SEATTLE – As COVID-19 restrictions begin easing in the state, Catholics in Western Washington should remain patient, stay vigilant and keep their focus on Jesus while awaiting the return of public Masses, Archbishop Paul D. Etienne said in a May 7 video message.
“Please keep the Lord a priority,” the archbishop said. “Please consciously be aware of his presence and how he is sustaining us during these days, and I believe also speaking to us about what he is trying to accomplish in these particular days.”
Although dioceses in other parts of the U.S. are beginning to offer public Masses again, the situation here is different, Archbishop Etienne explained.
“This virus is still present in our community and it’s already known to be a deadly, silent presence among us.” The top priority is the health and safety of everyone, especially those most vulnerable to the coronavirus, he said.
Discussions are under way about when Masses can safely resume, with formal conversations between the state’s bishops and the governor’s office set to begin May 8. The bishops are looking for guidance about drive-in spiritual services that are allowed under the first phase of the governor’s plan to reopen the state.
“As strange as it sounds to us,” the archbishop said, “drive-in Masses will be our first opportunity to provide the Eucharist for our people.”
A team of priests and other leaders are beginning to outline how that can occur, while meeting all of the safety measures needed “to protect our people as well as to protect the integrity of the sacrament of the Eucharist,” he said.
He strongly encouraged local Catholics not to travel to other states that are offering Masses, because of the potential for unknowingly transmitting the virus or bringing it back here.
While waiting for in-person Masses to resume, more than 130 parishes around the archdiocese are livestreaming Masses, many churches are open for private prayer and priests are available to hear confessions and anoint the sick.
“I want to take this opportunity to give a shout-out of gratitude and compliment to our priests for the many ways that they have adjusted very quickly to this unknown moment and have made livestream Masses available,” Archbishop Etienne said.
The dispensation from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass continues, he said, and he encouraged people to join livestream Masses whenever possible.
“As much as we want to be back in communion,” the archbishop said, “as much as we want to be back in community, it’s important to keep in mind the hardships and the burdens that a lot of other people are bearing right now,” including those seriously ill with the virus, those who have died, those who have lost loved ones, coworkers and friends to the virus and haven’t been able to grieve sufficiently, as well as those suffering economic hardships.
It’s a delicate balance, he said, “but the Lord can help us keep all things in proper balance, proper perspective, and that’s what we are called to at this time.”
Until a COVID-19 vaccine is available, it seems day-to-day life won’t be normal for some time, Archbishop Etienne said.
“So we must continue to be patient. We must continue to protect our neighbors by using good judgment ourselves. Let’s continue to pray for everyone at this time. Let’s continue to stay close to the Lord and let’s continue to seek that intercession and blessing of our Blessed Mother as well.”
“God bless you all, and we look forward to seeing you back in church when possible, when safe to do so,” the archbishop said.