My dear brothers and sister in Christ Jesus:
On Sunday, June 6, 2021, we celebrate the Solemnity of The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Corpus Christi. On this day, the celebrant prays the Collect in these words:
O God, who in this wonderful Sacrament
have left us a memorial of your Passion,
grant us, we pray, so to revere the sacred mysteries of your Body and Blood
that we may always experience in ourselves
the fruits of your redemption.
Who live and reign with God the Father
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, for ever and ever.
The Most Holy Eucharist, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, is the very heart and center of our Catholic faith. On numerous occasions I have written and preached on this subject, most recently at our celebrations for the reception of the Sacrament of Confirmation. But as often as I call our attention to the reality of the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, the challenge does not subside, but seems to grow stronger. Sadly, long before the pandemic, over the last several decades attendance at Holy Mass each week has declined significantly; the pandemic only exacerbated this situation. So, if you have read about or heard this message before, it is because it needs to be reaffirmed!
Now that the capacity in our churches has increased and advances have been made to address more effectively COVID-19, I once again encourage all who are physically able to return to the regular practice of attendance at Holy Mass. While the dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass had been granted temporarily during the pandemic, the bishops of upstate New York, in concert with other New York dioceses and dioceses throughout the country, have worked cooperatively to determine that now is the appropriate time to reinstitute the obligation to attend Holy Mass each Sunday, effective the weekend of June 5-June 6, The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Corpus Christi.
Today with vaccination rates rising, infection numbers across the state are falling and we are seeing the reopening of every sector of society, including businesses, restaurants and sporting events. Certainly, our presence and encounter with the Eucharistic Lord should be a top priority among all other activities. Our love for Christ truly present in the Most Holy Eucharist and our profound union with Him in the reception of Holy Communion should rise above any obligation and increase our desire to be present at Holy Mass when there are no serious health concerns, which are determined by each person.
The decrease in Mass attendance also has become a major concern of the bishops of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Dioceses throughout the country are declaring a Year of the Most Holy Eucharist. This was done in our diocese as the centerpiece, if you will, of our Diocesan Sesquicentennial observance. As I wrote in my pastoral letter The Year of the Eucharist Commemorating The Diocese of Rochester’s Sesquicentennial Celebration (1868-2018), issued on May 25, 2017:
“We are quickly advancing toward the 150th anniversary of our Diocese on March 3, 2018, with solemn observances to begin in the Fall of this year, 2017. It is my prayer and firm conviction that we make the Most Holy Eucharist, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the heart and center of our Sesquicentennial Celebration. Indeed, this august Sacrament, the Real Presence of Christ among us, has sustained us over these many years and has been the driving force for our Diocese’s pastoral, apostolic and charitable works, ever mindful of the motto of Bishop Bernard J. McQuaid, our first Bishop: ‘Salus Animarum, Lex Suprema’ (‘The Salvation of Souls is the Supreme Law’).”
While the observance of the Year of the Eucharist commenced on Sunday, June 18, 2017, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Corpus Christi, and concluded on Sunday, June 3, 2018, on this same solemnity, allow me again to repeat what I have said during many pastoral visitations: Every year is the Year of the Eucharist. The transcendent nature of the Most Holy Eucharist cannot ever be restricted to a particular time or place. Christ constantly calls us to union with him.
In my pastoral letter (which can be read it its entirety at https://bit.ly/3fseQxm), I wrote:
“During this Year of the Eucharist, in support of our parents and all entrusted to our pastoral care, I ask that throughout our deaneries and in our schools, institutions, agencies and pastoral programs, the centrality of the Most Holy Eucharist is reflected in our words and actions, in our catechesis and in our religious education programs. It is my hope that there will be greater availability of educational and devotional opportunities for both children and adults to deepen their knowledge about the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. Both the Catechism of the Catholic Church and our Diocese’s recently promulgated Policies for the Administration of the Sacraments are very useful catechetical resources. In our catechesis, we need to reflect upon ways to better prepare our children and their families for their child’s First Holy Communion, First Penance and Confirmation, and also couples preparing for Holy Matrimony. In all our efforts to proclaim the living presence of Jesus Christ among us in the Eucharist, I am asking our diocesan offices to support and to assist our parishes and institutions in this endeavor which belongs to our entire diocesan family. At the same time, many parishes are able to build upon the resources developed over the years and efforts which have borne positive results.”
