Dear Brothers and Sisters of St. Andrew the Apostle,

Last Sunday, Bishop Burbidge came to our parish to install me as Pastor at the 12:30pm Mass. It was a beautiful and joyous celebration. My parents and my three sisters all attended - including my sister Michelle, whose birthday is the same day as my installation. My father was happy to meet so many of the people who prayed for him after his stroke in April, and all were amazed at his recovery, thanks be to God! I was overwhelmed by the support and gratitude for my installation shared with me, my family, and Bishop Burbidge. I thanked the Bishop both privately and publicly for assigning me to St. Andrew the Apostle and for his confidence. I ask all of you to continue to pray for me that I may lead you to Jesus as the Shepherd that Christ calls me to be. 

We played the new organ for the first time at Mass at the installation, and it was beautiful. This weekend, we will have music at the 8:45am Mass and the 10:30am Mass on a limited basis. Some studies of the coronavirus show that singing can spread the virus more effectively than speaking, so the Diocese requested that we limit singing during our Masses and other liturgies. These restrictions are gradually being lifted, but we also want to respect those who would prefer to avoid singing at the Mass. Therefore, the 5:30pm Vigil, the 7:30am, and the 12:30pm will not have music.

With regards to preventing the spread of coronavirus at the parish, please let me remind you that we have several practices in place, including opening outside doors before and after Mass so that many hands do not touch the same door getting in and out of church, only occupying alternate pews in order to practice social distancing, priests and Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion (EMHCs) wearing masks while distributing Holy Communion and wiping fingers with hand sanitizer after distributing Holy Communion on the tongue, and parishioners sanitizing their places after Mass.

Several people have shared with me their concern about parishioners receiving Holy Communion on the tongue. As I mentioned, Fr. Bresnahan, me, and the Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion (EMHC) wear a purificator over our arm soaked with hand sanitizer, and we use it to purify our hands after each person who receives on the tongue, or if we touch the hand of the person who receives on the hand. For safety’s sake, I have gotten into the practice of sanitizing my fingers after each person to whom I distribute the Eucharist. For those who do not feel that this is adequate, I would recommend sitting in the first pews so that you may receive the Eucharist first.

Many others have commented on the lack of facemasks at Mass. As you may remember, Diocesan guidelines state that facemasks are expected to be worn at Mass . I am hesitant to bring this point up because of the very strong opinions that occur on both sides of the issue. Many people think that everyone should wear a mask at all times, including those socially distant outdoors and children unable or unwilling to wear a mask. On the other side of the issue are those who take offense at wearing a mask because they see it as a sign of unnecessary oppression and government overreach. 

Most people are not on the far extremes and are instead somewhere in between. However we are still effected by the extremes. We may have been scolded for not wearing a mask when we felt we were safely distant from someone. We may have been mocked as being overly cautious when we choose to wear a mask because we live with vulnerable people. This tension plays out in our church, which is disappointing. While outside of the parish it appears that there is more pressure on those who do not wear masks, here in our church it is the opposite. On a weekly basis, I receive emails and calls from parishioners telling me they are not comfortable coming to Mass and receiving the Eucharist because of the lack of masks and social distancing.

Someone is always going to be oppressed when one side of an extreme is favored. If I were to require masks for entry into the church, some would avoid Mass because their health or circumstance make them unable to wear a mask and others would be upset for what they see as an unnecessary requirement. Since I have not forced the requirement of masks and instead leave it up to the conscience of the parishioner on how best to safely follow the diocesan and state guidelines, there are a growing percentage of people choosing not to wear a mask or practice social distancing, and thus more people staying away from the Mass because they are uncomfortable or afraid. As Catholics, we do not want this to happen. We do not want our actions to prevent someone from experiencing the Mass, which is the source and summit of our Christian life.

Therefore, I am asking all parishioners to act out of prudence and charity when coming to Mass on Sundays and weekdays. Prudence is the cardinal virtue that allows us to know how to do the right thing in a certain situation. It is oriented towards the good and driven by reason, not emotion or opinion. We all have an idea of what charity is, but a clear definition is that it is willing the good of the other for the other’s sake (and not our own). A good example of charity that I recently encountered was a family that came to see me for a meeting. When they arrived they were wearing masks and I was fumbling to get mine out. They told me not to worry. They had the coronavirus already and had just finished their time of quarantine. “We can’t get it from you, and you can’t get it from us,” they assured me. What struck me is that they still wore masks. It was not for their sake or the safety of others who they would infect. Instead, it was to make people comfortable around them. They did not want to be a source of anxiety, even though they knew they were not contagious. They were thinking not about their rights, but about loving the other, even if it is uncomfortable.

I know that some of you will find this newsletter as too strong a stance and an imposition I know that others will see it as not strong enough. I apologize that this issue is one that divides our parish. Please know that I am praying for all of us at St. Andrew’s - for our intentions, for our protection, for our constant conversion, and that we may be united as one in Jesus Christ. Please pray that I, too, may be led to make prudent and charitable decisions as your pastor, and may be more attentive and aware of those around me.

One more note: This coming week I will be out of the office from Sunday afternoon until Saturday morning on a vacation. I thank Fr. Bresnahan and Fr. Justin for taking the Masses and Confessions while I am away. Be assured of my prayers, and as always, I humbly beg for yours as well. 

In Christ,
Fr. Wagner