From Bishop Robert Gruss To the People of God of the Diocese of Saginaw,
Wednesday evening, Governor Gretchen Whitmer addressed Michigan residents where she and Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun pronounced that Michigan should avoid large gatherings like assemblies in schools, concerts, or other events in order to prevent the possible spread of coronavirus.
Many dioceses across the United States and in other countries have issued specific policies to safeguard against what has now been determined a pandemic.
In light of the continued progression of the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) outbreak and this significant public concern, I would ask that the following precautionary measures be implemented in our parishes until further notice to help prevent the transmission of any virus.
- Urge individuals with flu-like symptoms of any kind to remain home in order to avoid the spread of their illnesses. In this situation, it is important to note that an individual does not commit any sin by avoiding Mass to protect others from potential spread of illness. All who are unable to attend Mass are invited to view the weekly Cathedral livestream Sundays at 10 a.m. on the diocesan website: https://saginaw.org/cathedral-live
- Urge everyone to practice good hygiene, washing their hands frequently, use of hand sanitizers, and avoid putting hands to the face. This would also include those distributing Holy Communion.
- For those who attend Mass, parishes should refrain from the common practice of holding hands during the Our Father.
- Refrain from shaking hands during the Sign of Peace. Use some other gesture without physical contact.
- It is recommended that all holy water fonts be emptied and cleaned.
- It is recommended that parishes suspend offering the Holy Eucharist under both species. In other words, out of great caution, suspend offering parishioners the Precious Blood of Jesus. It may also be helpful to remind parishioners that the Consecrated Host is the full Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ, meaning an individual does not need to receive from the Cup in order to receive full Communion with Christ.
- It is recommended that communion be received in the hand rather than on the tongue, however that would still remain at the discretion of the Communicant.
- Finally, while we continue to remain vigilant of this situation, please include in your prayers
- Those who are suffering from the current outbreak of disease, and for those who have died from this disease in recent weeks.
- Those who provide care to others – those in health care, in homes caring for those who are infirm or dying, for child care providers, for all emergency workers, to name a few.
- Priests who assist the sick and dying, that we may extend the love of Christ to those in need.
Feel free to create your own prayers to be included in the Universal Prayer.
We will continue to monitor the situation and provide further updates and changes as needed.
With assurances of my prayers for all of you, may you experience,
Peace and joy in Christ,
Most Rev. Robert D. Gruss
Bishop of Saginaw
(text below originally published in March 9 letter from Bishop Gruss)
This is also an opportune time to speak about the beauty of Spiritual Communion. Spiritual Communion is an ancient practice in the Catholic Church which remains relevant, not solely for those concerned about contagious disease, but for all individuals who, due to their unique circumstances, are not able to receive Holy Communion, yet desire the Lord in the Eucharist.
The Catholic Church teaches of the rich benefit of “Spiritual Communion.” St. Thomas Aquinas1 (1225- 1274) wrote that there are two ways to receive Holy Communion. The preeminent way is to receive the consecrated Host and/or Precious Blood of Our Lord during the Sacrifice of the Mass.
St. Thomas Aquinas referred also to spiritual reception of the Blessed Sacrament, “by which one receives the effect of this sacrament, whereby a man is spiritually united with Christ through faith and charity.” St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, “the effect of the sacrament can be secured by every person if he receives it [i.e. Holy Communion] in desire, though not in reality.”
A Moment to Receive Grace
While Spiritual Communion is no replacement for actual reception of the Blessed Sacrament during Mass, there are occasions in which a person is not able to attend Mass, yet truly desires to unite himself or herself most closely to the Lord. Spiritual Communion does not need a particular setting, although the person should remain quiet and in prayer, truly desiring union with Our Lord in the most intimate way. The Church teaches that this is a moment for an individual to receive grace.
Grace is a participation in the life of God. It introduces us into the intimacy of Trinitarian life: by Baptism the Christian participates in the grace of Christ, the Head of his Body. As an "adopted son" he can henceforth call God "Father," in union with the only Son. He receives the life of the Spirit who breathes charity into him and who forms the Church.2
In the 1700’s, Saint Alphonsus Liguouri, ministering to the isolated people in southern Italy, offered the following prayer, which I invite you to recite in moments of Spiritual Communion:
My Jesus, I believe that you are present in the most Blessed Sacrament. I love You above all things and I desire to receive You into my soul. Since I cannot now receive You sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace You as if You were already there, and unite myself wholly to You. Never permit me to be separated from You. Amen.
In 2003, Saint John Paul II, in ¶25 of the Encyclical “A Eucharistic Church”, encouraged spiritual communion before the Blessed Sacrament. He wrote:
The worship of the Eucharist outside of the Mass is of inestimable value for the life of the Church. This worship is strictly linked to the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice. The presence of Christ under the sacred species reserved after Mass – a presence which lasts as long as the species of bread and of wine remain – derives from the celebration of the sacrifice and is directed towards communion, both sacramental and spiritual. It is the responsibility of Pastors to encourage, also by their personal witness, the practice of Eucharistic adoration, and exposition of the Blessed Sacrament in particular, as well as prayer of adoration before Christ present under the Eucharistic species.
It is pleasant to spend time with him, to lie close to his breast like the Beloved Disciple (cf. Jn 13:25) and to feel the infinite love present in his heart. If in our time Christians must be distinguished above all by the “art of prayer,” how can we not feel a renewed need to spend time in spiritual converse, in silent adoration, in heartfelt love before Christ present in the Most Holy Sacrament? How often, dear brother and sisters, have I experienced this, and drawn from it strength, consolation and support!
In the same document, he described Spiritual Communion in ¶34:
…it is good to cultivate in our hearts a constant desire for the sacrament of the Eucharist. This was the origin of the practice of “spiritual communion”, which has happily been established in the Church for centuries and recommended by saints who were masters of the spiritual life. Saint Teresa of Jesus wrote: “When you do not receive communion and you do not attend Mass, you can make a spiritual communion, which is a most beneficial practice; by it the love of God will be greatly impressed on you.”
Over the past several months, I have asked you to spend time with Our Lord in prayer. Our Lord draws us in spiritual communion. Developing a devotion to Our Lord will be a tremendous consolation to you if, for whatever reason, you are not able to attend Mass.
Pastoral Care and Spiritual Courage
Finally, while we remain vigilant to spread of this coronavirus, I ask that we include in our prayers
- For those who are suffering from the current outbreak of disease, and for those who have died from this disease in recent weeks.
- For those who provide care to others – those in health care, in homes caring for those who are infirm or dying, for child care providers, for all emergency workers, to name a few.
- For the priests who assist the sick and dying, that we may extend the love of Christ to those in need.