• on April 2, 2020

April 2, 2020 – Letter from Fr. Joe

Dear faithful of St. John Neumann Catholic Church and School,

The Lord be with you.

Let us pray.

Almighty and eternal God, our refuge in every danger, to whom we pray in our distress, in faith we pray look with compassion on the afflicted, grant eternal rest to the dead, comfort to the mourners, healing to the sick, peace to the dying, strength to healthcare workers, wisdom to our leaders and the courage to reach out to all in love, so that together we may give glory to your holy name. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

That prayer is about as hot off the press as they come in the Catholic Church. It is from the just approved ‘Mass in Time of Pandemic’ promulgated in the Vatican on March 30th. There have been Masses and prayers against pestilence throughout the history of the Church, but this is one for our time and in our own language. While it is the priest who prays this prayer at Mass, joining the Sacrifice of Christ Himself to our sufferings, worries and prayers – I believe each of us can pray this prayer at least once daily for someone we know who has been affected by this virus. If our ‘apostolate of prayer’ is developing a rule of life [most religious orders and movements in the Church follow some sort of method that is actually livable], then this prayer can be the next sprig on the tree.

I miss seeing you all! I have been able to speak, text, message and email with some of you and will keep working through the lists. We clergy and the Evangelizing Sisters have all been praying for you. So much changes from day to day, but we still know that the Lord is with us and desires to draw all peoples to Himself. We see that in his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, which we commemorate this Sunday. At the end of this letter I will propose a way each of you, in your own homes, might prepare for the entrance of Christ as King into your own home before you join in praying the Mass in whatever way you prefer and are able, e.g. watching it online, listening on a radio or even reading the prayers of the Mass in your hand missal.

In the opening prayer for this Sunday’s Mass the priest will call on God, “who as an example of humility for the human race to follow caused our Savior to take flesh and submit to the Cross, graciously grant that we may heed his lessons of patient suffering.” This Lent will go down as one of suffering for many, many people – many are suffering now, most of us will be touched in some way by this pandemic, directly or indirectly. But the Lord is with us in our suffering – and we are with Him in hope. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we read, it is by hope that “we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit (1817 – emphasis added).” It should come as no surprise that the sign of hope is often an anchor – we may be sailing smoothly or caught on the storm-tossed waters in this life, but we are anchored in heaven either way.

Thank you, thank you, thank you to all who have continued to support the Church and the School through the offertory – and a special thank you to Bill Derbyshire, Sabrina Talley, Ellie Sanchez, Theresa DZialo and Pedro Garcia who have all continued to work even harder than ever to keep our Church and School mission strong under a new – and, thanks be to God, temporary – model.

As you have probably heard or seen in recent days, in both the parish and the school, we are expanding our online presence through various services, apps, and webpages in an effort to offer more ways for you to assist at Mass, studies, and even for entertainment. I simply cannot stress enough what a blessing our Evangelizing Sisters, faculty, staff and clergy all are during these times. Sr. Elizabeth spoke of everyone’s circumstance the other day in an email when several of us were brainstorming in emails [which isn’t easy], saying of a platform we might use, “I would be happy to do that. That will force me to come out of my comfort zone. This may be where we can send those small things that can raise the drooping spirit.” I thank the Lord daily to be blessed with such a profoundly generous and faithful parish and school!

As for this Sunday, how might we celebrate the beauty of Palm Sunday together? As you, no doubt, recall, there are usually palms and some form of a procession at the beginning of Mass on this day. The instructions from the Vatican are that parishes are to use the ‘third form’, or ‘The Simple Entrance’ for this Mass. That makes sense – without all of the faithful present, and especially the extra ministers (i.e. altar servers – y’all are awesome, by the way) necessary to carry out a liturgical procession, it is most prudent to curtail the liturgy in this already allowed way. Plus, this will make broadcasting simpler, which is important since we have only just begun streaming or broadcasting our liturgies. But, I have an idea that I hope might prepare you for the liturgy at home even if you will be watching it online. In the Gospel that is read before Palm Sunday Mass [Mt 21:1-11], we hear that “the very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and strewed them on the road… crying out and saying, “Hosanna to the Son of David….” While we do have some palms, we will bless them at the Palm Sunday Mass and have them available for distribution in the future, and we’ll need to ask just one palm per household – or maybe two if you ask nicely. The third form of the Mass doesn’t include the procession with palms and the reading of the first Gospel before the entrance. What I propose for this year is that each family cuts some branches from their own yard [or a friendly neighbor’s] and places that branch on or near their front door, or even on their home altar. Sometime, early in the morning, before the Mass, each household could read the introduction, Gospel and short prayer, which I will include as an appendix to this already extraordinarily long letter. This year we will “gather together to herald with the whole Church” from our homes “the beginning of the celebration of our Lord’s Paschal Mystery… (‘The Procession’ of Palm Sunday).”

Let us all continue to pray – each of us for each other and for all! Please continue to pray especially for the sick, the grieving, the isolated and the countless people who care for them in so many ways. I love y’all and can’t wait to see you again.

Fraternally in Christ,
Fr. Joe Reed

The household assembles on the front porch or in a suitable place, each person carrying a small piece of greenery.

When all are present on the front porch or in another suitable place, and it is time to pray, begin with the sign of the Cross.

A parent or grandparent says:
Dear Brothers and Sisters, since the beginning of Lent until now we have prepared our hearts by penance and charitable works. Today we gather together to herald with the whole Church the beginning of the celebration of our Lord’s Paschal Mystery, that is to say, of his Passion and Resurrection. For it was to accomplish this mystery that he entered his own city of Jerusalem. Therefore, with all faith and devotion, let us commemorate the Lord’s entry into the city for our salvation, following in his footsteps, so that, being made by his grace partakers of the cross, we may have a share also in his Resurrection and in his life.

Another parent or grandparent, if they are present, says:
Increase our faith, who place our hope in you, O God, and graciously hear the prayers of those who call on you, that we, who today hold high these branches to hail Christ in his triumph, may bear fruit for you by good works accomplished in him. Who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.

Someone in the family reads the Gospel [Matthew 21:1-11]
When Jesus and the disciples drew near Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find an ass tethered, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them here to me. And if anyone should say anything to you, reply, ‘The master has need of them.’ Then he will send them at once.”
This happened so that what had been spoken through the prophet might be fulfilled: Say to daughter Zion, “Behold, your king comes to you, meek and riding on an ass, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.”
The disciples went and did as Jesus had ordered them. They brought the ass and the colt and laid their cloaks over them, and he sat upon them. The very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and strewed them on the road. The crowds preceding him and those following kept crying out and saying: “Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest.”
And when he entered Jerusalem the whole city was shaken and asked, “Who is this?” And the crowds replied, “This is Jesus the prophet, from Nazareth in Galilee.”

After the reading of the Gospel, the greenery can be placed wherever is most suitable and the family prepare for Mass in the usual way.

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