Many people have asked me over the past few weeks, “Father, when do you think we’ll be able to go back to Mass again?” Now we have an answer. Late on Friday afternoon, the Governor announced that the counties that include the Archdiocese of Philadelphia will move from the “red phase” to the “yellow phase” on June 5. Archbishop Pérez issued a statement Friday evening that the celebration of public Mass will resume in the Archdiocese on the weekend of June 6-7. This phase of initial reopening will still involve restrictions regarding social distancing and the number of people who can gather. I will be attending a webinar this Wednesday on the logistics and practical implementation of the Archdiocesan guidelines for this “restricted” phase of reopening. We are eager to open the doors for Mass again but want to and need to do it in a way that is both welcoming and keeps safe those who come to church and their family members and persons in our community that are particularly vulnerable. For this to happen, we will need the collaboration and cooperation of the entire parish community.
This liturgical time we are in right now between the Ascension and Pentecost gives us several lessons on how to prepare well as a parish community for this time of reopening which will be upon us in two weeks. The time between the Ascension and Pentecost was a time of preparation and waiting – waiting for the “promise of the Father” of which Jesus spoke. The “promise of the Father” is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the love of the Father and the Son that will be sent to baptize them and make them witnesses of Jesus to the ends of the earth. It is through their witness that Christ’s work of revealing the love of God will continue in the world. Pentecost is often called the birthday of the Church. The Holy Spirit brings new life and sends the disciples out on a new mission. The disciples didn’t know what all of this would look like. They didn’t get together to write up an action plan or to form committees in anticipation of this new mission that Christ was proposing. No. What they did was simply stay together and “devote themselves with one accord to prayer, with some women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.” As we saw a few weeks ago in the account from the 6th chapter of Acts about the problem with distribution of food among the growing Christian community, the situation today is addressed in a collaborative way in which the leaders or members of the hierarchy (the Apostles) respond together with men and women of the community. It is not accidental that Mary, the mother of Jesus, is in their midst because Mary is the model of receptivity to the Holy Spirit. It is through her that God took flesh in the world. She gave birth to Christ. It is through her intercession that the new life of Christ is brought to birth in the life of the Church – in the life of Christ’s disciples. When Luke says that they “devoted themselves” to prayer, a more literal translation would be that they “were persisting” in prayer. Jesus often taught the disciples about the importance of persisting in prayer. “Persistence” is an expression of faithfulness and connotes that prayer is about an ongoing relationship with God and not something we do for a reward or a result based on our efforts. When he says they prayed together “with one accord”, it is the same expression used to describe the response of the chosen people when the Lord sealed the Old Covenant with them in the Book of Exodus. When Moses set before the people what the Lord said, “the people all answered together, ‘Everything the Lord has said, we will do.’” United in persistent prayer, the people are open to do what the Lord proposes for forming them into a people that will reveal his life and love.
I will find out this week the guidelines from the Archdiocese on how we are to reopen for public Mass, but what is needed most at this time is for us to persist in prayer, wait, and come together with an openness to the Holy Spirit’s action. In this last week of May, we ask the special intercession of Mary, Our Mother, to form us as Christ’s disciples – disciples that will witness to Christ’s presence and love as we embark on this new era of the Church’s life. We are putting together a parish team to implement the practical aspects of the reopening here at St. Charles. Please contact me at the parish office with your phone number and email to help with the reopening plans. Jesus’ prayer in the “upper room” in the Gospel continues and is fulfilled in the “upper room” where we gather on Sundays to celebrate the Eucharist. It will be a time of exultant joy when his glory is revealed when we gather again together in his name.