Parishes continue to safely welcome the faithful to Mass

Deacon Mike Rector blesses the congregation at Our Lady of the Lake Church in Hendersonville with incense during a Mass celebrated outdoors last spring. Our Lady of the Lake is one of the churches in the Diocese of Nashville that has turned to outdoor Masses to accommodate larger crowds while still maintaining social distancing. Nashville Mayor John Cooper has issued a directive limiting private gatherings in Davidson County to no more than eight people or one other family. But the diocese’s policy concerning church-related gatherings, including implementing precautions to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus, remains unchanged.
Tennessee Register file photo by Andy Telli

Nashville Mayor John Cooper has issued a directive asking Davidson County residents, as they head into Thanksgiving week, to limit all private gatherings to no more than eight people or one other family group.

But the directive won’t prevent churches in the Diocese of Nashville from continuing to celebrate Mass in person with the protective measures against the spread of the COVID-19 virus already in place.

“Our policy concerning church-related gatherings and activities, both liturgical and non-liturgical, remains unchanged,” Father John Hammond, Vicar General of the diocese, said in a message to pastors and other diocesan leaders. “Pastors and other leaders should continue to exercise thoughtful care concerning the various health and safety precautions which prudence demands at this time.”

Bishop J. Mark Spalding has given pastors the latitude “to personalize the way in which they enact our precautions in light of the particular circumstances of their own communities,” Father Hammond said. At the same time, the bishop has consistently encouraged them to continue to have people wear masks, wash or sanitize their hands frequently, and maintain social distancing.

“We have large spaces that are built to hold large numbers of people,” noted Father Hammond, who also serves as the Judicial Vicar for the diocese. Churches in the diocese have the room to maintain social distancing and other protective measures, as well as performing regular cleanings of the spaces where people gather, he added.

“We can continue to perform the mission of the Church while providing a safe space,” he said. 

Churches in the diocese have adopted a variety of measures to continue to serve the spiritual needs of their parishioners while maintaining safe spaces. Most have limited attendance to allow for social distancing, some have moved Masses outdoors to provide room for people to spread out, and many are livestreaming their Masses for people to watch at home. Churches have also added Masses during the week to accommodate people who are in high risk categories or don’t feel comfortable in larger gatherings.

“It’s worth saying again, the dispensation remains in place from the obligation to attend Mass, which allows people to make an adult and prudent decision based on their own health and comfort level,” Father Hammond said. “The bishop has encouraged people to be prudent and careful.”

The dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days has been put in place indefinitely.

“We are constantly reviewing and analyzing the situation and praying for the wisdom to maintain a prudent response to this situation,” Father Hammond said. “That’s always going on.”

Providing for the needs of their parishioners in a safe manner during the pandemic has been difficult for pastors, said Father Hammond, who also serves as pastor of St. Patrick Church in Nashville.

“On a fundamental level, we want to do the right thing,” Father Hammond said. “It’s all unchartered territory. We’re doing our best to do what’s prudent and also reasonable.”

Mayor Cooper’s “Rule of 8” directive took effect on Monday, Nov. 23. He issued the directive as a response to rising numbers of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in Nashville and across the state.

As of Thursday, Nov. 19, the number of new cases reported in Davidson County was more than five times as high as at any point in September, Cooper noted. Nashville hospitals were caring for 362 COVID-19 patients, Cooper said during his announcement. “That’s more than a 50 percent increase since Nov. 1,” he added.

Hospitalizations are expected to increase by 10 percent in the next week, Cooper said. “Nashville, this is the curve we must flatten.”

“With Thanksgiving a week away, we could be on the verge of a super spreader event if we are not careful,” Cooper said. “When we’re going to be in contact with loved ones, we must do it safely.”

“The Rule of 8 should be our guide as we head into the holiday season,” he said. “With the virus surging, now is not the time for any large gatherings.”

The Rule of 8 is in line with the current requirement that restaurants limit groupings to eight people, Cooper said. The mayor made a distinction between large gatherings of people in close proximity to each other and groupings of people in a venue large enough to provide for appropriate social distancing.

“I think there’s a difference between ‘groupings’ and ‘gatherings,’” Cooper said. “Even though the ‘gathering; may appear to be larger, you’re carefully managing the ‘groupings’ to limit the risk that already exists between these people.”

The directive only applies to Davidson County. Gov. Bill Lee has not issued a similar directive and has resisted issuing a statewide mask mandate. However, he has issued an executive order allowing county mayors in 89 of the state’s 95 counties to issue a mask mandate. In Davidson, Hamilton, Knox, Madison, Shelby and Sullivan counties, the local health departments also have the authority to issue mask mandates.

