is no way to delay, please be cautious about keeping the number of people to the minimum (9 persons) while maintaining the proper social distancing between them. This may be particularly difficult at such a sensitive time.
- Please consider the means you may be able to use to keep people connected during this time of separation. This is a time of great sacrifice for all of us as we try to observe these many restrictions, cancellations, postponements, and changes in general. Please help our people to bring these sorrows to our Mother Mary. Entrust these difficulties to the One who walked with and witnessed Jesus’ agony and crucifixion, His own dear Mother. She is our Mother and the Mother of this suffering Church. May we indeed be mindful of the nearness of the Resurrection.
In closing, I know that there may be more thoughts and questions from many of you. I trust that as you have the talents and abilities to serve the Lord and His Church, you will each find ways of drawing strength and courage in these challenging times. I remain grateful for your diligence and love. Stay healthy and pray mightily and know that I hold each of you close to the Precious and Sacred Heart of Jesus.
May God reward your generosity. In His Name, I am,
+William Patrick Callahan, OFM Conv.
Bishop of La Crosse