Sunday November 29th, 2020
First Sunday of Advent, Year B
Dear Pastorate Family,
Happy New Year! Well, happy new liturgical year, anyway. The season of Advent always marks the beginning of a new liturgical year in the life of the Church. In the three-year rotation of Sunday Mass readings, we were just in “Year A” for this past liturgical year, where the focus was on readings from the Gospel of Matthew. Now in “Year B” on Sundays we’ll hear readings from the Gospel of Mark. As usual, during the first weeks of Advent, we hear from the preeminent figure of St. John the Baptist. He shows up the most during Advent and Lent, seasons of preparation for Christmas and Easter, respectively, since he was the one sent to prepare the way for the Lord’s public manifestation to Israel. He appears now in Advent as we’re invited to prepare our hearts for the Lord’s coming at Christmas.
This is a very different year from previous years, but we are nonetheless invited to spiritually enter the spirit of Advent. And perhaps the blessing in this is that because we can’t do a lot of things like we did in the past, we can be more intent on appreciating the true spirit of the season. And what’s the true spirit of the season? Not shopping or gifts or family gatherings or social parties. Advent is first and foremost about preparing our hearts to welcome the Savior. Advent is about not only recalling His birth in Bethlehem 2,000+ years ago, but it’s about also making sure we celebrate His birth within our hearts. That’s where Jesus most wants to take up residence. Is there any room in your heart for the Christ Child to be born there? Can He have a central place in your life? Or must He be relegated to the fringes, only to be born in a stable but not our innermost being? If we don’t have Christ in our hearts, it’s we who are the poorer; but with Him, we are rich indeed. May our hearts be open to welcome the coming Christ!
Elaboration on Plans for Christmas Masses
Hopefully by now you’ve received the letter about our plans for Christmas Masses. Obviously we can’t celebrate Christmas like we have in the past, not in the context of a pandemic, and not when Iowa has been identified as one of the worst states in the country for COVID-19 outbreaks. We need to practice social distancing and wearing a mask and sanitizing our hands in order to be responsible in the midst of this public health crisis. A number of our pastorate members have come down with it, and while many have recovered, some have died. And so Christmas must necessarily be different from years past. If you’re a husband and wife couple and you sign up to attend a Christmas Mass, if you sign up for a pew with a seating capacity of 8 people, you can plan to bring with you six other people so that you have a full pew. In that case, it would be good to make sure you all show up at the same time for the Christmas Mass you select to attend. We will only admit to Christmas Masses people whose names are on our list of those who have signed up. We’ll admit the couple who sign-up to attend Christmas Mass but not the six other people they bring with them until the couple who originally signed up verifies that they’re with them. People who show up at Christmas Mass without having signed up beforehand will unfortunately not be able to attend Christmas Masses. We’ll have signs up that say something like, “Reservation Required” and we’ll admit those who have signed-up beforehand but not others. This will mean that our churches for Christmas Masses will be at 50% capacity, which is what we need to maintain social distancing measures. If we didn’t have this sign-up process, we can’t insure that we’d be practicing social distancing and thus can’t insure that it’d be a safe experience for people. People who are vulnerable by age or health or underlying conditions are encouraged to stay home. Masks will be required for attendance. Singing will be minimal. Nonetheless, our focus will be celebrating as joyfully as we can the birth of Jesus our Savior.