Take time to observe Advent, a season of ‘joyful expectation’

A family lights an Advent wreath at their Maryland home. The rose-colored candle on the Advent wreath is lit the Third Week of Advent and symbolizes joy. CNS photo/Tom McCarthy Jr., Catholic Review

Advent, the season of joyful expectation before Christmas, is “a time to recognize the hole in our hearts that is made to be filled with God,” said Joan Watson, director of the Diocese of Nashville’s Office of Faith Formation. 

“Advent has a twofold character: as a season to prepare for Christmas when Christ’s first coming to us is remembered; as a season when that remembrance directs the mind and heart to await Christ’s second coming at the end of time,” said Father Benjamin Butler, pastor of St. Martha Church in Ashland City. “Advent is thus a period for devout and joyful expectation.”

Unfortunately, Watson said, many people don’t take the time to slow down and appreciate the beauty of the season. In two upcoming public presentations, she will offer some inspiration and practical tips to help people embrace Advent, which begins this year on Sunday, Nov. 29. 

At Theology on Tap at the Cathedral of the Incarnation on Wednesday, Dec. 2 and at St. Joseph Church in Madison on Thursday, Dec. 3, she will be speaking on the topic, “When You’re Too Busy for Advent.” She will speak about the importance of spiritually preparing for Christmas in the midst of to-do lists, as well as give practical tips for making this Advent fruitful.

One of Watson’s tips is “choose a penance or sacrifice for this time. We usually think of Lent as a time to give something up, but Advent is a time of penance too,” she said. “If you make a sacrifice throughout the weeks of Advent, that will make the joy of Christmas even better.”

Also, “incorporate a new prayer practice into your daily life. Maybe it’s reading a bit of Scripture when you’re drinking your morning coffee or praying the Angelus at noon. It doesn’t have to be grandiose or a huge time commitment. Just something to make this season a little different,” she said.

Her final tip: “Be extra cheerful. Make an intentional, concentrated effort to smile and greet people,” even when you may not feel like it. 

Restrictions in place to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic will limit many people’s bustling holiday calendars this year and give them a new opportunity to observe Advent this year. 

One thing people can do from home is watch the upcoming “Reflect” video series, which will feature different priests from the diocese reflecting on the coming Sunday’s Gospel, with Bishop J. Mark Spalding offering the final reflection for Christmas. 

New videos will be released every Thursday of the Advent season and can be viewed on the Diocese of Nashville’s Facebook page and YouTube channels. 

Advent is a time of prayer and spiritual preparation, Father Butler told the diocese’s directors of religious education during a presentation at the Catholic Pastoral Center on Nov. 19. “Attend daily Mass,” he told them. “If you cannot, at least meditate on the Scripture readings assigned to the Mass that day. The Church draws from the book of the prophet Isaiah. Try to read a chapter a day of that prophetic book,” he said. 

Father Butler also recommended focusing on the key figures of the season: John the Baptist and his parents for the first half; the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph for the second half. 

“Look at the feast days of the Church,” he said. St. Nicolas on Dec. 6, The Immaculate Conception on Dec. 8, and Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Patroness of the Americas, on Dec. 12. 

“Bring Advent into your home, which is the domestic church, by having an Advent wreath,” Father Butler said. “You can easily incorporate prayer with the Advent wreath. Pray the Rosary, the Liturgy of the Hours, sing hymns.”

Typically during Advent parishes hold Advent Penance Services, but most parishes will not be hosting them this year due to the pandemic. Some parishes have added reconciliation times to their weekly schedules to make up for that. Check with your parish for updates. 

• St. Philip Church in Franklin hosted the first Advent-related retreat in the diocese, before the season officially began. They hosted a bi-lingual parish retreat and concert, “A Season of Preparation” with Jaime Cortez, Nov. 21-23.

Born in New York and raised in El Salvador, composer and performer Cortez has dedicated a good portion of his ministry to promoting better Hispanic liturgies and bringing cultures together for worship.

• St. Ann Church will host “Advent by Candlelight,” sponsored by Regnum Christi Nashville on Dec. 5, 6:30-8:30 p.m. This is open to all women of the diocese, and will include confession, adoration and an Advent wreath blessing. For more information, contact Bridget Smith at bridgetsmith9519@gmail.com.

• St. Edward Church will host a parish mission Dec. 7-9 with limited in-person seating and livestream available. Sister Briege McKenna, O.S.C., an Irish nun who experienced a miraculous healing at a young age, and author of the books “Miracles Do Happen” and “The Power of the Sacraments,” will lead the mission. Complete information about the retreat is available at www.stedward.org