My dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
It has been three weeks since I wrote my Easter message to you, and so, I wanted to check in with you again. Certainly since our last conversation, there have been many more pandemic deaths, infections, lay-offs, and economic hardships. At the same time, we are in the midst of the most joyful, hopeful time of the year, the Easter Season. The Liturgy proclaims that during this Season, we are “overcome with paschal joy.” We should make that sentiment our goal in these sullen times. Jesus, the Conqueror of sin and death, has suffered and triumphed over the Evil One for you and for me.
I am painfully aware that many will not truly feel this paschal joy until they can return to the Sacraments, especially the reception of Holy Communion. I have received so many encouraging letters that beautifully express a sincere desire to be able to receive Our Lord again. This inability to receive Our Lord has strengthened the faithful’s belief in the Real Presence and has heightened their awareness of what a privilege it is to receive Holy Communion. It breaks my heart as a shepherd to see the flock in such sacramental want and distress.
If the truth be told, across my desk are also coming letters — in smaller numbers — that express great anger with me and the hierarchy of the Church for the public health measures that we have adopted. For some, bitterness is seeping into their hearts for not having access to the Holy Eucharist. The Evil One is usurping this distance from the Holy Eucharist to divide members of our Family of Faith. In its most extreme expression, there is the thought that somehow the Church timidly is cooperating with the State to deprive the faithful of their Religious Liberties. We are doing this not because we are being directed by the government, but because it is the most prudent approach for the safety of the faithful.
Allow me to assure you that the policies that are in place in the Diocese of Allentown were implemented solely for the protection of the health of the faithful. We are called to be good citizens and to participate in the public good. From the earliest days of the Church, Christians understood their primary duty was to God, but also to cooperate in good citizenship when legitimate directives were given by those who govern us.
To be sure, our churches are still open for private prayer, the Sacrament of Penance is still available, funerals continue, and the Anointing of the Sick is still given to those in danger of death, observing the precautions in place. My desire is to return to public worship as soon as it is safe to do so. However, I must be clear: my preference will be for “safe rather than soon.” I will follow the health guidelines of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in determining the level of precautions needed and allowable public gatherings. This means that some counties in our Diocese might be back to public worship before others. I ask for your patience and good will.
My office is already working on the process of returning to full public worship and parish life. I call this planning “from couch to pew” since all of us long for the day when we will find ourselves at Mass in the pew rather than on the couch. I ask you to please collaborate with me and our priests as this process unfolds in the various regions of the Diocese.
In so many ways, this has brought out the best in our Family of Faith, and I am so grateful for the beautiful and heroic acts that are being done by members of our Catholic community and so many people of good will. It truly is a time for unity and Christian charity as we live this Season of paschal joy.
My prayers every day are for the deceased, the sick and dying, their families, health professionals, and care-givers; likewise for those who are anxious due to job loss and economic uncertainty; for our young people who are missing school, extracurricular activities, graduations, and championships; for the elderly who feel even heightened loneliness and anxiety due to the illness around them; for young adults who are facing hardship for perhaps the first time; for parents who are adapting their family lives and married lives to the exigencies of protecting and providing for their families; and for my fellow priests, deacons, seminarians, and consecrated men and women who are striving each day to be near their people and often heroically are bringing the Light of Christ to them. God bless you all!
Asking the Lord to bless us, protect us from all evil, and bring us to Everlasting Life, I am
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Most Reverend Alfred A. Schlert
Bishop of Allentown