This week, I’d like to address my column specifically to all of our parishioners who are 65 and older. Even as the state and the parish have slowly begun to reopen, our parishioners who are 65 and older have been encouraged to remain home and not attend Mass. I know this has been particularly difficult for many of you. I know that being deprived of the Eucharist since March has been a heavy cross for you to carry. I also know that many of you feel that this recommendation unfairly singles you out, and some of you have felt like my wording of this recommendation (on posters, emails, etc.) has been too strong, making you feel unwelcome in your own parish.
I just want to take this opportunity to make sure that you know how much we value and appreciate you. Our older parishioners are the heart and the backbone of our parish. They are the stalwarts of daily Mass, Eucharistic Adoration and parish rosaries on Mondays and Saturdays. Their willingness to pitch in wherever needed is one reason we are able to provide food from our food pantry, bring Communion to the homebound, and provide child care for parish events, just to name a few things. But even more than that, our older parishioners are the foundation of our parish. Many of them have been in the parish for decades. They’ve built this parish, and we stand on their shoulders. They’re the ones who remember the Little White Church, the ones who can talk about all the changes our parish has been through over the past 87 years. They’ve seen many changes throughout the decades, but their faithfulness to Christ the King has been constant through it all.
That’s why it’s so painful that they’re the group that’s being encouraged to stay away from the Mass the longest. Recommending that someone not attend Mass is just about the strangest thing I’ve ever had to do as a priest. It feels wrong and uncomfortable every time I say it. I have to say it, in order to comply with what our government and our diocese say is the safest course of action for everyone. But it’s painful to say.
So I guess my message to all of you who are being encouraged to remain home from Mass for the time being is this: we miss you. Our parish isn’t the same without you; it’s like there’s a big, gaping hole that won’t be filled until you return. And that big, gaping hole is a constant reminder that our world still isn’t back to normal; it won’t be back to normal until you’re back in your regular pew at your regular Mass time!
I know that everyone, no matter what their age or state in life, will eventually make their own decision about how and when they feel comfortable returning to Mass. But for now, I’d ask those of you remaining at home to know that you are missed and loved. And for those of you who have returned, please remember those parishioners who wish they were with us, but aren’t. After all, we are still one parish family, united as one in Christ, and no amount of social distancing can ever change that.