Editor’s note: It is probably no surprise that the Office of Worship receives a number of letters and emails concerning Ministry 2025, pastoral planning for the Diocese of Sioux City. Sister Esther Mary Nickel, RSM, associate director of worship, provided this response to a recent letter, addressing common concerns of many in the diocese.
From reading your note, it seems that you are most rightfully concerned for the elderly in your community attending the holy sacrifice of the Mass. Your suggestion to remedy this is to place a large screen on the altar, livestream the celebration of the Mass and have someone distribute holy Communion.
Your motivation and care for the elderly in your community is laudable and good. However, what you propose will never be possible.
If the elderly are truly unable to participate in the holy sacrifice of the Mass, due to illness or immobility, then someone from the community should visit them and bring them holy Communion. They may prayerfully participate in a televised Mass, so-called Mass for shut-ins, but that is because they are just that: “Shut in.”
The rest of us, who are mobile and well, have an obligation to participate in the holy sacrifice of the Mass, that is, to attend the Mass offered by a priest.
The significance of the graces that we receive by participating in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass cannot be underestimated. At the offertory rite of the Mass, the faithful are addressed by the priest who invites them to pray with these words: “Pray brothers and sisters, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father.” To which we respond: “May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands, for the praise and glory of his name, for our good and the good of all his holy church.”
Sometimes we say those words so easily, but do not stop to reflect on what it is that we are saying.
This sacrifice is not virtual, and it is not the “product” of a technological possibility. Although you state that you have traveled and watched a televised Mass, it would not have fulfilled your Sunday obligation if you would have been able to participate in Mass and did not.
The sacrifice of the Mass is founded in a relationship – the relationship with a real person who is a priest, acting in the person of Christ, the head of the church, who invites us, as his body, to unite our meager sacrifices with his one sacrifice that he offered for our redemption, so that we might obtain eternal life.
As for proposing a Communion service to accompany this gathering to watch television, that is not fitting since the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament is for those who are sick or those who are dying and in need of the Holy Eucharist as viaticum, that is, food for the journey into eternal life.
It is certainly important that those who are elderly in your community have the opportunity to participate in the holy sacrifice of the Mass. A wonderful use of one’s creative gifts would be to establish a communication system where all in your town, where you now have an oratory, might be certain that you are taking the elderly to Mass on Sunday.
Perhaps you might gather at your oratory to be sure the elderly had a ride to Mass. Upon your return, perhaps a luncheon shared in the church hall would be a way to keep your local Catholic community united.
Another opportunity might be to gather in the evening to pray the rosary or to pray vespers together, the evening prayer of the church. You might seriously consider gathering to pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life.
It is certainly sad that some in your community are speaking about leaving the Catholic Church for a different religious experience. One might ask if they really believe in the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist, for they will not be able to participate in his one sacrifice represented at every Mass, nor be nourished by his body and blood elsewhere.
What we are finding is that most Catholics do not realize the treasure we have. Yet, God will never take away our freedom. We are free to believe or not to believe. As baptized Catholics, we receive the gifts of faith, hope and charity which provides a foundation for us to act like Christ.
We must have the faith of those who were missionaries from Europe and who gave their lives to establish your parish. We must be willing to make sacrifices, as they did.
It is very sad that the Diocese of Sioux City needs to close parishes, and all are aware that it is a source of great suffering. Please pray for Bishop Walker Nickless and all the priests who are doing their best before God to work for the salvation of souls and live within the means that we have at this time.