I once again renew this plea and ask that the pastoral letter be made available to our parish and school communities, as well as to those who direct our efforts to serve the poor in our many outreach programs, thereby appreciating the dignity of our sisters and brothers who also need to know Jesus and that Jesus welcomes them to the Banquet of Life.
Closely united to the Sacrament of the Most Holy Eucharist is the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In the pastoral letter I confirmed the constant teaching of the Church when writing:
“Belief in the Eucharistic presence of Christ also means that we approach the Holy Eucharist properly disposed, that is, not conscious of serious sin that requires that we avail ourselves of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Confession, before the reception of Holy Communion. An examination of conscience before the worthy reception of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist is a serious obligation for all Catholics” (Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1454).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church goes on to explain that “For a sin to be mortal (serious sin), three conditions must together be met: ‘Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent’” (Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1857).
The Sacrament of Reconciliation, Confession, helps us to prepare for and to contemplate more deeply the august sacrament that we are to receive, recognizing that our Eucharistic encounter with Christ surpasses every other human encounter and draws us into the Trinitarian Mystery whereby we are embraced by the love of the Father Who sent His own Son into the world that we might “have life and have it to its full” (John 10:10). This love culminates in our person becoming one with the very person of Jesus Christ, person to person, in the worthy reception of the Most Holy Eucharist.
In reflecting upon the great gift of the Most Holy Eucharist, I am particularly mindful of our sisters and brothers in hospitals, healthcare facilities and those confined to their homes. They are not to be forgotten. While they have the opportunity to view Holy Mass through the media, they still are greatly uplifted by visits from the parish priests for the reception of the sacraments, as well as the ministry of those serving as Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion to the Sick, and parish visitation committees. Once again, there is the importance of personal visits, while taking all necessary safety precautions.
Throughout our country and in our own diocese, pastoral planning has become essential so that our resources are maximized and put to the best possible use, thereby allowing our Catholic communities to remain a vibrant presence throughout our 12 counties. In this process churches have closed and understandably saddened parishioners. Yet demographic changes and poor attendance at Holy Mass are realities that demand attention as they significantly reduce the sustainability of churches. While voices are raised with the best of intentions to support maintaining churches as they presently exist, the number of faithful supporters is far less than the number of persons no longer worshipping. It is a most difficult decision for a bishop to have to close a church, but at the same time alternatives and a cooperative spirit among the faithful are essential to maintain our Catholic faith, even if in another place. Quite distressing is the comment of some few persons that if a church closes, they will no longer go to Mass. In their heart of hearts, I do not believe this is their intent. How could we ever say no to Jesus in the Most Holy Eucharist, give up such an extraordinary opportunity to be in His presence and receive Him in Holy Communion simply because we are asked to attend Holy Mass at another church? I am convinced that our faith is much deeper than that statement might reveal.
In closing, I am quite sadly aware of the scandals in the Church brought about by those who betrayed a sacred trust and scarred innocent lives. I truly express and renew my apologies to these our sisters and brothers. With a shepherd’s heart, I pray, I remind them of the words of St. Paul: “For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38). I pray daily that their suffering will be healed by Jesus and they will unite with Him in the Sacrament of the Most Holy Eucharist.
Thanking God for your gift of faith and with an assurance of my continued prayers and invoking the intercession of Our Mother Mary and our diocesan patron, St. John Fisher, I remain
Devotedly yours in Christ,
The Most Reverend Salvatore R. Matano
Bishop of Rochester